Court Rejects Neighboring Property Owners’ Due Process Claim to Prevent ‘Wolf Point’ Construction in River North Area (Chicago)

I thought I was gonna have to dust off my 18,000-pound crimson-covered Laurence Tribe Constitutional Law book from 1993 Fall semester for this one.   

Seriously though, when I see a case that discusses substantive and procedural due process issues refers to Federal and State Constitutional amendments, my PTSD flashbacks to 1L are triggered.  

In Residences at Riverbend Condominium Association v. City of Chicago, 2013 WL 6080685 (N.D.Ill. 2013), the Northern District dismissed the plaintiff condominium association’s lawsuit to prevent the City from enforcing a zoning ordinance change that would allow a large-scale construction project to commence in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. 

The basis for the Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal: plaintiff failed to allege a protectable due process property interest in preventing the construction project.

Facts: The lawsuit involves Wolf Point – land on the north bank of the Chicago river near the Merchandise Mart which has been vacant for about 40 years. 

In 2013, the City approved a zoning variance that allows the site’s owners to construct a three-building mixed use development on the site.  The plaintiffs, adjoining land owners, sued to bar the development; citing increased pedestrian and vehicular traffic in the area, plus the project’s unbearable strain on city infrastructure.

The plaintiffs also claimed they weren’t properly notified of the zoning change or given a meaningful chance to oppose it as required under the law.  The Court granted defendant’s motion to dismiss with prejudice.

Rules/Reasoning:

A due process claimant must establish a legitimate property interest.  U.S. Const. Amend XIV; Ill. Const. of 1970, art. I, s. 2 (and cases interpreting them).  

He must show he was deprived of life, liberty or property without sufficient procedural or substantive government safeguards. 

A due process clause property interest means an entitlement or benefit that the state can’t tamper with or remove.  *2-3.  A mere expectation or hope, though, doesn’t rise to the level of a due process property right.  *4.

The Court held that the plaintiffs lacked a property interest in Wolf Point.  They don’t own the land and any interest they have in receiving statutory notice of the zoning change isn’t a right of constitutional dimension.

The Court also found that zoning challenges based on a state’s failure to follow its own notice procedures should be brought in state not Federal Court.  *4.

The Northern District also noted that under Illinois law, a property owner’s rights to light, air, or certain property values – while certainly desirable – still don’t merit constitutional protection. property interest. *4. 

And since the plaintiffs don’t own the Wolf Point property and at most, only alleged a right to statutory zoning change notice, the plaintiffs failed to allege a colorable right to prevent the City from enforcing the amended zoning rule.

Take-away: A valid constitutional due process claim must go beyond speculation or unilateral expectation.  Instead, the interest being sued on must constitute an entitlement or benefit that the government has no discretion to remove or reduce.  

But all may not be lost for the plaintiffs: the Riverbend court suggests that plaintiffs may be able to seek administrative review in the Circuit Court to overturn the amended zoning ordinance.

 

 

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PaulP

Litigation attorney at Fisher Kanaris, P.C. representing businesses and individuals in all types of commercial disputes.