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Blog comments do not reflect the views or opinions of the Author or Ancel Glink. Some of the content may be considered attorney advertising material under the applicable rules of certain states. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Please read our full disclaimer

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Circuit Court Upholds Village's Billboard Regulations

The ability of Illinois municipalities to regulate billboards along interstate highways has been the subject of much litigation over the past few decades. These disputes usually center around the sometimes-conflicting provisions of the Highway Advertising Control Act of 1971 (“Highway Act”). 

The Highway Act provides maximum size, spacing, and lighting restrictions for interstate highway billboards that are permitted by IDOT. However, the Highway Act also expressly authorizes municipalities to adopt more restrictive regulations for interstate highway billboards than those imposed by the Highway so long as the municipal regulations are consistent with “customary use.” Many advertisers have challenged municipal billboard regulations on the grounds that they exceeded the authority provided under the Highway Act or were inconsistent with the “customary use” of billboards. A number of Illinois courts have upheld home rule municipal bans on billboards, and  both home rule and non-home rule municipal restrictions on the size and location of billboards. 

A recent decision by an Illinois circuit upholding the billboard regulations of a non-home rule municipality may provide more clarity to the issue. In WC Media v. Village of Gilberts, an advertiser challenged the Village’s size, spacing, and lighting regulations for interstate billboards. The Village had adopted billboard size restrictions that mirrored the restrictions that apply to all signs in the Village’s commercial and industrial districts. 

An advertiser filed a lawsuit against the Village alleging that the Village’s billboard regulations violated the Highway Act because (1) the size limitations were so strict that they eliminated a billboard’s commercial value, which acted as an effective prohibition on billboards; and (2) the Village’s billboard regulations were inconsistent with the customary use of billboards preferred by advertisers. The lawsuit claimed that the Village's ordinance was "facially" unconstitutional. The Village filed a motion to dismiss the advertiser’s complaint based on the various Illinois cases upholding a municipality's authority to restrict billboards, among other defenses.

The court sided with the Village and dismissed the advertiser’s complaint with prejudice. In addition to finding that the advertiser did not meet its burden to challenge the ordinance on "facial" grounds, the court also found that the size and spacing restrictions imposed by the Village did not violate the Highway Act or the “customary use” of billboards. While not directly deciding the question, the ruling also seemed to imply that non-home rule municipalities could completely prohibit billboards, stating that “if a total ban on highway billboards does not run afoul of the act, it follows that Defendant’s ordinance must be valid.”  

The advertiser has filed an appeal of the decision, and we will keep you updated when a final ruling is issued.  However, if upheld, this ruling will confirm the authority of non-home rule municipalities to tailor their billboard regulations to local circumstances without violating the Highway Act.

Post Authored by Kurt Asprooth & Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink

Disclaimer: Ancel Glink represented the Village in this case.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Illinois Governor Signs Bill Barring Local Governments from Establishing “Right to Work” Zones

Last Friday, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the Collective Bargaining Freedom Act (P.A. 101-003) barring local governments from establishing “right-to-work zones.” The new law takes effect immediately (April 12, 2019). 

The Act provides that the state has exclusive authority to enact laws governing agreements between employers and unions that (i) spell out the extent to which workers can be compelled to belong to a union or and (ii) whether the employer will collect dues and fees on behalf of the union. The Act expressly prohibits any local government from enacting or enforcing any local law, ordinance, rule, or regulation that "prohibits, restricts, tends to restrict, or regulates the use of union security agreements between an employer and labor union. The Act declares any ordinance inconsistent with the Act to be void. Finally, the Act preempts home rule authority.

A prior version of the Act was introduced in 2015 after an Illinois municipality passed an ordinance allowing employees to work for a company in union-protected positions without having to join the union or pay the full share of union dues. That ordinance was struck down by a federal court of appeals court last year, and the previous bill was vetoed by former Governor Bruce Rauner in 2017. The legislation was reintroduced during the current session and passed in the House with a vote of 101-8 and the Senate 51-0 before being signed by the Governor.

Post Authored by David Warner, Ancel Glink

Monday, April 15, 2019

Changes to Human Trafficking Law Affect Public Events

Organizers of public gatherings on property open to the public have new responsibilities when it comes to posting notices under the Human Trafficking Resource Center Notice Act.

