Legal Lode: Cover Story

Wordplay no absolution for convicted hauler.

To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, “solid waste is solid waste is solid waste.” (She repetitively referred to a rose in one of her poems simply to express the notion that things are what they are.) Maybe so. Maybe not. Everyday life illustrates differences of opinion about essential attributes and elements of things considered quite ordinary.

Take the case of Ohio resident James E. Anderson Jr. A Cleveland police officer spotted him as he drove his truck along a public street. The truck bed was filled with appliances, scrap metal and various items of junk, but, contrary to city ordinance, the load was uncovered.

The officer pulled Anderson over and cited him for transporting solid waste without a tarp and failing to display the truck owner's name, address and phone number on a vehicle used to haul solid waste.

Anderson contested the citations in Cleveland Municipal Court, where he testified that he had been hauling scrap for 18 years and owned four trucks. He insisted that he was hauling junk, not solid waste, when the arresting officer spotted him. Unswayed by his defense, the trial judge found Anderson guilty on both charges and fined him $1,050.

On appeal, Anderson argued that the city prosecutor's case against him was too weak to support a conviction because the city didn't establish that the items in the back of his truck were “solid waste.” As he saw it, his truck contained “scrap” or “junk.”

The city code defines “solid waste” as “unwanted residual solid or semisolid material as results from industrial, commercial, agricultural, household, community and private operations … Such material shall be deemed to include, but not be limited to, garbage, rubbish … debris … any discarded matter to be removed from public and private properties.” [C.C.O. 551.01(C)].

Only a few months earlier, the same appeals court had decided a case with circumstances almost identical to the Anderson case. In City of Cleveland v. Eiland [2009-Ohio-1692], the court found the wording of C.C.O. 551.01(C) “plain and unambiguous and convey[ing] a clear and definite meaning.” Citing Eiland, the appeals court reiterated that “solid waste includes unwanted solid material from a household.”

Turning to the record in the trial court, the appellate panel pointed to Anderson's own testimony that the material on his truck came from houses in the city that were being demolished. “Thus, we find there was sufficient evidence that the items in Anderson's truck constituted solid waste,” the opinion stated. “[W]e conclude that there was sufficient evidence to find that Anderson violated [the city code] when he transported these items without a tarp.”

The appeals court also found enough evidence to convict Anderson of violating the city code provision relating to a name and address on a truck used for solid waste. “We are not persuaded by Anderson's argument that … the City never told him he needed to have his name and address on his truck,” said the ruling. “The [city code] is clear in its requirements … Moreover … ignorance of the law is no excuse.” n

City of Cleveland v. Anderson, 2009-Ohio-6642 (Ohio App.Dist.8, Dec. 17, 2009)

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Barry Shanoff is a Rockville, Md., attorney and general counsel of the Solid Waste Association of North America.

The legal editor welcomes comments from readers. Contact Barry Shanoff via e-mail: [email protected].

TAGS: Legal Business