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Chavda v. Wolak

December 02, 1999

GANDAJI N. CHAVDA ET AL., APPELLANTS, V. JAMES J. WOLAK ET AL., APPELLEES.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Rathje

-Agenda 25-September 1999.

The sole issue presented in this appeal is whether a 1997 amendment to section 11-91-1 of the Illinois Municipal Code is constitutional. We hold that it is.

BACKGROUND

This appeal arises from the Village of Lombard's efforts to vacate a portion of Edson Street, just north of its intersection with Roosevelt Road. Plaintiffs, Gandaji and Shobhar Chavda, own the property abutting the proposed vacation on the west. Defendants, James and Janice Wolak, own the property abutting the proposed vacation on the east. On June 4, 1998, the Village of Lombard adopted Ordinance No. 4482, which provides that (1) the public interest will be served by vacating the described portion of Edson Street; (2) the fair market value of the described portion of Edson Street is $30,000; and (3) plaintiffs alone shall pay to the Village of Lombard the fair market value for the described portion of Edson Street.

In enacting Ordinance No. 4482, the Village of Lombard relied upon a 1997 amendment to section 11-91-1 of the Illinois Municipal Code (65 ILCS 5/11-91-1 (West 1998)). Prior to the 1997 amendment, section 11-91-1 provided, inter alia, that (1) upon a determination that it will serve the public interest, a municipality may vacate any street or alley within its jurisdiction; and (2) a municipality may require all abutting owners to pay compensation to the municipality in exchange for the rights acquired upon vacation. See 65 ILCS 5/11-91-1 (West 1996). The 1997 amendment, in relevant part, added the following language to section 11-91-1:

"If the ordinance provides that only the owner or owners of one particular parcel of abutting property shall make payment, then the owner or owners of the particular parcel shall acquire title to the entire vacated street or alley, or the part thereof vacated." 65 ILCS 5/11-91-1 (West 1998).

Following the adoption of Ordinance No. 4482, plaintiffs filed a declaratory judgment action in the circuit court of Du Page County. Plaintiffs' complaint sought a declaration that, upon payment of compensation to the Village as set forth in Ordinance No. 4482, plaintiffs would be entitled to receive fee title to the entire vacated portion of Edson Street. Defendants filed a counterclaim, arguing that the amended section 11-91-1 is unconstitutionally vague because it conflicts with section 11-91-2 of the Illinois Municipal Code (65 ILCS 5/11-91-2 (West 1998) (providing that, upon vacation of a street or alley, title vests proportionately in all abutting owners)); violates the due process clause because, without any standards, it authorizes a municipality to award title to only one of several abutting owners; and violates equal protection and special legislation principles because it discriminates in favor of one landowner without any rational basis.

The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment, and the trial court entered summary judgment in defendants' favor. In so ruling, the trial court noted that, under section 11-91-1, before a street or alley may be vacated, the municipality first must determine that "the public interest will be subserved" by that vacation. By contrast, without requiring any findings whatsoever, the 1997 amendment to section 11-91-1 authorizes the municipality to confer title to only one of several abutting property owners. In the trial court's judgment, section 11-91-1, as amended:

"on its face without any reference to the public good gives the Village the absolute right to pick one of two apparently equally situated property owners and give them the entire fee without any reference to any need under the police power to do so and without even the basic platitudes that you recited in the usual preambles that follow this kind of legislation about the public good. They don't even have to do that. Now, I suppose maybe that's implicit. Maybe all government officials are charged with that. But that's a scary statute, it seems to me."

Believing that section 11-91-1, as amended, "confer[s] upon a municipality the absolute unilateral and arbitrary right to award one property owner" title to the vacated property, the trial court held that section unconstitutional and unenforceable.

Because the trial court declared an act of the legislature unconstitutional, the appeal from that judgment lies directly with this court. See 134 Ill. 2d R. 302(a).

ANALYSIS

Absolute and Arbitrary Power

The trial court's analysis rests upon a faulty premise, namely, that, absent a statement from the legislature, a municipality has no obligation to act in the public interest. Because section 11-91-1, as amended, expressly requires a municipality to act in the public interest when vacating a street or alley, the trial court believed that the absence of such an express requirement with respect to the transfer of title means that municipalities are free to ...


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