Effective January 1, 2019, P.A. 100-0671 amended several sections of the Human Trafficking Resource Center Notice Act which adds to the list of entities that are required to post the notice under the Act. Specifically, the new law now requires the organizer of a public gathering conducted on property open to the public that requires a permit from a unit of local government to post a notice that complies with the requirements of the Act in a conspicuous and accessible place on the premises in clear view of the public where similar notices are customarily posted. 775 ILCS 50/5(d).

The notice is intended to inform the public and victims of human trafficking of telephone hotline numbers to seek help or report unlawful activity. The Act requires specific posting mandates, language requirements, and penalties of up to $500 per violation for failure to post. In addition, each mandated business is required to post the notice in English and Spanish. For helpful model notices, you can find State of Illinois resources HERE.

Post Authored by Dan Bolin and John Reding, Ancel Glink

Friday, April 12, 2019

Court Says Electoral Board in Best Position to Assess Weight of Evidence

A candidate for trustee in the Village of Burnham filed 16 pages of nominating papers with 182 signatures.  34 signatures were required to qualify for the ballot.  An objector challenged the validity of the signatures and, after a hearing, the Village’s electoral board declared the papers invalid and struck the candidate’s name from the ballot.  The board found an “unmistakable pattern of fraud, false swearing, and disregard for the mandatory requirements of the Election Code.” 

The board’s decision was based on finding that 105 of the 182 signatures were invalid because the signer was either not the proper person, not a registered voter in the Village, or not located there.  In addition, the board discovered that 60 of the 105 invalid signatures were contained within 5 consecutive pages of the signature sheets.  At the hearing, the candidate testified that he personally obtained and witnessed every signature in his nomination papers by going door to door.  The board found his testimony to be untruthful because the 5 consecutive pages came from multiple streets and did not include “a single consecutively listed address on the same street.” Furthermore, the signatures on those pages appeared to be written in the hand of just a few people. 

The candidate appealed, and the court in Hodges v. Municipal Officers Electoral Board of the Village of Burnham, agreed with the board. According to the court, a board is in the best position to assess the candidate’s credibility and determine the weight to be given to his testimony.  As such, a court will not substitute its judgment for that of the board absent a finding that the board’s decision was clearly erroneous.

Post Authored by David Warner, Ancel Glink

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Tobacco 21 Law Signed By Illinois Governor This Week

On April 7, 2019, Governor Pritzker signed P.A. 101-002 into law. This landmark legislation makes Illinois the 11th state to enact what has become known as “Tobacco 21 law.” The law takes effect on July 1, 2019. This legislation is not a novel concept to Illinois municipalities. Before its enactment, more than 30 Illinois municipalities had adopted ordinances to raise the local minimum legal sales age to 21. 

The bill amends various state statutes regarding tobacco to raise the legal age to 21 for the purchase or sale of tobacco products, electronic cigarettes, and alternative nicotine products. The law also provides a formal definition for electronic cigarettes to include electronic nicotine delivery systems, whether or not the solution contains nicotine.

For those who may have been following the legislation from its introduction, the law remains substantively similar, but the few changes it imposes have come with sharp criticism. One criticism is that the law focuses on the sale or purchase of tobacco or alternative products by persons under 21 but not the possession of those products. That means that municipal ordinances could regulate different conduct (i.e., possession by underage persons in addition to sale and purchase) than the state law will regulate once the law becomes effective. 

Because municipal ordinances may currently regulate conduct based on the previous age minimum of 18, municipalities might consider updating their ordinances to be consistent with state law.

Post Authored by Dan Bolin & Julie Tappendorf

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Subsequent Lot Owners Responsible for Public Improvements in Annexation Agreement

Land use litigation arising out of the 2008 economic downturn continues to percolate through the courts as municipalities seek to complete long-delayed public improvements contracted for in annexation agreements. A recent court decision may help local governments looking to hold subsequent purchasers accountable for obligations entered into by bankrupt developers.

In City of Yorkville v. Fidelity et al., an Illinois appellate court found two homebuilders liable for building public improvements a bankrupt developer had agreed to provide the City in a 2003 annexation agreement. Through various transactions, the Richardson Group (TRG) and William Ryan Homes (WRH) purchased lots subject to the annexation agreement from bankrupt homebuilder Kimball Hill Homes. The annexation agreement included the following provision:

“This Agreement shall inure to the benefit of and be binding upon the OWNERS, DEVELOPER and their successors in title and interest, and upon the CITY, and any successor municipalities of the CITY. It is understood and agreed that this Agreement shall run with the land and as such, shall be assignable to and binding upon each and every subsequent grantee and successor in interest of the OWNERS and DEVELOPER, and the CITY.  The foregoing to the contrary notwithstanding, the obligations and duties of OWNERS and DEVELOPER hereunder shall not be deemed transferred to or assumed by any purchaser of a [sic] empty lot or a lot improved with a dwelling unit who acquires the same for residential occupation, unless otherwise expressly agreed in writing by such purchaser.”  

