Property Owner Sues Ohio City and City Officials Including Fire Chief

A property owner is suing an Ohio city and 20 city employees claiming they illegally barred him from creating four units in two existing buildings.

Bryon Graf II, filed suit on April 7, 2016 Athens County Common Pleas Court against the City of Nelsonville naming the fire chief, the police chief, the city manager, the city council, and the planning commission. Graf claims he was “indirectly” informed by city officials that he could build four units in the two buildings, and a state inspector later told him he could have six.

However, the city limited him to just three units, and later condemned the buildings after the fire chief obtained an administrative search warrant and discovered numerous safety violations including:

  • no fire separation between units,
  • non-compliant smoke detector installation,
  • no emergency egress and
  • multiple electrical violations.

The complaint alleges negligence, gross negligence, federal and state constitutional violations, violations of Ohio law, malice, misfeasance, malfeasance, nonfeasance, harassment, arbitrary and capricious actions, conspiracy, racketeering, and ultra vires acts by the defendants. Specifically the suit questions whether Fire Chief Harry Barber III had the lawful authority to obtain the search warrant, and raises questions about the timing of the search.

The complaint also requests the appointment of a special prosecutor. Not surprisingly, Graf filed the suit pro se (without an attorney).

The complaint was not available on line, but the Athens Messenger had a comprehensive article on the action. More on the story.

UPDATE: 5/16/16 – The case was removed to federal court on 5/3/16 at the request of the city. Here is the complaint as submitted to US District Court:  Graf v Nelsonville

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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