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Wozniak v. County of Dupage

decided: April 21, 1988.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, No. 82 C 6710-Ilana D. Rovner, Judge.

Posner and Coffey, Circuit Judges, and Noland, Senior District Judge.*fn*

Author: Coffey

COFFEY, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiffs-appellants Roger and Shirley Wozniak appeal from the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The court ruled that the Wozniaks were precluded from bringing their Section 1983 claim finding it was barred by res judicata and collateral estoppel principles. We affirm.


In July of 1979, Roger and Shirley Wozniak contracted to purchase a two-acre parcel of land on Grace Street near the Village of Lombard in unincorporated DuPage County. The Wozniaks intended to build a home on a site zoned for single-family residences.

On July 27, 1979, Roger approached the DuPage County Planning and Zoning Department to inquire about the procedures for obtaining a building permit. Thomas Miller, a department employee, checked his records and told Roger that the lot was suitable for building subject to an acceptable percolation test for a septic system and a satisfactory grading and drainage plan. The Wozniaks completed the percolation test and submitted the required grading and drafting plans to the DuPage County Building Department to obtain an excavation permit.

On August 31, 1979, the Wozniaks received a copy of a letter from DuPage County Department of Public Works Drainage Engineer Homer Branch to David Van Vleck, the Zoning Administrator within the DuPage County Department of Public Works, indicating that the grading and drainage plan had been rejected because the Wozniaks' lot was in a flood plain or wetland. During the next month, the Wozniaks submitted additional engineering studies and met at various times with Branch, Van Vleck, and DuPage County Department of Public Works Superintendent David Loveland, in an effort to demonstrate that the property was not in a flood plain or wetland area and thus met all the County's requirements for the issuance of a permit. Nevertheless, the Department of Public Works reiterated its position to the Zoning and Planning Department in a letter signed by Branch recommending the denial of a permit stating that the lot was susceptible to flooding. The Zoning and Planning Department formally denied the excavation permit on November 2, 1979, and on review, the County's Planning and Zoning Committee affirmed the department's denial of the permit.

On December 12, 1979, Roger filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in DuPage County Circuit Court against the DuPage County Board of Supervisors, the DuPage County Zoning and Planning Department, and David Van Vleck seeking issuance of the excavation permit. The petition alleged that the failure of the defendant Van Vleck to issue the excavation permit was arbitrary, capricious, and without legal basis as the property was located neither in a flood plain nor a wetland as those terms are defined in the DuPage County zoning ordinance. The petition stated that the "exercise of power by the defendants has deprived the plaintiff of his property without due process of law in violation of his constitutional guarantee . . . under the 5th and 14th amendments of the Constitution of the United States." Although the petition alleged that the defendants' refusal to issue the excavation permit had caused Roger to suffer great financial hardship, the sole relief requested was a declaration that Roger had a right to issuance of the permit and an order directing the defendants to issue the permit.

Following a trial on the merits, Circuit Court Judge William Black issued the following letter opinion:

"From the evidence and exhibits presented in open court, I make the following findings of fact:

1. that the only reason for the denial of the plaintiff's excavation and fill permit was Mr. Branch's conclusion that the subject property was in the flood plain based upon maps, site inspection, and complaints from the people in the area.

2. that the plaintiff's subject property is not within the flood plain as it is defined in the Zoning Ordinance (J-1(a) through (g)[)].

3. that the plaintiffs exhausted their procedural administrative remedies by proceeding before the Planning, Building and ...

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