Justia Zoning, Planning & Land Use Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
by
In 1993 the Village of Channahon approved the plat of a residential subdivision lying within the DuPage River Special Flood Hazard Area. The Village subsequently issued permits for the construction of houses in this subdivision, all of which experience flooded basements when the river is at high water. The current owners of these houses contend that the Village violated the Constitution either by granting the permits to build or by failing to construct dykes to keep water away.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of their suit, noting the plaintiffs do not contend that the Village required them to build where they did or dig basements, or took any steps after the houses’ construction that made flooding worse. The Constitution establishes rights to be free of governmental interference but does not compel governmental intervention to assist persons. Even if the Village violated a local ordinance and a federal regulation, 44 C.F.R. §60.3(c)(7), by granting the applications without insisting that the houses be built higher, the Constitution does not entitle private parties to accurate enforcement of local, state, or federal law. The Village did not take anyone’s property, either by physical invasion or by regulation that prevented the land’s use. The river, which did invade their basements, is not a governmental body. Government-induced flooding of limited duration may be compensable but the -plaintiffs have not plausibly alleged that the water in their basements is “government-induced.” View "Billie v. Village of Channahon" on Justia Law

by
Adams Outdoor Advertising owns billboards throughout Wisconsin, including 90 in Madison. Madison’s sign-control ordinance comprehensively regulates “advertising signs,” to promote traffic safety and aesthetics. The ordinance defines an “advertising sign” as any sign advertising or directing attention to a business, service, or product offered offsite. In 1989, Madison banned the construction of new advertising signs. Existing billboards were allowed to remain but cannot be modified or reconstructed without a permit and are subject to size, height, setback, and other restrictions. In 2009, Madison prohibited digital displays; in 2017, the definition of “advertising sign” was amended to remove prior references to noncommercial speech. As amended, the term “advertising sign” is limited to off-premises signs bearing commercial messages.Following the Supreme Court’s 2015 “Reed” decision, Adams argued that any ordinance treating off-premises signs less favorably than other signs is a content-based restriction on speech and thus is unconstitutional unless it passes the high bar of strict scrutiny. The judge applied intermediate scrutiny and rejected the First Amendment challenge. The Supreme Court subsequently clarified that nothing in Reed altered its earlier precedents applying intermediate scrutiny to billboard ordinances and upholding on-/off-premises sign distinctions as ordinary content-neutral “time, place, or manner” speech restrictions. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. View "Adams Outdoor Advertising Limited Partnership v. City of Madison, Wisconsin" on Justia Law

by
Finite owns 90.9% of Orient #1, an abandoned Illinois coal mine; the other 9.1% belongs to Royal. In 2004, Keyrock's predecessor acquired an interest in Orient #1 to extract coal mine methane from its section of the property, drilled wells, and, in 2007, obtained a vacuum permit from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Finite discovered the pump’s use in 2018 after a test revealed that coal mine methane had been drained extensively from Orient #1. Finite unsuccessfully petitioned the Department for compulsory unitization of the parties’ properties, to require Keyrock to share its methane production with Finite.Finite sued, alleging conversion, trespass, accounting, and common law unitization, and sought to enjoin the use of a vacuum pump. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment, finding that, under the rule of capture (gas that migrates is subject to recovery and possession by the holder of the gas estate on the property to which the gas migrates), the methane could not be owned until extracted regardless of whether extraction occurred by means of a vacuum pump. Finite’s claims hinged on ownership, so the rule of capture foreclosed Finite’s claims.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Absent illegality, the Department’s issuance of the permit suggests that the use of the vacuum pump to extract methane did not violate Finite’s correlative rights (imposing a duty on owners not to waste natural resources intentionally or negligently as to injure their neighbor).. View "Finite Resources, Ltd. v. DTE Methane Resources, LLC" on Justia Law