TRG and WRH both claimed the provision absolved them of responsibility for completing the public improvements agreed to by KH (the DEVELOPER) in the annexation agreement because they merely purchased “empty” lots. The court disagreed, finding such a reading would result in a windfall for subsequent purchasers which would clearly not be what the parties intended. Instead, the court said any subsequent purchaser of an empty lot will be proportionally liable for completing the obligations in the annexation agreement even if it is the purchaser of a single lot.

The court distinguished its decision from a case we reported on in October last year, Doyle v. Village of Tinley Park, that found the purchaser of a lot in a subdivision had no authority to bring a cause of action against a developer for failing to complete public improvements under an annexation agreement. According to the court in Yorkville, the annexation agreement covered the “Subject Property or any parcel or phrase thereof” while the agreement in Doyle presumably only covered the subject property as a whole.

The court’s decision appears to rely heavily on the public policy favoring the fulfillment of annexation agreements and the particular status of the subsequent purchasers.  As large homebuilders, the court implies that common sense suggests both TRG and WRH should have expected to have some responsibility for the public improvements necessary to enable them to build homes. On the other hand, litigation may have been avoided if the annexation agreement had more clearly outlined the specific rights and obligations of subsequent owners.

Post Authored by David Warner, Ancel Glink

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Quorum Forum Podcast Episode 22 - Defending Malicious Prosecution Claims

Ancel Glink's Quorum Forum podcast is back with a new episode: Episode 22: Defending Malicious Prosecution Claims

Prosecutions are on the agenda, as Aaron Bitterman joins us from Ancel Glink Defense E-News (emus?) with new and proposed rules affecting ordinance enforcement for local governments. Then, experienced litigator and former prosecutor Kathy Kunkle discusses ways local governments can avoid malicious prosecution claims. 

You can access this episode here.

This podcast is provided as a service to our public and private sector clients and friends. It is intended to provide timely general information of interest, but should not be considered a substitute for legal advice. Read our full disclaimer: ancelglink.com/disclaimers

Monday, April 8, 2019

City Failed to Give Proper Notice of Impending Street Cleaning

The concept of “notice” and how it complies with an individual’s constitutional due process rights is something local governments regularly encounter in their day to day work. Whether it involves a code violation, utility shut-offs, or a zoning hearing, proper timing and form of notice is essential and the failure to comply can result in the government being unable to enforce its ordinances. This issue arose recently in the City of Chicago with respect to its street cleaning ordinance resulting in a successful challenge to the imposition of a ticket and fine.

On July 25, 2016, Todd Kooperman parked his car on a Chicago street.  There was no signage indicating this was in violation of any ordinance. He checked the street for parking restrictions again around 6 p.m., and saw no signs, but at 10 a.m. the following morning a police officer had issued him a ticket for violating the City’s street cleaning ordinance. At some point after midnight the City had posted street cleaning signs on the block. Kooperman paid the fine under protest and contested the ticket.  Both the City’s administrative hearing officer and the circuit court, however, found no requirement in the law that notice be provided a certain amount of time in advance of issuing the ticket.

On appeal, the court in Kooperman v. City of Chicago disagreed, finding the City’s practice unconstitutional. It held that such practice effectively gave the City the right to post a notice and ten minutes later issue a ticket.  Although the ordinance did not provide a time period for providing notice, the court found that in order to comply with an individual’s due process rights, the City must provide at least 24 hours advance notice before citing someone for violating its street cleaning ordinance.

The proper form, content, timing and recipient of notice is often provided by statutory or case law. However, where local government’s are given discretion to establish the type of notice, it is important that they keep in mind the United States Supreme Court’s admonition “that laws give the person of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to know what is prohibited, so that he may act accordingly. Vague laws may trap the innocent by not providing fair warning.” Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 108 (1972).

