Articles Posted in U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals

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Woodboro has about 750 residents on 21,857 acres, within Oneida County. Woodboro’s 1998 Land Use Plan encourages low density single family residential development for waterfront properties and maintaining rural character. The 2009 Woodboro Comprehensive Plan incorporates that language. There are 177 parcels on Squash Lake, all but seven zoned for single-family uses. The seven parcels zoned for business were pre-existing uses under initial zoning in 1976. In 2001, Woodboro voluntarily subjected itself to the Oneida County Zoning and Shoreland Protection Ordinance, under which religious uses are permitted throughout the County and Woodboro. Year-round recreational and seasonal camps are permitted in 36 and 72 percent of the County; churches and religious schools are allowed on 60 percent of the land in the County. Churches and schools are permitted on 43 percent of Woodboro land; campgrounds (religious or secular) on about 57 percent. Eagle Cove sought to construct a Bible camp on 34 acres on Squash Lake in Woodboro, asserting that their religion mandates that the camp be on the subject property and operate year-round. The property is zoned Single Family Residential and Residential and Farming. Woodboro recommended denial. The County denied rezoning based on conflict with single-family usage. The district court entered summary judgment in favor of the municipalities. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, and the Wisconsin Constitution. View "Eagle Cove Camp & Conference Ctr., Inc. v. Town of Woodboro, WI" on Justia Law

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Third Site is a Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) site that was part of a larger area, under common ownership by the Bankerts, used for recycling industrial wastes. Cleanup initially focused on other sites, but in 1987 and 1992 consultants found concentrations of volatile organic compounds; Third Site was transferring pollutants to Finley Creek, which flows to Eagle Creek Reservoir, which supplies Indianapolis drinking water. The creek was realigned. In 1999, the EPA entered into an Administrative Order by Consent (AOC) with potentially responsible parties. Non-Premium Respondents agreed to undertake an Engineering Evaluation and Cost Analysis (EE/CA) of removal alternatives and to settle a trust to bankroll the EE/CA. Premium Respondents, allegedly de minimis contributors, were entitled to settle out with a one-time Trust contribution under 42 U.S.C. 9622(g). Non-Premium Respondents met their obligations. In 2002, the parties entered into a second AOC to perform work described by the Enforcement Action Memorandum: Non-Premium respondents had the same Trust obligations for removal efforts. The Bankerts are Non-Premium Respondents under both AOCs, but have not met their obligations. In 2008, the Trustees sued the Bankerts and their insurers, seeking cost recovery under CERCLA, 42 U.S.C. 9607(a), and Indiana law. One of the insurers argued that its successful litigation in connection with cleanup of the adjoining site precluded a finding of coverage. Entering summary judgment for the Bankerts, the district court construed the CERCLA claim as seeking contribution under 42 U.S.C. 9613(f), and barred by the statute of limitations, so that issues concerning the insurer were moot. The Seventh Circuit remanded reinstated claims under 42 U.S.C. 9607(a)(4)(B), to recover costs incurred under the 2002 AOC and against the insurer. On rehearing, the court clarified that a party responsible for contamination may obtain an immediately effective release from the EPA in a settlement, or it may obtain only a performance-dependent conditional covenant not to sue with an accompanying disclaimer of liability. Whether, and when, a given settlement “resolves” a party’s liability under 42 U.S.C. 9613(f)(3)(B) is case-specific and depends on its terms. In this case, the AOC did not provide for resolution upon entering into the agreement. View "Bernstein v. Bankert" on Justia Law

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The Federal Highway Administration and the Indiana Department of Transportation decided to complete an Indiana segment of I-69, which will eventually run from Canada to Mexico. Environmentalists opposed the route and sued under the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1344, which authorizes the Army Corps of Engineers to issue permits for discharge of dredged or fill material into navigable waters of the United States. A permit will be denied if there is “a practicable alternative to the proposed discharge which would have less adverse impact on the aquatic ecosystem,” 40 C.F.R. 230.10(a), or if the discharge “would be contrary to the public interest.” 33 C.F.R. 320.4(a)(1). The permit at issue allows six streams to be filled where the highway crosses them and permits destruction of wetlands. The environmentalists proposed, in the alternative, simply upgrading to federal interstate highway standards, and existing route. In an environmental impact statement, the Corps concluded that no less environmentally damaging alternative was practicable, that the project was not contrary to the public interest, that damage to wetlands would be modest and would be offset by creation of new wetlands. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the environmental analysis. View "Hoosier Envtl. Council, v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng'rs" on Justia Law

