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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Federal Court Lacks Jurisdiction in Zoning Due Process Case

In 2004, neighboring property owners filed a lawsuit in state court claiming that a planned unit development approval for Resurrection Health Care violated the plaintiffs' constitutional rights because the approval was inconsistent with the Chicago Zoning Code.  The trial and appellate courts both upheld the ordinance, finding that "The IPD ordinance enacted by the city council in this case is not rendered unconstitutional simply because this municipality, a home rule unit, violated its own self-imposed ordinances in enacting the IPD ordinance."  Condominium Ass'n of Commonwealth Plaza v. City of Chicago, 924 N.E.2d 596 (Ill.App. 2010).   

Plaintiffs did not stop there, and subsequently filed a lawsuit in federal court.  Plaintiffs' Count I of its federal lawsuit claimed that the state court holding that "a home rule municipality may violate its own, duly enacted laws in adopting or amending a zoning ordinance...deprives all property owners...of constitutional due process of law."  The district court dismissed Count I pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and the remainder of the complaint based on res judicata.  Plaintiffs appealed the dismissal of Count I to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed the district court dismissal in Condominium Ass'n Condominium Ass'n of Commonwealth Plaza v. City of Chicago (decided August 30, 2012).

The Rooker-Feldman doctrine prevents lower courts from reviewing state court judgments over which only the U.S. Supreme Court has federal appellate jurisdiction.  As noted by the Seventh Circuit, no matter how erroneous or unconstitutional the state court judgment may be, federal district courts and circuit courts simply have no jurisdiction to hear "cases brought by state-court losers."  Consequently, Plaintiffs attempt to obtain a better result in federal court after losing in state court failed, and the case was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. 

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink


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