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County of Knox ex rel Masterson v. Highlands

December 02, 1999

THE COUNTY OF KNOX EX REL. ROBERT MASTERSON, KNOX COUNTY ZONING DEPARTMENT ADMINISTRATOR, ET AL., APPELLANTS, V. THE HIGHLANDS, L.L.C., ET AL., APPELLEES.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Justice Freeman

-Agenda 28-September 1999.

The Highlands, L.L.C., filed a complaint in the circuit court of Knox County against the Knox County zoning board of appeals (board), Knox County State's Attorney Paul Mangieri, and John Leonard, one of others hereafter collectively referred to as "Objectors." The Highlands sought a determination that it could proceed to construct and operate a large- scale hog confinement facility. In two separate complaints against the Highlands, Knox County (county) and Leonard sought an injunction barring the construction of the facility.

The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the Highlands. The appellate court, with one Justice Dissenting, upheld the judgment of the circuit court. 302 Ill. App. 3d 342. We allowed the county's and Leonard's separate petitions for leave to appeal (177 Ill. 2d R. 315) and consolidated the causes for review. We now affirm the appellate court.

BACKGROUND

The record contains the following pertinent facts. Patricia Baird, a co-owner of the Highlands, and her husband James, own land in a rural, unincorporated area of the county. The Highlands applied to the county zoning department for a construction permit to erect six buildings as part of a hog confinement facility. Several days later, the zoning department issued the permit.

Approximately three months later, the Objectors appealed the issuance of the construction permit to the board. They contended, inter alia, that "the use of the property [i.e., a large-scale hog confinement facility] is not a customary agricultural use in this area." They sought to "cancel construction permit and maintain `F' [farming] zoning." The permit was suspended, thereby staying construction pending the appeal.

The board held a public hearing on the appeal, where it received testimony and written evidence both for and against the issuance of the construction permit. Four of the five board members were present. At the close of the evidence, two members voted to rescind the permit and one passed his vote. The chairman did not vote; he explained that since four votes were necessary to rescind the permit, the motion to rescind could not carry even if he voted in its favor. Accordingly, the chairman ruled that the motion to rescind failed.

Two days later, however, Mangieri advised the zoning department that the construction permit suspension should remain effective until the legal effect of the board's action was clarified. Mangieri subsequently opined that the motion to rescind the construction permit had passed. The zoning department notified the Highlands that the board had granted the appeal and canceled the construction permit.

Despite having been told that the permit had been canceled, the Highlands began ground preparation on the proposed construction site. The zoning department then notified the Highlands that it was in violation of the county zoning rules and directed it to cease all construction activities immediately.

The Highlands filed in the circuit court a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief, in which it sought to enjoin the county from enforcing its zoning rules (counts I through III). The Highlands also sought administrative review of the board's decision (count IV). The county then filed a complaint seeking injunctive relief against the Highlands; Leonard filed a similar complaint.

The Highlands then moved for summary judgment in all three pending cases. In the cases brought against it, the Highlands sought summary judgment on all counts. In the case it brought, the Highlands sought summary judgment only on the counts seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The circuit court granted the Highlands summary judgment in all three cases. The court included a finding that the board lacked jurisdiction to proceed because the Highlands was engaged in an agricultural purpose, which is exempt from zoning regulations pursuant to the Counties Code. See 55 ILCS 5/5-12001 (West 1998). In light of this finding, the Highlands subsequently dismissed the remaining count of its complaint seeking administrative review.

The appellate court, with one Justice Dissenting, upheld the judgment of the circuit court. 302 Ill. App. 3d 342. The appellate court held that: (1) the circuit court could hear the Highlands' motions for summary judgment (302 Ill. App. 3d at 344-45); and (2) the county lacked zoning authority over the Highlands (302 Ill. App. 3d at 345-48). The county and Leonard appeal to this court.

DISCUSSION

In reviewing a trial court's entry of summary judgment, the only issue on appeal is whether "the pleadings, depositions, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." 735 ILCS 5/2-1005(c) (West 1998). This case turns on the meaning of the term "agriculture" found in the Counties Code. 55 ILCS 5/5-12001 (West 1998). The interpretation of a statute is a matter of law for the court and appropriate for summary judgment. Matsuda v. Cook County Employees' & Officers' Annuity & Benefit Fund, 178 Ill. 2d 360, 364 (1977); see Lane v. Titchenel, 204 Ill. App. 3d 1049, 1053 (1990); People ex rel. ...


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