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The owner (an Asian Indian) of 60-room hotel in a manufacturing district near a major highway in Oak Forest, a Chicago suburb, sued the city, charging racial discrimination in zoning (42 U.S.C. 1981, 1982) and that the zoning ordinance was unconstitutionally vague, based on the city’s refusal to allow it to sell the hotel for conversion to a retirement home to be owned by a church in which most of the membership is African-American. The city claimed that a retirement home would not be “highway oriented” and, after the plan was proposed, amended its ordinance so that the hotel became nonconforming, and denied a special use permit. The owner later lost the hotel in foreclosure; it is now operating as a hotel under new ownership. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting numerous irregularities in the zoning process, but stating that the owner presented no evidence that any comparable facility, serving a white clientele, has ever been permitted by Oak Forest in a comparable district. View "Parvati Corp. v. City of Oak Forest" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff owns properties in a mixed rural/suburban area in central Illinois and lives in a house on one parcel. The other parcels, about 190 acres and near the house, were zoned agricultural and very close to a hog farm. The owners of two other properties in proximity to the hog farm obtained rezoning to the “rural residential” classification, but the county declined plaintiff’s applications for rezoning. Plaintiff sued in state court; the court entered an “Agreed Order” that stated that the parcels should be rezoned, but did not order that they be rezoned. One year later, the zoning board held the required hearing and recommended approval. The County Board voted 11 to 10 in favor of the applications, less than a three-fourths majority, which functioned as a denial. In 2008, the Board granted the applications, but the real estate market had collapsed, and the parcels were no longer worth more zoned residential than they had been when zoned agricultural. Plaintiff sought damages under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court entered summary judgment for the defendants. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that protection of agriculture was a rational, nonretaliatory motive for voting against the applications. View "Guth v. Tazewell County" on Justia Law

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Owens, a Chicago zoning inspector, was convicted of two counts of federal program bribery, 18 U.S.C. 666(a)(1)(B), for accepting two $600 bribes in exchange for issuing certificates of occupancy for four newly constructed homes. The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding that there was insufficient evidence, to establish beyond a reasonable doubt, that the issuance of the certificates of occupancy had a value of $5,000 or more as required by the statute. View "United States v. Owen" on Justia Law

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In 2004, Resurrection sought to rezone property around Saint Joseph Hospital in Chicago to allow further development of the campus. Plaintiffs own property within 250 feet of the property and objected to the rezoning. In 2006, the city approved the rezoning and amended the Chicago Zoning Ordinance to create IPD 1019. Plaintiffs filed a complaint in state court, claiming that the ordinance violated plaintiffs’ constitutional rights under the due process clauses of the Illinois and U.S. Constitutions because it was inconsistent with provisions of the Chicago Zoning Code. The state trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the city. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed, stating: “The IPD ordinance … is not rendered unconstitutional simply because this municipality, a home rule unit, violated its own self-imposed ordinances in enacting the IPD ordinance.” The Illinois Supreme Court denied leave to appeal. Plaintiffs filed in federal court. The district court dismissed the claim as barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, under which federal district and circuit courts lack jurisdiction to review decisions of state courts. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal for lack of jurisdiction. View "Commonwealth Plaza Condo. Assoc. v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff owns 2,485 acres containing Indiana's only antebellum plantation and 2,000 acres of "classified forest," with endangered species habitats. A utility company has a lease for storing and extracting oil and natural gas on portions of the property. The Lease continues so long as "oil or gas is produced in paying quantities" or "the Property continues to be used for the underground storage of gas" and will terminate upon the utility's surrender or failure to make payments. The lease contains provisions to protect historic sites and to calculate damage to trees, requires notice of utility activity, and requires that the utility's use be "as minimally necessary." Plaintiff sought damages and to terminate the lease and evict the utility. The district court entered judgment for the utility, finding that a disagreement about the use of land was not an express reason for termination and that the lease specifically provided that damages were the proper remedy. Plaintiff dismissed the damages claim with prejudice to appeal the ejectment claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Plaintiff did not show that damages are inadequate to compensate for the harm to its property.

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Original defendants wanted to build a power plant in southern Illinois. In the first appeal, the Seventh Circuit concluded that defendants' Prevention of Significant Deterioration (“PSD”) permit (42 U.S.C. 7475(a)), had expired. After the ruling, the district court assessed a penalty of $100,000 on all defendants, jointly and severally, and awarded attorneys' fees to Sierra Club. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, first holding that defendant waived constitutional arguments by not raising them before the district court. The court acted within its discretion; it considered all of the relevant statutory factors and did not make any clearly erroneous findings of fact in assessing a penalty and awarding fees.

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The Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act prevents states and their subdivisions from imposing discriminatory taxes against railroads. 49 U.S.C. 11501. In 2008, the drainage district, a subdivision of Illinois, changed its method for calculating assessments. All other owners are assessed on a per-acre formula, but railroad, pipeline, and utility land were to be assessed on the basis of "benefit," apparently based on the difference in value between land within the district and land outside the levees; annual crop rentals being paid; and agricultural production of lands within the district. Two rail carriers brought suit under a section of the Act, which prevents imposition of "another tax that discriminates against a rail carrier." The district court held that the assessment was prohibited by the Act, but concluded that it was powerless to enjoin the tax. The Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that the court has authority to enjoin the tax, but, under principles of comity, should eliminate only the discriminatory aspects, not the entire scheme. The assessment is a tax that, raises general revenues; its ultimate use is for the whole district. It imposes a proportionately heavier tax on railroading than other activities.