by
The Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court denying the motion filed by the Word Seed Church after the district court dismissed this suit for lack of standing, holding that Word Seed failed to show exceptional circumstances warranting relief from the denial of that motion.Word Seed and an organization to which it belonged (collectively, Word Seed) brought this action against the Village of Homewood, Illinois alleging violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court dismissed the suit for lack of standing after concluding that Word Seed did not suffer an injury and denied Word Seed's ensuing motions to reconsider. In the second motion, which the district court considered under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b), Word Seed raised for the first an argument that could have been raised before the district court entered judgment dismissing the case. The district court denied the motion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the court did not abuse its discretion in denying Word Seed's Rule 60(b) motion. View "Word Seed Church v. Village of Homewood" on Justia Law

by
Westfield amended its ordinance governing signs within city limits. Out of a stated concern for public safety and aesthetics, the ordinance requires those wishing to install a sign or billboard to apply for a permit. The ordinance exempts directional signs, scoreboards, particular flags, and notices on gas pumps and vending machines. It prohibits signs on poles and those advertising ideas, products, or services not offered on the same premises (off-premises signs). Those seeking to install a non-compliant sign may appeal the denial of a permit or, if necessary, request a variance. GEFT applied for a permit to build a large digital billboard on private property along U.S. Highway 31 in Westfield. Because of the proposed sign’s off-premises location and use of a pole, Westfield denied GEFT’s application and subsequent variance request.GEFT sued, 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Seventh Circuit previously upheld a restraining order compelling GEFT to cease all actions to install its proposed billboard pending the outcome of the litigation. The district court later granted GEFT summary judgment and permanently enjoined Westfield from enforcing many aspects of its ordinance. The Seventh Circuit remanded for consideration in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in “City of Austin v. Reagan National;” the fact that the city must read a sign to evaluate its conformity with regulations is not alone determinative of whether the regulation is content-based. View "GEFT Outdoors, LLC v. City of Westfield" on Justia Law

by
In 2016, Chicago and the Barack Obama Foundation selected Jackson Park as the location for the Obama Presidential Center, to consist of a museum, public library, and other spaces for cultural enrichment and education related to the life and presidency of Barack Obama. The Center will occupy about 20 acres of the park and require that Chicago close several nearby roadways. The National Park Service approved the plan on the condition that Chicago expand nearby spaces for public recreation. The Federal Highway Administration approved the construction of new roadways to make up for the roadways to be closed. Those agencies together performed an environmental assessment and concluded that their decisions would have an insignificant effect on the environment and were the least damaging alternatives available; they did not consider whether Chicago could have further reduced environmental harms by building the Center elsewhere.Objectors sought to enjoin the construction of the Center. The district court denied their request for a preliminary injunction. The Seventh Circuit declined to enjoin construction pending appeal, having previously affirmed summary judgment for the defendants on the constitutional claims. The opponents are unlikely to show that the agencies made a clear error in judgment when weighing the benefits of change against history; the agencies considered the full environmental impact of the Center’s construction. View "Protect Our Parks, Inc. v. Buttigieg" on Justia Law

by
Fisk, an LLC formed in 2018, had two members; one is an attorney. Fisk collaborated with the City of DeKalb regarding the redevelopment of a dilapidated property. Under a Development Incentive Agreement, if Fisk met certain contingencies, DeKalb would provide $2,500,000 in Tax Increment Financing. In 2019, Nicklas became the City Manager and opened new inquiries into Fisk’s financial affairs and development plans. Nicklas concluded Fisk did not have the necessary financial capacity or experience, based on specified factors.Fisk's Attorney Member had represented a client in a 2017 state court lawsuit in which Nicklas was a witness. Nicklas considered funding incentives for other development projects with which, Fisk alleged, Nicklas had previous financial and personal ties.The City Council found Fisk’s financial documents “barren of any assurance that the LLC could afford ongoing preliminary planning and engineering fees,” cited “insufficient project details,” and terminated the agreement. Fisk sued Nicklas under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging Nicklas sought to retaliate against Fisk and favor other developers. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claims. Fisk did not exercise its First Amendment petition right in the 2017 lawsuit. That right ran to the client; Fisk did not yet exist. Fisk had no constitutionally protected property right in the agreement or in the city’s resolution, which did not bind or “substantively limit[]” the city “by mandating a particular result when certain clearly stated criteria are met.” Nicklas had a rational basis for blocking the project, so an Equal Protection claim failed. View "145 Fisk, LLC v. Nicklas" on Justia Law

