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Thursday, November 8, 2012

County Not Liable for Delay in Rezoning

Plaintiff owned five properties in a mixed rural/suburban area in central Illinois.  Plaintiff lived on one of the five properties, while the other four parcels made up about 190 acres nearby.  The four properties were zoned agricultural, but Plaintiff wanted them rezoned as rural residential.   Plaintiff filed two zoning applications to have the parcels rezoned.  After both applications were rejected by the Tazewell County Board, Plaintiff sued the Board in state court.  The parties ultimately settled with an “Agreed Order” that the Board would rezone the four properties as rural residential. 

Following the “Agreed Order,” the Board rezoned neighboring properties, but continued to refuse to rezone Plaintiff’s four properties.  Eventually, the Board granted Plaintiff’s application to rezone the parcels in 2008.  However, by then, the real estate market was down and the properties had lost value and were no longer worth more zoned residential than they were when zoned agricultural. 

Plaintiff filed a Section 1983 action in federal district court, alleging that her “class of one” was denied equal protection and that the Board discriminated against her in favor of neighboring properties.  Plaintiff further alleged that after her lawsuit in state court, the Board denied her applications as payback.

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Board.  Upon appeal, the Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding that the Board did not discriminate against the Plaintiff.  Guth v. Tazewell County,  No. 11-3452 (October 17, 2012).  First, the Court found that Plaintiff’s application and the applications of neighboring properties were not comparable because the Plaintiff’s property was located in closer proximity to a hog farm, raising the potential for nuisance suits.  Second, the Court rejected Plaintiff’s retaliation claim as it was unable to determine whether the anti-zoning votes were motivated by retaliation, as some Board members did vote for rezoning and many who voted against rezoning did not indicate a reason.  Finally, the Court found that the loss of value in the property was related to the downturn in the housing market and not the Board’s actions.  Ultimately, the Court affirmed the lower court decision, holding that the protection of agriculture was a rational motive for voting against Plaintiff’s applications. 

Post Authored by Erin Baker, Ancel Glink.


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