June 30, 2016

Partly sunny

Medina Foods files a federal lawsuit

CLEVELAND — The owner of Medina Foods, a Litchfield Township beef jerky company, is suing township trustees and the zoning commission.

Many of the issues raised in the suit filed last week in U.S. District Court were argued in Medina County Common Pleas Court earlier this year, and Judge James L. Kimbler ruled against the business.

Medina Foods’ federal suit said the township infringed on its property rights by not allowing the company to build barns on its Crow Road property.

The township has said the barns violate zoning code. It alleges the township selectively enforced its zoning code and discriminated against the business by pursuing legal action against it.

The company asks for actual damages of at least $100,000 and punitive damages of at least $750,000.

Part of the Crow Road property is zoned commercial and the other residential. Medina Foods maintains it shouldn’t have to comply with township zoning code because it’s using the land for agriculture.

Under Ohio law, townships cannot enforce their zoning code on land used for that purpose.

Kimbler ruled in a separate case earlier this year the processing and packaging of meats at Medina Foods is not an agricultural use and the business will have to follow township zoning code.

Medina Foods’ federal suit said the township allows at least two other businesses to have an agricultural exemption and have buildings in violation of the code.

Al Nimer, who owns Medina Foods, said he could not comment on the case.

Litchfield trustee Dennis Horvath said the county prosecutor’s office, which represents the township in legal matters, has told trustees and zoning commission members it can’t comment on the case while it’s pending.

As of Tuesday, the township had not filed a reply to Medina Foods’ suit.

Many of the issues brought up in Medina Foods’ suit arose during the case Kimbler heard earlier this year.

The township originally filed the suit against Nimer and his wife, Cathy Fobes Nimer, to stop them from building on the property.

Medina Foods began improvements and additions to its existing barns in 2009. Court records show the additions include offices, hay storage, and slaughtering and processing facilities. The company did not receive zoning certificates to build on the commercial or residential land and maintained it did not need them.

“The slaughter, processing and sale of meat raised by the Defendants is in fact an agricultural endeavor as the end product is an agricultural product,” Medina Foods’ attorney Ted Lesiak wrote in court documents. He equated the sale of the meat to the sale of milk from a dairy farm.

The township issued stop-work orders to Medina Meats in October 2009.

County prosecutors argued on behalf of the township that the cattle only would be brought to the Crow Road property after being raised at a site in Chatham Township. Therefore, the main point of having the cows there was to make a commercial product — meat snacks.

Prosecutors maintained the cattle on the land are “merely a part of the process in producing the end-products of the business. The defendants’ handling of these mature cattle can more logically be characterized as storage of inventory.”

According to the company’s website, Medina Foods makes Goldrush brand smokies and beef jerky.

In his ruling, Kimbler said the building for slaughtering and processing meats is not directly linked to raising the animals.

“Cattle don’t have to be slaughtered at the same place that they are turned into meat products, nor do such products have to be processed at the same location where the cattle are kept and fed,” he wrote.

The judge said the Nimers will have to receive zoning certificates for any buildings on the property. Otherwise, they won’t be able to use them for slaughter, processing or storage of meat.

The Nimers have appealed the judge’s decision in addition to filing the federal suit.

Contact Maria Kacik Kula at (330) 721-4049 or mkacik@medina-gazette.com.