by
The Barack Obama Foundation selected Jackson Park in Chicago to house the Obama Presidential Center. Chicago acquired 19.3 acres from the Chicago Park District, enacted the necessary ordinances, and entered into a use agreement with the Obama Foundation. Construction will require the removal of multiple mature trees, the diversion of roadways, and will require the city to shoulder some expenses. Opponents sued, alleging that the defendants violated Illinois’s public trust doctrine, which limits the government’s ability to transfer control or ownership of public lands to private parties and that under Illinois law, the defendants acted beyond their legal authority in entering the use agreement because it delegates decision-making authority to the Foundation and grants the Foundation an illegal lease in all but name, Under federal law, they argued that, by altering the use of Jackson Park and granting control to the Foundation, the defendants took the plaintiffs’ property for a private purpose and deprived them of property in a process lacking in procedural safeguards.The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed as to the federal claims and held that the state claims should have been dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Federal courts are only permitted to adjudicate claims that have allegedly caused the plaintiff a concrete injury. The federal claims allege a concrete injury, but the lack of a property interest is a fundamental defect. The state claims allege only policy disagreements. View "Protect Our Parks, Inc. v. Chicago Park District" on Justia Law

by
From 1906 -1970, the companies manufactured industrial materials at an East Chicago, Indiana Superfund Site. In the 1970s, the East Chicago Housing Authority constructed “West Calumet,” a low-income residential building, on that site. In 2017, former West Calumet tenants sued the companies based on the tenants’ exposure to hazardous substances. Defendant Atlantic Richfield removed the case to federal court, asserting a government contractor defense because its predecessor, ISR, operated during World War II. ISR sold lead and zinc to entities who were under contract with the government to produce the goods for the military. ISR itself held five Army contracts. The materials made by ISR were critical wartime commodities that had to be manufactured according to detailed federal specifications. Other regulations effectively prevented ISR from selling to distributors for civilian applications. Defendant DuPont asserted that the government directed it to build a facility for the government and then lease it from the government to produce Freon-12 and hydrochloric acid solely for the government. The district court remanded, finding that most of the Companies’ government business occurred outside the relevant time frame.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Atlantic Richfield worked "hand-in-hand with the federal government to achieve a task that furthers an end of the federal government.” The Companies’ wartime production was a small but significant portion of their relevant conduct; the federal interest in the matter supports removal. Atlantic Richfield set forth sufficient facts regarding its government contractor defense. View "Baker v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co." on Justia Law

by
In 1938, West’s predecessor granted Louisville Gas & Electric’s predecessor a perpetual easement permitting a 248-foot-tall tower carrying high-voltage electric lines. In 1990, Louisville sought permission to allow Charter Communication install on the towers a fiber-optic cable that carries communications (telephone service, cable TV service, and internet data); West refused. In 2000 Louisville concluded that the existing easement allows the installation of wires that carry photons (fiber-optic cables) along with the wires that carry electrons. West disagreed and filed suit, seeking compensation.The Seventh Circuit affirmed that the use that Louisville and Charter have jointly made of the easement is permissible under Indiana law. The court cited 47 U.S.C. 541(a)(2), part of the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984, which provides: Any franchise shall be construed to authorize the construction of a cable system over public rights-of-way, and through easements, which is within the area to be served by the cable system and which have been dedicated for compatible uses, except that in using such easements the cable operator shall ensure…. The court examined the language of the easement and stated: “At least the air rights have been “dedicated” to transmission, and a telecom cable is “compatible” with electric transmission. Both photons and electrons are in the electromagnetic spectrum.” View "West v. Charter Communications, Inc." on Justia Law