River Park, Inc. v. City of Highland Park

Decision Date25 April 1994
Docket NumberNo. 93-3017,93-3017
Citation23 F.3d 164
PartiesRIVER PARK, INC., and Country Club Estates, Ltd., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. CITY OF HIGHLAND PARK, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit

Paul E. Slater (argued), Mitchell H. Macknin, Robert D. Cheifetz, Sperling, Slater & Spitz, Chicago, IL, for plaintiffs-appellants.

Stephen R. Swofford, Thomas S. Malciauskas, Donald L. Mrozek, Hinshaw & Culbertson, William R. Quinlan (argued), Michael K. Bartosz, Pope, Cahill & Devine, Chicago, IL, for defendant-appellee.

Before EASTERBROOK and MANION, Circuit Judges, and McDADE, District Judge. *

EASTERBROOK, Circuit Judge.

Federal courts are not boards of zoning appeals. This message, oft-repeated, has not penetrated the consciousness of property owners who believe that federal judges are more hospitable to their claims than are state judges. Why they should believe this we haven't a clue; none has ever prevailed in this circuit, but state courts often afford relief on facts that do not support a federal claim. Is it that they have omitted the steps necessary to obtain review in state court and hope for the best in a second-chance forum? Well, we are not cooperating. Litigants who neglect or disdain their state remedies are out of court, period.

River Park, Inc., owned the Highland Park Country Club in Highland Park, Illinois. Although used as a golf course, the land's R1 zoning permitted River Park to construct residential housing--but no more than one house per three acres. River Park decided to build a residential subdivision, with a half acre per lot. This required R4 zoning, which it duly requested. River Park insists, and we shall assume, that state law required the City to grant its application. Local sentiment preferred a golf course to more housing. A member of the City Council organized a citizens' committee called "Save the Open Space," which the City Manager supported. Stalling tactics ensued. Officials nominally approved the rezoning, but the City Engineer, who had to pass on technical details, raised one niggling objection after another and eventually went incommunicado. He twiddled his thumbs for so long, an entire year, that the zoning application expired and had to be refiled. After River Park filed a second application, city officials found a new delaying tactic and directed it to begin from scratch yet again. By this time River Park was bankrupt. Its lender foreclosed. River Park retained one asset--this action, under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, seeking damages from the City for a violation of the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment.

The Constitution says that no "State [may] deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law". The district court dismissed the complaint, ruling that River Park had not been deprived of any "property." 1993 WL 281079, 1993 U.S.Dist. LEXIS 10197 (N.D.Ill.). State and local zoning rules are too vague, the court believed, to create a legitimate claim of entitlement to the R4 zoning River Park sought. At critical passes the laws create governmental powers without commanding specific action. For example, Highland Park Ordinance Sec. 150.400.3.5 (emphasis added) provides that "[t]he City Council may authorize an amendment" to the zoning classification. Without a legitimate claim of entitlement there is no property. See Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 576-78, 92 S.Ct. 2701, 2708-10, 33 L.Ed.2d 548 (1972); Perry v. Sindermann, 408 U.S. 593, 601, 92 S.Ct. 2694, 2699, 33 L.Ed.2d 570 (1972).

For the reasons the district court gave, River Park may well have lacked a property interest in one classification rather than another. But it surely had a property interest in the land, which it owned in fee simple, and it is therefore entitled to contend that the City's regulation of that land deprived it of property without due process. The references to "property" in the Constitution reflect its Lockean heritage. The founding generation viewed "property" in concrete terms--land and chattels acquired by the investment of effort or purchase from another. An owner may build on its land; that is an ordinary element of a property interest. Zoning classifications are not the measure of the property interest but are legal restrictions on the use of property. See Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co., 272 U.S. 365, 47 S.Ct. 114, 71 L.Ed. 303 (1926). Licenses, permits, and classifications are important to owners because they reflect governmental promises not to interfere with private uses of property, but let us not confuse a decision not to intervene with the property itself. Toulabi v. United States, 875 F.2d 122 (7th Cir.1989); Fleury v. Clayton, 847 F.2d 1229 (7th Cir.1988); Scott v. Kewaskum, 786 F.2d 338 (7th Cir.1986).

