Residency Restrictions



Henry A. Arnett

Livorno and Arnett Co., LPA

1335 Dublin Road, Suite 108-B

Columbus, Ohio 43215

Telephone: 614-224-7771

In 2006, the Ohio General Assembly enacted R.C. §9.481, which generally prohibited political subdivisions from enacting residency requirements as a condition of employment.1 A number of cities filed challenges to the new residency law, but those challenges were rejected, and the law upheld, by the Ohio Supreme Court. See Lima v. State, 122 Ohio St.3d 155, 2009-Ohio-2597.

The Supreme Court’s upholding the constitutionality of R.C. §9.481 did not necessarily resolve all questions surrounding the residency law. In particular, the question remained as to whether political subdivisions could still enact some residency restrictions, so long as they were not called a condition of employment. For instance, the City of Cleveland amended its Charter in March, 2012, to provide that employees who took promotional examinations, and who were “bona fide” residents of Cleveland for one year before filing their applications to take the examinations, would have five points added to their score on the promotional examinations.

IAFF Local 93 filed a lawsuit to invalidate the charter amendment on the grounds that it violated the Ohio Constitution (Article XV, §10) and Ohio law (Revised Code §§9.481 and 124.45). The Cuyahoga County Court of Appeals has just recently upheld the Local’s arguments against the charter provision, thereby invalidating that provision.

First, the Court held that the charter provision awarding additional points for residents violated the civil service provisions of the Ohio Constitution (Article XV, §10). This article provides that generally promotions in the civil service of the State, the counties, and the cities shall be made according to merit and fitness, to be ascertained, as far as practicable, by competitive examinations. In connection with this constitutional provision, the Court noted that the preference points awarded for residency are given only if the candidate already has attained a passing grade on the promotional examination. A scoring preference on a competitive civil service examination is valid only if it is connected to the determination of the appropriate qualifications of the candidate. There was no such connection here. The Court of Appeals found that the link between the benefits of residency in determining the fitness of the promotional candidate were tenuous and de minimis, at best. Therefore, the residency preference points violated Article XV of the Ohio Constitution.

Second, the Court then examined the issue of whether or not the residency preference points violated R.C. §9.481. In connection with this argument, the Court noted that the awarding of preference points effectively established a residency requirement as a condition of employment for those individuals desiring to be promoted within the fire department. This violated both the spirit and the legislative intent of §9.481. Accordingly, the residency requirement was an illegal condition of employment in violation of §9.481.

Although the Court’s decision in the Cleveland case does not resolve all issues in connection with the use of residency by local political subdivisions, it does go a long way to establish the principle that residency restrictions of any kind run afoul of Ohio law and will be viewed with a great deal of skepticism by the courts.