Hager v. City of West Peoria

Decision Date17 May 1996
Docket NumberNo. 95-2166,95-2166
Citation84 F.3d 865
PartiesDonald J. HAGER, d/b/a Hager Performance Tire Specialists and Albert L. Baker, d/b/a Thunder Valley Landfill, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. CITY OF WEST PEORIA, a municipal corporation, and John F. Roberts, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit

Gary L. Morris (argued), Peoria, IL, for plaintiffs-appellants.

William C. Barasha (argued), Kurnik, Cipolla & Barasha, Arlington Heights, IL, William C. Connor, The Leiter Group, Peoria, IL, for defendants-appellees.

Before BAUER, EASTERBROOK, and MANION, Circuit Judges.

MANION, Circuit Judge.

Two businesses located just outside West Peoria, Illinois can access their properties only from a public road that lies within the city's limits. West Peoria enacted municipal ordinances regulating truck traffic on that road. Because deliveries by large trucks are integral to these businesses, they challenge the ordinances, alleging among other things that the ordinances effect takings of their properties and violate their constitutional right to equal protection. The district court properly dismissed the takings claims as prematurely filed in federal court. The plaintiffs have not pleaded a viable theory of recovery for violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Accordingly, we affirm.


Plaintiff Hager operates a tire store and plaintiff Baker a landfill business, both of which are located off a private driveway at the end of West Rohmann Avenue in Peoria County, Illinois. The only access to their properties from any public road is through this private driveway. West Rohmann Avenue lies within the city limits of West Peoria, Illinois, which was incorporated in November 1993. Plaintiffs' properties are contiguous with but outside the city limits. Large trucks approach their businesses daily from West Peoria via West Rohmann Avenue and the private driveway. Many of the companies and individuals that do business with plaintiffs use these large trucks for deliveries and pick-ups.

In 1994 the West Peoria city council determined that heavy trucks had become a burden on the city's streets. The city council specifically noted that use of the streets by heavy trucks required "constant resurfacing," and that those trucks created safety hazards during certain hours of the day. The council consequently determined it had "a need to restrict weight limits on certain streets."

To address these concerns, the city council enacted Ordinance 94-30, which provided that truck traffic on the last three blocks of West Rohmann Avenue must weigh less than eight tons, although local vehicles under fifteen tons making local deliveries could apply for a permit to exceed that weight limit. Permits cost $12.50 per load for vehicles from eight to twelve tons and $20.00 per load for vehicles from twelve to fifteen tons. The ordinance prohibited vehicles in excess of fifteen tons. The city enforced this ordinance by placing a road weight limit sign on West Rohmann Avenue. The typical truck that serviced the landfill "coincidentally" weighed eight tons empty and over fifteen tons loaded.

Two months later the city council enacted Ordinance 94-31, which imposes weight restrictions for trucks and vehicles traveling on most West Peoria streets, including West Rohmann Avenue. The new ordinance provides that vehicles using city streets which exceed eight tons but not fifteen tons may apply for a permit for a fee of $12.50, and those which exceed fifteen tons but weigh less than twenty-six tons may apply for a permit for a fee of $20.00. Ordinance 94-31 exempts municipal vehicles, vehicles making deliveries to West Peoria residents, and vehicles of businesses performing construction services within the city limits. The city also enacted Ordinance 94-26, which erects a stop sign on Rohmann Avenue at the end of the private driveway leading to plaintiffs' properties. The location of this stop sign makes it difficult to exit plaintiffs' driveway because truck drivers had to stop on an incline.

Hager's and Baker's properties are zoned for commercial and industrial use. Plaintiffs anticipated using them for these purposes, which require access by heavy trucks. Before summer 1994 no road weight limit signs had graced West Rohmann Avenue leading to their properties. Faced with large trucks effectively losing access to their businesses, Hager and Baker filed this suit in federal court against the city and its street department manager challenging the ordinances as violating the U.S. Constitution and Illinois state law.

Hager and Baker complain that the ordinances violate their constitutional right to equal protection because they exempt similarly situated West Peoria businesses from having to obtain truck permits and pay fees. Plaintiffs further claim the ordinances inversely condemn their properties, severely reduce their value, and limit their potential industrial and commercial use without fair compensation. The complaint also contains state law allegations of tortious interference with plaintiffs' delivery contracts with other trucking businesses.

Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), West Peoria moved to dismiss the takings claims as premature considering the remedies available under Illinois law for an alleged taking. West Peoria also sought dismissal of the equal protection claims on two grounds: (1) plaintiffs did not plead membership in a suspect class or deprivation of a fundamental right, and the ordinances are rationally related to legitimate governmental purposes; and (2) the permit fees in the ordinances are taxes insulated from constitutional challenge by the Tax Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1341:

The district courts shall not enjoin, suspend or restrain the assessment, levy or collection of any tax under State law where a plain, speedy and efficient remedy may be had in the courts of such State.

Because the lower court had only supplemental jurisdiction over the state tortious interference with contract claims, the city argued their dismissal would follow that of the federal question claims.

The district court conducted an evidentiary hearing at which West Peoria's mayor testified. He stated that the city originally passed the ordinances to "get some money for maintaining this road." He admitted on cross-examination, however, that the weight restrictions had generated a total of only $20.00 in revenue from a single permit fee, that all other permit fees had been waived, and that the single permit fee collected would have been waived as well had Baker negotiated with city officials. He also admitted that while the word "tax" did not appear in the ordinances, the term "regulate" did repeatedly, and that in addition to the city's intention to raise revenue by the ordinances, it wanted to regulate West Rohmann Avenue for safety and resurfacing purposes. The district judge found the mayor to be a credible witness.

The district court dismissed plaintiffs' takings claims as premature because they had yet to seek compensation through established state procedures. The court also considered whether the Tax Injunction Act precluded plaintiffs' equal protection claims by deciding whether the permit fees charged by the city pursuant to the ordinances were a tax, and therefore within the scope of the Act, or a regulation, in which case the Act would not apply. "[A]lthough a close question," the district court concluded that the permit fees at issue were a tax rather than a regulatory measure. Accordingly, pursuant to the Tax Injunction Act, which applies to municipal as well as state taxes, 1 the district court concluded it lacked federal jurisdiction over plaintiffs' equal protection claims. Absent any federal claims, the court declined supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiffs' state law claims and granted the motion to dismiss.

We review the district court's decision de novo, accepting as true any well-pleaded allegations in the complaint and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiffs. Covington Court, Ltd. v. Village of Oak Brook, 77 F.3d 177, 178-79 (7th Cir.1996) (citation omitted).

A. Takings/Inverse Condemnation Claims

In Williamson County Regional Planning Comm'n v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, 473 U.S. 172, 105 S.Ct. 3108, 87 L.Ed.2d 126 (1985), the Supreme Court ruled that if a state provides adequate procedures for seeking just compensation, a property owner cannot state a claim in federal court under the Fifth Amendment until he has used these procedures and been denied just compensation. Id., 473 U.S. at 195, 105 S.Ct. at 3121; see also Yee v. City of Escondido, Cal., 503 U.S. 519, 533-34, 112 S.Ct. 1522, 1531-32, 118 L.Ed.2d 153 (1992) (claim that municipal ordinance as applied effected regulatory taking would be unripe if claimant had not sought state redress, citing Williamson County, 473 U.S. at 186-97, 105 S.Ct. at 3116-22). This court has applied this ripeness doctrine. DeHart v. Town of Austin, 39 F.3d 718, 724 (7th Cir.1994) (premature to decide whether ordinance prohibiting possession of wild animals deprived wild animal business owner of alleged constitutionally protected property interests without due process; suit for excessive regulation is for inverse condemnation, which belongs first in state court, citing inter alia Williamson County, 473 U.S. at 195-96, 105 S.Ct. at 3121-22); River Park, Inc. v. City of Highland Park, 23 F.3d 164, 167 (7th Cir.1994) (property owner's Illinois common law rights in zoning classification dispute meant that suit for inverse condemnation belonged in state court, citing Williamson County, 473 U.S. at 195-96, 105 S.Ct. at 3121-22); Estate of Himelstein v. City of Fort Wayne, Ind., 898 F.2d 573, 575-578 (7th Cir.1990) (property owner's takings claim for city council's failure to issue building permit after property had allegedly been rezoned not ripe for review where owner had not brought inverse condemnation action...

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