It has become useful to think of some governmental promises as "property." In a world characterized by many "positive liberties"--public education, grants and subsidies, public employment and the like--the arbitrary power of petty bureaucrats is checked by calling these promises "property" and requiring the government to supply due process. Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254, 90 S.Ct. 1011, 25 L.Ed.2d 287 (1970). Efforts to distinguish among kinds of public assistance and involvement have produced the positivist approach of Roth and later cases, e.g., Kentucky Department of Corrections v. Thompson, 490 U.S. 454, 109 S.Ct. 1904, 104 L.Ed.2d 506 (1989), under which only promises marked by determinate criteria count as "property." Wallace v. Robinson, 940 F.2d 243, 246-48 (7th Cir.1991) (en banc). But this is a definition of the "new property" rather than the "old property." In the main, the Constitution is a charter of negative rather than positive liberties. DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services, 489 U.S. 189, 109 S.Ct. 998, 103 L.Ed.2d 249 (1989); Jackson v. Joliet, 715 F.2d 1200, 1203 (7th Cir.1983); David P. Currie, Positive and Negative Constitutional Rights, 53 U.Chi.L.Rev. 864 (1986). Those things people can hold or do without the government's aid count as property or liberty no matter what criteria the law provides. So, for example, the ability to work in the ordinary occupations of the community is a liberty or property interest. Truax v. Raich, 239 U.S. 33, 41, 36 S.Ct. 7, 10, 60 L.Ed. 131 (1915); cf. Vitek v. Jones, 445 U.S. 480, 100 S.Ct. 1254, 63 L.Ed.2d 552 (1980); Hampton v. Mow Sun Wong, 426 U.S. 88, 102-04, 96 S.Ct. 1895, 1905-06, 48 L.Ed.2d 495 (1976). See also Henry Paul Monaghan, Of "Liberty" and "Property," 62 Cornell L.Rev. 405, 434-43 (1977). Otherwise a single local ordinance providing that "we may put your land in any zone we want, for any reason we feel like" would abolish all property rights in land overnight. The due process and takings clauses are made of sterner stuff. E.g., Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, 483 U.S. 825, 107 S.Ct. 3141, 97 L.Ed.2d 677 (1987).

So River Park was entitled to due process of law. We know from Eastlake v. Forest City Enterprises, Inc., 426 U.S. 668, 96 S.Ct. 2358, 49 L.Ed.2d 132 (1976), that the procedures "due" in zoning cases are minimal. Cities may elect to make zoning decisions through the political process--in Eastlake, by putting the question to a popular referendum, direct democracy with no hearings of any kind. See also Philly's v. Byrne, 732 F.2d 87 (7th Cir.1984). Little wonder, then, that we held in Coniston Corp. v. Hoffman Estates, 844 F.2d 461, 467-68 (7th Cir.1988), that municipalities need not use adjudicative procedures to make zoning decisions. Highland Park made a political decision in...

To continue reading

Request your trial
158 cases
  • National Paint & Coatings Ass'n v. City of Chicago
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit
    • January 24, 1995
    ...and that laws supported by a rational basis are within the power of the elected branches of government. River Park, Inc. v. Highland Park, 23 F.3d 164 (7th Cir.1994); Saukstelis v. Chicago, 932 F.2d 1171, 1173-74 (7th Cir.1991); Chicago Board of Realtors, Inc. v. Chicago, 819 F.2d 732, 741-......
  • Sintra, Inc. v. City of Seattle, 62304-0
    • United States
    • Washington Supreme Court
    • July 16, 1997
    ...its concerns are staples of litigation under state law and inverse condemnation, and we reiterate the message of River Park [Inc. v. Highland Park, 23 F.3d 164 (7th Cir.1994)], Coniston [Corp. v. Village of Hoffman Estates, 844 F.2d 461 (7th Cir. (1988))], and many other cases that develope......
  • Civil Liberties for Urban Believers v. City of Chicago
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit
    • August 20, 2003
    ...claim focused on property rights rather than Appellants' right to worship. The district court then relied upon River Park v. City of Highland Park, 23 F.3d 164 (7th Cir.1994), to determine that any facial due process attack on the CZO must be made in state court. As we stated in that case, ......
  • Hendee v. Putnam Twp.
    • United States
    • Michigan Supreme Court
    • July 15, 2010
    ...any aspect of the execution or enforcement of the zoning ordinance, it presented a facial challenge). 25. River Park, Inc. v. Highland Park, 23 F.3d 164, 167 (C.A.7, 1994) (citation omitted). 26. See Smookler v. Wheatfield Twp., 394 Mich. 574, 581, 232 N.W.2d 616 (1975) (opinion by WILLIAMS......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT