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Ohio Supreme Court won't hear country club's appeal in Octagon Earthworks case

curving mound of lush green grass with a tree
Ohio History Connection
The Octagon Observatory Circle

The Ohio Supreme Court Tuesday declined to take up a case involving a country club in Licking County that sits on a recently designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Ohio History Connection, which owns that land.

In a one-sentence decision signed by Chief Justice Sharon Kennedy, the court writes, "Upon consideration of the jurisdictional memoranda filed in this case, the court declines to accept jurisdiction of the appeal pursuant to S.Ct.Prac.R. 7.08(B)(4)."

Attorneys for Moundbuilders Country Club took their case to the state's highest court after Ohio's Fifth District Court of Appeals dismissed an appeal in the case to determine how much Ohio History Connection must pay the country club to regain land it leases to the club. A three-judge panel with the Fifth District dismissed the appeal in January because the judges determined the order the country club sought to appeal was not a final, appealable order.

RELATED: Court dismisses country club's appeal in Octagon Earthworks case

Moundbuilders Country Club appealed to the Fifth District in Oct. 2023 after a Licking County judge essentially disallowed all the witnesses the club planned to call in a jury trial. That trial was to determine how much Ohio History Connection must pay Moundbuilders to reclaim land currently being used as a golf course. The course sits on the Octagon Earthworks, a sacred, ancient Indigenous earthwork site and part of the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks, which were recently added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The case now goes back to Licking County.

WVXU has reached out to attorneys for Moundbuilders Country Club for comment.

Ohio History Connection Media and Public Relations Manager Neil Thompson told WVXU, "We are pleased to learn the valuation trial proceedings for the lease on the Octagon Earthworks property should continue in the Licking County Court of Common Pleas after the Supreme Court of Ohio declined to accept jurisdiction over the most recent appeal from Moundbuilders Country Club.

"We continue to respect the ongoing legal process surrounding the Octagon Earthworks as we await the outcome of the jury trial to determine the fair market value for the Moundbuilders Country Club’s lease on the property."

Get caught up

Ohio History Connection (OHC) and Moundbuilders Country Club have been at odds since the historical society moved to reclaim the land upon which the country club operates a golf course. OHC had repeatedly leased the land to the country club but decided to revoke the lease as it pursued UNESCO World Heritage status for the Octagon Earthworks and other Hopewell mounds.

The agency sought to reclaim the land where the Octagon Earthworks sit through eminent domain. On Dec. 7, 2022, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld two lower court rulings siding with Ohio History Connection. The country club immediately asked the state supreme court to reconsider, but that request was promptly denied, and a jury trial was set to determine how much OHC must pay the country club.

That jury trial was set to start in mid-October of 2023. Experts hired by OHC appraised the value of the country club at around $2 million, while experts hired by Moundbuilders Country Club put the value at around $22 million.

RELATED: State Supreme Court sides with Ohio History Connection in bid for Newark earthworks site

In filings leading up to the scheduled jury trial, Licking County Judge David Branstool ruled the experts hired by Moundbuilders inappropriately included the value of the earthworks in their estimates.

Branstool wrote "the Country Club is not entitled to be compensated for any value attributed by the earthworks as they are owned by the OHC for the benefit of the public."

In his Oct. 6, 2023 decision, the judge notes that the average sale price of golf courses in Ohio over the previous two years was $2.5 million. He disallowed any witnesses tied to the valuations that included the worth of the earthworks, which was effectively excluded all witnesses the country club intended to call.

Attorneys for the country club then appealed the judge's order.

"The court recently eliminated all of our witnesses," attorney Joseph Fraley wrote in an email to WVXU. "A trial that only allows the state to present evidence is not a trial at all."

The jury trial was put on hold while the appeal was sent to the Fifth District, which dismissed the appeal Jan. 16, 2024. Moundbuilders then asked the Ohio Supreme Court to hear the appeal, which the court declined April 16, 2024.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.