Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 97-CH-437 Honorable Scott Mansfield, Judge, presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Goldenhersh
Defendants, Kirk Brown, Secretary of Transportation, Dale I. Klohr, district engineer--District 8, and Joseph E. Crowe, Jr., program development engineer--District 8, of the Illinois Department of Transportation, appeal from an order of the Circuit Court of St. Clair County granting summary judgment in favor of plaintiff, Drury Displays, Inc., in an action for a writ of mandamus to compel defendants to reissue permits to plaintiff for a billboard that had already been constructed. The issue on appeal is whether the trial court erred in granting summary judgment for plaintiff and in denying summary judgment for defendants. We affirm.
On July 24, 1996, plaintiff purchased property in East St. Louis, Illinois, with the intention of constructing an outdoor advertising sign. On July 25, 1996, plaintiff applied to the Illinois Department of Transportation (hereinafter the Department) for an outdoor-advertising permit for the property purchased the previous day. On August 12, 1996, permit No. 8/4277 was approved by Dale K. Klohr. The permit would expire within 180 days if a sign was not erected. Upon receipt of the permit, plaintiff applied and submitted the appropriate fee to the City of East St. Louis for a demolition permit to remove an existing structure located on the property. The demolition permit was issued on November 14, 1996, by the City of East St. Louis. On December 17, 1996, plaintiff again applied to the City of East St. Louis, this time for a permit to construct the proposed billboard. A fee was also required for this permit. The permit was issued on January 29, 1997, by the City of East St. Louis.
On February 4, 1997, plaintiff reapplied to the Department for another permit because its first permit, No. 8/4277, was near expiration. On February 5, 1997, Klohr again approved a permit for plaintiff. The new permit was No. 8/4304. Plaintiff then proceeded with the demolition of the existing structure on the property. The demolition was completed in March of 1997. Plaintiff also ordered steel for the construction of the billboard. The billboard was completed in May 1997.
Thereafter, on June 9, 1997, Norman Sampson, a Department employee, notified plaintiff by telephone that the Department erred in issuing the permits to plaintiff and that the billboard constructed on the property might have to be removed. On June 26, 1997, Klohr and Joseph E. Crowe, Jr., issued a notice of intent to revoke the permit to plaintiff, explaining that the permit violated section 522.200(d) of the Department's regulations (92 Ill. Adm. Code §522.200(d) (1992)). The notice specifically stated as follows:
"The District inadvertently erred when we issued Permit Nos. 8/4277 dated August 12, 1996[,] and 8/4304 dated February 5, 1997[,] to your company because the proposed sign location was less than 500 ft. from the proposed sign location of Permit Nos. 8/4240 dated February 1, 1996 (renewed), 8/4276 dated July 18, 1996[,] and 8/4299 dated January 6, 1997[,] to William P. Karius and Whiteco Outdoor Advertising. The issuance of Permit Nos. 8/4277 and 8/4304 did not meet the standards as required under Section 522.200(d) of the [Illinois Administrative] Code. 'No such sign may be erected along the same side of an interstate highway or expressway within 500 ft. of another such sign structure or location where another such has been permitted but not yet erected.'" After receiving this letter, plaintiff requested that the matter be reviewed.
The Department received plaintiff's review request pertaining to permits No. 8/4277 and No. 8/4304 on July 31, 1997. On October 3, 1997, David E. Schinneer, engineer of land acquisition for the Department, sent a letter advising plaintiff that he had reviewed plaintiff's request for review and determined that the permit was unlawful. The letter stated, inter alia, as follows:
"I have reviewed all of the information submitted by both parties. There does not appear to be any discrepancy in the facts. Drury Displays, Inc.[,] properly applied for a business area sign at a location on Interstate 55/70 that was already covered by permit 8[/]4276 issued to William P. Karius, Jr. State law (225 ILCS 440/6.03(b)) prohibits two advertising signs within 500 feet of each other on the same side of the highway on interstate highways. A new permit (8[/]4277) was erroneously issued to Drury Displays, Inc.[,] by Mr. Norman Sampson. Both permits were subsequently renewed." The Highway Advertising Control Act of 1971 (Act), cited in Schinneer's letter, provides in pertinent part as follows:
"(b) Along interstate highways and expressways no two sign structures on the same side of the highway shall be erected less than 500 feet apart." 225 ILCS 440/6.03(b) (West 1996).
Schinneer's letter went on to inform plaintiff that the sign it erected under permit 8/4304 was unlawful because it was in violation of both the Act and section 522.200(d) of the Illinois Administrative Code (the Code), each of which requires the same 500-foot separation between signs (225 ILCS 440/6.03(b) (West 1996); 92 Ill. Adm. Code §522.200(d) (1992)). On October 10, 1997, Klohr and Crowe sent plaintiff a letter notifying plaintiff that it was required to remove its sign within 30 days.
In response, plaintiff filed a two-count complaint on October 29, 1997, against defendants. Count I sought a writ of mandamus to compel defendants to reissue the outdoor-advertising permits on the basis that the Department should be estopped from revoking the permits by the conduct of its representatives. Count II sought an injunction to prohibit defendants from removing and confiscating the billboard that plaintiff had already constructed on the property.
On January 20, 1998, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. Defendants argued that plaintiff was not entitled to a writ of mandamus or an injunction because (1) it did not have a right to the permit since the permit violated section 6.03(b) of the Act (225 ILCS 440/6.03(b) (West 1996)) and (2) the Department could not be estopped by the conduct of its employees where their conduct exceeded their authority. On February 23, 1998, plaintiff filed its own motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff asserted that it was entitled to a writ of mandamus and an injunction estopping defendants from revoking the permit, because it was defendant's affirmative action that induced plaintiff to act and because plaintiff would suffer a substantial loss without the requested relief.
On April 13, 1998, the trial court entered an order granting plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and denying defendants' motion for summary judgment. The trial court found that plaintiff expended "$49,897.20 in reliance upon the issuance of the permits described in the complaint, which expenditure does constitute a substantial loss." Accordingly, the trial court found that defendants should be estopped by their own actions from revoking the permits. The order directed defendants to ...