Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use

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For 60 years, a butcher shop operated on property in Black Earth that is zoned for commercial use, as a legal nonconforming use. In 2001, BEM purchased the property. After 2009, the volume and frequency of slaughter increased. By 2011, neighbors were complaining about increased traffic, trucks blocking the road, livestock noise, foul odors, improper storage of animal parts, and the presence of offal, blood, and animal waste in the streets. Steers escaped from the facility three times and had to be shot dead on Village streets. In 2013, the Village held several public meetings, and, because citations had no effect on BEM’s behavior, ordered BEM to propose an acceptable plan for relocating its slaughter activities. BEM did not relocate. After several delays, the Village threatened litigation. As a result of that threat, the USDA refused to guarantee a bank loan to BEM. BEM lost its financing, closed, and sued the Village and board members. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. Even if the threat of litigation could, itself, constitute a due process violation and were a sufficiently direct cause of BEM’s alleged deprivations, there is no evidence that the process accorded to BEM was inadequate. Procedural due process generally requires only “notice and an opportunity to be heard.” View "Black Earth Meat Mkt., LLC v. Village of Black Earth" on Justia Law

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In order to receive federal housing funds (42 U.S.C. 2000d; the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. 3601; and “42 U.S.C. 608(e)(5), 5304(b)(2), and 12705(b)(15)), the City of Chicago must certify that it is in compliance with federal requirements related to reducing the city’s admitted racial segregation. Hanna filed a qui tam suit, alleging that the city violated the False Claims Act because its policies, particularly “aldermanic privilege” and strategic zoning of relatively wealthy neighborhoods, have actually increased segregation, making its certifications false. Under “aldermanic privilege,” the City grants each alderman the “full authority to determine whether and where affordable, multifamily rental housing will be built and renovated in the ward.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. Hanna did not allege the circumstances of the purported fraud with sufficient particularity to satisfy Federal Rule of Procedure 9(b). Hanna apparently had no insider information. He did not allege the “time, place, … and the method by which the misrepresentation was communicated” to him. Hanna’s complaint gave no information about which regulatory provisions Hanna thinks the city violated; it does not draw a link between the statutes Hanna cited and any particular alleged false certification. View "Hanna v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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Pike County's Sny Island Levee Drainage District was organized in 1880 to protect from Mississippi River flooding and runoff. The Kansas City Southern and the Norfolk Southern operate main line railways over the District's flood plain. Illinois law permits the District to assess properties within its territory in order to maintain the levees. A new method, ​adopted in 2009, purported to calculate assessments based on the benefits the District conferred on each property, rather than based on acreage. After the Seventh Circuit enjoined use of the methodology, the District discontinued collecting annual assessments and implemented a one-time additional assessment, 70 ILCS 605/5. The District filed an assessment roll based on new benefit calculations, identifying the tax on KC as $91,084.59 and on Norfolk as $102,976.18, if paid in one installment..The Railroads again filed suit, alleging that the District used a formula that discriminated against them in violation of the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act, 49 U.S.C. 11501. The Seventh Circuit affirmed judgment in favor of the District. The court rejected an argument that the comparison class against which their assessment should be measured is all other District properties, instead of the narrower class of commercial and industrial properties used by the district court. There was no clear error in the court’s assessment of a “battle of the experts.” View "Kansas City S. Ry. v. Sny Island Levee Drainage Dist" on Justia Law

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In 2004, the Simstads, developers, began the process of seeking approval from the Lake County Plan Commission for a proposed subdivision, “Deer Ridge South.” In late 2006, the Commission approved the plans. The Simstads believed that approval was delayed, at great cost to them, because of their support in 1996 for commission member Scheub’s opponent in the County Commissioner primary race. They sued Commission members and Lake County, alleging violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), and various Indiana laws. A jury ruled in favor of the defendants. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, first noting that a defense of claim preclusion, based on earlier state proceedings, had been waived. The district court did not abuse its discretion in allowing a belated answer to the amended complaint or in allowing the defendants to withdraw their deemed admissions. Rejecting an argument that approval was a ministerial act, the court stated that determination of whether a project meets the ordinances, with or without waivers, involves some degree of discretion. The court noted the absence of evidence of animus. View "Simstad v. Scheub" on Justia Law

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Study of the I-69 extension between Evansville and Indianapolis began in 1944. The 1991 Intermodal Surface Transportation Act designated a new route from Indianapolis to Memphis,, via Evansville as a “high priority corridor” for development. As the project progressed, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) divided the project into two “tiers” for environmental analysis. After the plans were finalized, construction work on the six sections of Tier 2 began; 90 percent of the work on the extension is complete. The FHWA and Indiana Department of Transportation issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Tier 2, Section 4, in 2010. A Final Environmental Impact Statement and a Record of Decision issued in 2011. The agencies selected the final route and construction plan for Section 4 after reviewing 48 options and produced a record reflecting consideration of impact on historic sites, geological formations, and air-quality, among other factors. Pursuant to its obligations under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service engaged in consultation and issued a Biological Opinion regarding the possible impact of tree-clearing on the endangered Indiana bat. Opponents filed suit. After a lengthy period of inactivity by Plaintiffs, including several missed case management deadlines, the district court granted summary judgment upholding the approvals. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. View "Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads v. Foxx" on Justia Law

