The former owner of a homeless-run campground was in federal court Tuesday trying to revive one of his two cases against the city of Akron.

For nearly two years, businessman Sage Lewis supported homeless people who lived in tents and ran a day center on his private, commercial property in Akron’s Middlebury neighborhood. The city received nuisance complaints and deemed the campground a zoning violation. Lewis applied for a conditional zoning request.

In September, Akron City Council denied the request to keep the camp open. In December, the city posted a sign requiring Lewis to cease operations and clear out the camp.

Lewis’ pro-bono legal team, which includes local homeless advocate Becky Scremack and libertarian lawyers from the national Institute for Justice, filed administrative appeals on both city actions.

The case against the eviction notice is still in what amounts to discovery. Lewis’ attorneys are asking a judge to force the city to turn over more evidence or make witnesses available for sworn testimony.

The appeal of the city council’s decision to deny the conditional zoning permit was tossed out in February by Summit County Judge Tammy O’Brien on a technicality created when the court mailed a letter to city officials and it bounced back.

Two days before the 30-day deadline to appeal the council’s split decision, Scremack filed the notice to appeal online with the Summit County Clerk of Courts office. Instructions were included to mail a copy to the city’s law director next door.

A court clerk updated the docket to reflect that the notice was received in time and prepared the mailing, per the instructions.

That’s where things get confusing.

Lewis’ attorneys say the clerk put the wrong address on the certified mail. City lawyer Brian Bremer, who argued Tuesday that the notice should have gone to the clerk of the city council and not the law director’s office, said he believes postal workers mishandled the letter. Scott Feeney, chief of staff at the clerk of courts office, said the error was made by the postal service. "Everything we did was done properly," said Feeney, who added that service is a big deal for the clerk of courts.

In any event, the notice bounced back to the clerk of courts. It did not arrive at City Hall until after the 30-day deadline, so the city moved to throw out the case, which Judge O'Brien granted.

Institute for Justice attorney Diana Simpson argued Tuesday before three Ninth District Court of Appeals judges that Lewis' constitutional right to due process had been abused when the clerk erred and O’Brien “summarily disposed” of the case in a one-sentence ruling.

There’s no set date for the appellate judges to determine whether to overturn O’Brien’s ruling.

Simpson’s colleague, Jeff Rowes, said Lewis would like to keep both administrative appeals cases alive so that the court, in its entirety, may hear everything in a lengthy legal challenge of administrative appeals and possible lawsuits that accuse the city of unconstitutionally denying a citizen the right to shelter the needy on his private property.

 

Reach Doug Livingston at dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3792.