Justia Zoning, Planning & Land Use Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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In this case, the plaintiff, Chicago Joe's Tea Room LLC, had plans to open an adult entertainment business in a suburb of Chicago. However, the Village of Broadview denied the plaintiff's application for a special-use permit, which led to the plaintiff claiming that their constitutional rights were violated. The plaintiff sought millions of dollars in lost profits for the business that never opened. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois excluded most of the plaintiff's evidence and theories for lost-profit damages due to substantive and procedural issues. The court then awarded the plaintiff just $15,111 in damages. The plaintiff appealed, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the decision of the lower court, finding no abuses of discretion. The appellate court stated that the plaintiff's calculations of lost profits were beyond the scope of the plaintiff's personal knowledge of a similar business and required expert-like analysis and adjustments. The court also ruled that the plaintiff failed to disclose necessary damages evidence in a timely manner, a violation of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The plaintiff was also denied the opportunity to amend their complaint to challenge a state statute, as the request was made a decade after the issue became relevant. The court found that granting the amendment would have caused undue delay and prejudice to the Village. View "Chicago Joe's Tea Room, LLC v. Village of Broadview" on Justia Law

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Willow purchased a house that needed repairs. Bids for the work exceeded $100,000. Renovations began in 2017 but soon halted. After several years passed, with the house remaining empty, the Village proposed its demolition as a nuisance. The Village published notice, posted notices on the house, and mailed notice to Willow, which concedes having actual knowledge of the impending demolition. Willow did not respond until the week scheduled for the demolition when its lawyer proposed a meeting. The parcel was sold at auction to satisfy the Village’s lien for demolition expenses.Willow sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming a taking without compensation. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the Village. Demolition of a dilapidated structure that constitutes a public nuisance is not problematic under the Due Process Clause and does not require compensation. The protection that the federal Constitution offers to property owners is notice and an opportunity for a hearing. The Village gave such a notice to Willow, which did not ask for a hearing. Illinois law offers procedures that are constitutionally adequate; someone wanting to stop a demolition need only file suit in state court, which automatically blocks action until the judge decides whether the building meets the statutory criteria for demolition. The district court was not required to decide a state law inverse-condemnation claim. View "Willow Way, LLC v. Village of Lyons, Illinois" on Justia Law

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Utility companies responsible for a planned electric transmission line asked the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to allow construction across the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge alongside an existing road and railroad. Rural Utilities Service completed an environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4332(2)(C). FWS adopted the statement and issued a right-of-way permit.While litigation was pending, the utility companies sought to slightly alter the route and asked FWS to consider a land exchange. FWS discovered that it had relied on incorrect easement documents in issuing its original determination. It revoked the determination and permit but promised to consider the proposed land exchange. The district court ruled in favor of the environmental groups but declined to enjoin ongoing construction of the project on private land outside the Refuge.The Seventh Circuit vacated in part, first rejecting a mootness argument. FWS has revoked the compatibility determination but has not promised never to issue a new permit. However, FWS’s current position does not meet the criteria of finality. Whatever hardship the plaintiffs face comes not from FWS’s promise to consider a land exchange but from the Utilities’ decision to build on their own land, so the district court erred in reviewing the merits of the proposed land exchange. Plaintiffs’ request for relief against the Utilities under NEPA likewise is premature. Adopting the environmental impact statement did not “consummate” the decisionmaking process. View "Driftless Area Land Conservancy v. Rural Utilities Service" on Justia Law

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GEFT, a billboard company, sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983 because Monroe County did not allow the installation of a digital billboard along I-69. Receiving a sign permit required compliance with size limits, height restrictions, setback requirements, a ban on changeable-copy (or digital) signs, and a prohibition on off-premises commercial signs, The ordinance provided exceptions to the permit requirement for government signs and certain noncommercial signs. If a proposed sign was ineligible for a permit, the applicant could apply for a use variance, which required specific findings.The district court granted GEFT summary judgment and enjoined the permitting scheme and the variance procedures. The Seventh Circuit vacated in part, first declining to extend the injunction to encompass the entire ordinance. Monroe County’s substantive sign standards do not need a permitting scheme to function. Indiana law provides that local government entities can enforce their own ordinances through civil penalties or injunctions. The court reinstated the variance procedure. That procedure is a “prior restraint” but is not unconstitutional; it does not involve consideration of content, permits ample alternatives for speech, including displays of messages on signs, and it does not give the Board of Zoning Appeals so much discretion that it violates the First Amendment. View "GEFT Outdoor, LLC v. Monroe County Indiana" on Justia Law

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In the late 1930s, Milwaukee County built a dam on the Milwaukee River in Estabrook Park, an urban green space that runs along the east bank of the river where the City of Milwaukee borders suburban Shorewood and Whitefish Bay. In 2017 the County transferred the dam to the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District for the purpose of removing it. Demolition was completed the following year. With the dam removed, the water level immediately upstream fell by about four feet from its previous high-water mark. Kreuziger owns a home along this stretch of the river, and the drop in the water level exposed a ten-foot swath of swampy land on his waterfront that used to be submerged.Kreuziger sued the District and Milwaukee County, alleging that their removal of the dam amounted to a taking of his riparian right to the prior surface water level without just compensation. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. the riparian rights of waterfront property owners are subordinate to the government’s authority to regulate navigable waterways under the public-trust doctrine. Kreuziger had no property right to have the river remain at the previous level. View "Kreuziger v. Milwaukee County" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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