Post Authored by David Warner, Ancel Glink

Friday, April 5, 2019

Income Tax Exemption for Housing Subsidies to Ministers Does Not Violate Constitution

Under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..”  A nonprofit organization brought suit against the United States Treasury claiming a longstanding tax code exemption for religious housing violated the Establishment Clause because it did not have a secular purpose and instead provided aid to a group of religious persons. Recently, a federal court rejected the nonprofit’s claim because the law applied equally to nonsecular institutions, did not involve a subsidy, required a level of fact-finding that did not excessively entangle the government in religion, and was a historic practice. Gaylor v. Mnuchin

The U.S. Court incorporates a number of tests when evaluating the constitutionality of Establishment Clause cases. One is known as the “Lemon Test,” which provides that a law violates the Clause unless it has a secular legislative purpose, its principal or primary effect neither advances nor inhibits religion, and it does not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion. More recently, the Court has also applied a “historical significance” test to uphold laws advancing a particular religious belief if there are a sufficient number of historical examples of the law being applied without issue.

Under both tests, the Gaylor court found the income tax exemption permissible. The court noted the exemption also applied to any housing subsidy provided as a convenience to the employer not just ministers. In addition, the court cited previous judicial decisions finding tax exemptions are not the same as subsidies and therefore do not constitute an attempt to advance religion. Also, the fact-finding required to determine if a minister satisfies the exemption is no greater level of entanglement than what is necessary to implement the law. Lastly, the court noted exemptions for religious purposes have been provided by the federal government since 1802 and no previous interpretation of the exemption suggested it was imposed for a religious purpose. 

Post Authored by David Warner, Ancel Glink     

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Building Inspection Bill Would Restrict Municipal Authority

Illinois House Bill 2206 is yet another bill introduced in the Illinois General Assembly that would take away important municipal powers. If passed, HB 2206 would only allow home inspections by a unit of local government under the following circumstances:
  • A fire, medical, or police emergency;
  • As otherwise permitted by Section 9 of the Fire Investigation Act;
  • Voluntary consent of the owner or occupant of the property;
  • A lawful warrant; or
  • A court order.
The bill would preempt home rule authority, and if passed, would restrict municipalities from enforcing ordinances that require rental inspections or inspections for transfer stamps and similar regulations. Municipalities are most concerned about the restrictions on their authority to address unsafe or dangerous structures where time may be of the essence but the circumstances may not fall under any of the listed statutory situations. 

The Illinois chapter of the APA has sent out a notice about this bill and is asking communities to oppose the legislation. Timing could be critical because the legislation has passed out of committee and is moving forward in the Illinois House.

Here's the text of the bill:
Section 1. Short title. This Act may be cited as the Local Government Residential Inspection Limitation Act.
Section 5. Physical inspection of residential property. Except for a fire, medical, or police emergency or as otherwise permitted by Section 9 of the Fire Investigation Act, a unit of local government may not conduct a physical inspection of residential property without the voluntary consent of the owner or occupant of the property, a lawful warrant, or court order. This Section is a denial and limitation of home rule powers and functions under subsection (g) of Section 6 of Article VII of the Illinois Constitution.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Bill Proposes Statutory "Vested Rights" to Restrict Municipal Zoning Authority

Another bill has been introduced in the Illinois General Assembly that would restrict municipal zoning authority in Illinois.  House Bill 3185 would amend the Illinois Zoning Enabling Act to prohibit municipalities (including home rule units) from enforcing any building or zoning ordinance against a development after a developer has taken any one of the following 5 "qualifying" steps to move the project forward with the municipality:

1.  Had a preliminary meeting with  municipal staff
2.  Applied for a building permit with the municipality
3.  Presented a development plan to the city council/village board
4.  Substantially invested resources into planning the project
5.  Given notice to the municipality of its intent to develop the property

The bill, if passed, would allow a developer to sue the municipality to order the issuance of permits and approvals and the imposition of fines if the municipality tries to enforce an ordinance in violation of this law.

Clearly, this would be a significant and substantial change in zoning law in Illinois if it is enacted. In essence, it legislates a "vested right" of a developer to proceed with a development irrespective of any zoning or building code changes apparently for an unlimited period of time and based on very little action by the developer to "vest" its rights. For example, it seems that a developer could do as little as simply appear at a meeting of the city council to  show a concept plan during public comment or send a letter to the municipality that it wants to develop a parcel to be able to argue that its rights are vested and they are forever free from any future building or zoning changes. That is a significant departure from the existing vested rights doctrine that has been established through court decisions over time and that already protects developers from municipal changes upon demonstration of certain definitive factors as set out in those cases.

The Illinois chapter of the American Planning Association has sent out information about this bill, asking members to oppose this significant restriction on municipal zoning authority. 

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf