Tish O’Dell
Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
Ohio Community Organizer

Lawsuit advances avenue for participatory Rights of Nature enforcement.

TOLEDO, OH: Last week, Toledo residents who are plaintiffs in a lawsuit to enforce the Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR) filed a memorandum of opposition to the State of Ohio’s motion for summary judgment in their case (COMMON PLEAS COURT OF LUCAS COUNTY, OHIO; Case No. G-4801-CI-201902904). Last August, after the trial court granted the State of Ohio’s motion to dismiss, the plaintiffs presented oral arguments in the Ohio Sixth District Court of Appeals to enforce the Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR), the first law in the U.S. to secure legal rights of a specific ecosystem. The appellate court ruled that the people did have a justiciable claim, reversed the trial court, and remanded the case back to the lower court. The original lawsuit, filed pro se in June 2019, originates from a clause within LEBOR, which allows residents to file suit to enforce residents’ rights and those of the Lake Erie ecosystem in Common Pleas Court.

The filing documents how the State of Ohio has failed to protect life, liberty, happiness and safety through its “licensing and permitting scheme for agricultural operations in the Lake Erie watershed that causes cumulative harm to Lake Erie,” and consistent failure “to intervene to stop the poisoning of Lake Erie [from] dumping of toxin laden dredge from harbors, and has deregulated highly radioactive road de-icers/dust suppressants, which are becoming ubiquitous throughout the Lake Erie watershed.”

“The Court,” the filing reads, “has the opportunity here to be a partner in solving the existential crisis of the health of Lake Erie, and thus the health of almost everyone in Lucas County as well as the 11 million people who rely on Lake Erie for drinking water. As explained below, no other branch of Ohio government is acting to prevent this harm, so it is incumbent on this Court to step in and protect the people and their home.”

Though a federal judge ruled against LEBOR (Drewes Farms Partnership v. City of Toledo) the plaintiffs pointed out to the state court other legal means to recognize Lake Erie’s rights in order to protect the lake and the people.

This could come through recognition of constitutional protections for the Lake Erie ecosystem, not unlike how courts “found” rights for corporations in decisions they made. Or the court could use the Public Trust Doctrine to protect ecosystems vital for the enjoyment of human life.

The filing also suggests immediate action, including to “order Defendant State of Ohio to stop permitting new confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).” “The defendant State of Ohio permits or turns a blind eye to the factory farm agricultural practices that are causing the Harmful Algae Blooms, and the State can be ordered to stop the harm. This Court only needs the will to do the right thing for the people whom it has sworn to protect,” the filing reads.

A detailed timeline of events, including overt corporate-government collusion against LEBOR, is detailed in the brief.

Multiple courts have recognized that the State of Ohio is failing to protect the lake, including in its refusal to abide by federal environmental law. One federal judge has described “persistent failures,” “noncompliance,” “ignor[ing its] opportunity and its duties.” Due to this failure in the current system of environmental protection, Toledo voters deemed it necessary to alter their government and introduce rights for Lake Erie.

“Currently, American courts are positioned to help stop intensifying ecological collapse,” the filing reads. “But they must find their courage. They must be willing to make rulings that reflect the seriousness of the current environmental predicament.”

“If this court refuses to act, the people of Toledo will be left to their own devices to physically stop the poisoning of their drinking water. They are out of options within this system if this court fails to act on their behalf,” the filing reads.

Contact for a copy of the filing, which also includes a succinct analysis of the arbitrary way corporations were granted personhood rights through the co-optation of the 14th Amendment and key points for winning constitutional protections for ecosystems.

More information:

Two months after Toledo voters approved the Lake Erie Bill of Rights in 2019, VOX Media released a documentary (8:08) on the vote: 

Report: In Plain Sight: Anatomy of a STATE And Corporate Attack on a People’s Movement

BREAKING: Repressive Tactics Used to Attack Rights of Nature

Press Release: Toledo Residents Experiment With Civilian Rights of Nature Enforcement

Pro Se Statement to Ohio Sixth District Court of Appeals on behalf of Lake Erie Bill of Rights Case L-20-1041


About CELDF — Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) is helping build a decolonial movement for Community Rights and the Rights of Nature to advance democratic, economic, social, and environmental rights – building upward from the grassroots to the state, federal, and international levels.

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