Federal suit filed against engineer

WARREN — A man and woman who operate logging businesses in northern Trumbull County are suing the Trumbull County engineer for $1.3 million for denying them permits to haul heavy loads on posted roads, in what they claim is retaliation for asking too many questions about a new permitting process, according to a complaint filed Friday in federal court.

William Spithaler, who operates Gustavus Firewoods and Hardwoods, and wife Beth Spithaler, who operates Yoder Smoking Woods, have not been able to do business because the Trumbull County Engineer’s Office would not issue permits they applied for, according to the complaint filed by attorney David Engler.

“Without that permit, loggers such as Mr. Spithaler and Mrs. Spithaler could not drive their commercial vehicles on posted roads in Trumbull County, Ohio, and would effectively be unable to conduct any business in Trumbull County,” the complaint states.

The two have been operating the business for years and have received permits in the past, and others have been getting permits issued in the meantime.

Around March 22, the complaint states, William Spithaler made a public records request to the engineer’s office for documents and other records pertaining to the office’s permitting process, which had been recently changed.

Engineer Randy Smith’s legal counsel responded to the request by stating the content and frequencies of the requests were “troubling,” according to the complaint.

After this, both Spithalers applied for a permit for their business but Smith has “refused” to allow his office to issue the permits, violating the Spithalers’ rights to equal protection under the law, violating the state and federal constitution, the complaint states. The couple claim Smith also violated their rights of freedom of expression and freedom of association.

They are suing Smith as an individual and as a county office holder.

Smith said he has no comment on the complaint at this time.

Meanwhile, others with trucks the same weight, some who are also hauling logs and driving on the same posted roads the Spithalers want to drive on, have received permits, the suit states.

The refusal to issue the permits is “irrational” and unrelated to any “legitimate governmental purpose” and is an attempt to “punish and retaliate” against the couple for exercising their rights under Ohio’s public records laws, the complaint states.

“Smith has been motivated by animus, hostility and ill will in refusing to issue the permit to Mr. Spithaler,” it states.

The couple is losing business revenue and suffering psychologically, and is requesting a jury trial and $500,000 each for punitive damages and $150,000 each for compensatory damages.

The case is filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio Eastern Division.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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