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Since 2001 Hoyt has owned a 40-acre lot (with a cabin) in a heavily forested region in southwestern Indiana. His lot is surrounded by lots owned by others, including a lot owned by the U.S. Forest Service. None will allow him to use their land to enable vehicular access to his property. No public roads touch his land. The owner of the lot directly to his north allows him to walk through that lot to access his lot. Wanting access to West Burma Road, which runs close to the southeastern corner of Hoyt’s lot, he sued under Indiana law and the Quiet Title Act, 28 U.S.C. 2409a. The access he sought would cross three lots. The district judge rejected his claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, calling the duration of the litigation “inexplicable and inexcusable.” The court rejected claims of prescriptive easement over the Forest Service land and of an easement of necessity over the southwestern lot. View "Hoyt v. Benham" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs purchased a restaurant in the City of Angola, Indiana and planned to convert it to an adult-entertainment venue featuring dancers wearing only “pasties and a g-string.” Angola reacted to the proposed sexually-oriented business by amending its zoning and other ordinances to make this use of the property impermissible. Plaintiffs sued the City and two of its officials in federal court alleging claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and state law. Plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction. The district court denied the motion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding (1) Plaintiffs’ claim that the City’s actions violated its right to expression under the First Amendment failed because Plaintiffs stipulated away the key factual issue in the analysis of the claim; and (2) to the extent that the preliminary-injunction motion was premised on the state-law claims, the motion was properly denied. View "BBL, Inc. v. City of Angola" on Justia Law

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Stars is a nude dancing establishment in Neenah, Wisconsin. When Stars opened in 2006, the County had a zoning ordinance governing Adult Entertainment Overlay Districts. Stars’s application was stalled because, all parties agree, the 2006 ordinance violated the First Amendment. Its owner sued in federal court, arguing that anything is legal that is not forbidden, and Staars was banned only by an unconstitutional ordinance: therefore, Stars was permitted in 2006 and is now a legal nonconforming use that cannot be barred by a later ordinance. The court granted summary judgment to Winnebago County, reasoning that it was possible to use the law’s severance clause to strike its unconstitutional provisions. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part, agreeing that the permissive use scheme laid out in the ordinance was unconstitutional, but reasoning that, after the constitutional problems are dealt with, the remaining questions concern state law. Their resolution depends on facts that were not developed, and on the possible existence of a power not only to sever problematic language but to revise it—a power federal courts do not have. The district court should have declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state-law claims and should have dismissed them without prejudice so that the parties may pursue them in state court. View "Green Valley Inv., LLC v. Winnebago Cnty." on Justia Law

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World Outreach, a religious organization, purchased a YMCA building in a poor area of Chicago, planning to rent rooms to needy persons. The YMCA had a license for that use, even after the area was rezoned as a community shopping district. The city refused to grant World Outreach a license, ostensibly because it did not have a Special Use Permit (SUP). After the area was reclassified as a Limited Manufacturing/Business Park District, the city sued in state court, contending that the use was illegal. The city later abandoned the suit. World Outreach sued under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. 2000cc. The city relented and granted the licenses. According to World Outreach the city continued harassing it. On remand, the district court entered summary judgment in favor of the city on all but one claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed partial summary judgment in favor of World Outreach, regarding the attorneys’ fees for having to defend itself against a frivolous suit, reversed partial summary judgment to the city, and remanded. The frivolous suit cannot be thought to have imposed a merely insubstantial burden on the organization, but the organization presented weak evidence concerning damages for the two years during which it was denied a license. View "World Outreach Conference Ctr. v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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In 2004, Miller sought to build a four-unit condominium project on her Monona lot. The process stalled while Miller bought another lot, amended the plan, and abated an unexpected asbestos problem. She had unsuccessful negotiations with her neighbor, a former mayor, who trespassed on her property at the direction of city officials and took photographs for use at a planning commission meeting to oppose her project. Citations were issued for creating a public nuisance and working without a proper permit; the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources issued a “stop work” order because of asbestos; Miller was required to erect a fence; and she was told that weeds were too high and was ordered to remove various structures. A court rejected three out of four citations issued against her, stating that, although “some of the efforts to enforce compliance were unreasonable,” Miller had not pointed to any similarly situated person who had been treated differently. Monona refused to adjust the taxes on Miller’s property to reflect the demolitions. Officials continued to trespass by parking cars on her property. In 2010, Miller filed suit, asserting equal protection violations. The district court dismissed, finding that Miller had not identified a suitable comparator and that there was no evidence that Miller had been treated unfairly because of her sex. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting conceivable rational reasons for various actions and requirements. View "Miller v. City of Monona" on Justia Law