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People ex rel Peters v. O'Connor

February 25, 2000

THE PEOPLE, EX REL. DONALD PETERS, EXECUTOR OF THE ESTATE OF CLARENCE PETERS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
LAVERNE O'CONNOR, GENE WARMBIR, RUSSELL ROSENBOOM, AND MILKS GROVE SPECIAL DRAINAGE DISTRICT NO. 1 OF IROQUOIS COUNTY, ILLINOIS DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court for the 21st Judicial Circuit, Iroquois County, Illinois No. 96--MR--12 Honorable Duane J. O'Connor Judge, Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Breslin

IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS

Plaintiff Donald Peters, as executor of the estate of his father, Clarence Peters, filed suit against the commissioners of Milks Grove Special Drainage District No. 1, and the District itself (collectively District), seeking an order of mandamus to force the District to repair a bridge over a drainage ditch which would allow Peters access to a landlocked portion of his father's farm. The trial court (1) ordered the District to repair or replace the bridge, at least to the specifications of the bridge as it was originally built; (2) denied Peters damages for crop loss for the period of time he had no access to the landlocked portion of his farm; and (3) held that the District had a 1.65 acre easement as the result of this court's decision in Peters v. Milks Grove Special Drainage District No. 1, 243 Ill. App. 3d 14, 610 N.E.2d 1385 (1993). We hold that a drainage district has a duty to maintain, repair or replace a bridge to landlocked property created by a drainage ditch, and must do so in a reasonable manner so as to provide a passageway for today's farm uses. Moreover, we hold that damages for crop loss need not be calculated with mathematical certainty, but that it is enough to show realistically expected crop yield and value.

FACTS

In 1990, the District dredged a drainage ditch separating Peters' farmland into two parcels consisting of 54 acres on one side of the ditch and 17 acres on the other. The District had a previously existing easement in the land alongside the ditch but, in dredging the ditch in 1990, soil and debris were placed on Peters' land beyond the easement. Following the dredging, the slopes of the ditch began to erode. The erosion caused damage to a bridge crossing the ditch which was built by the District prior to 1956 pursuant to the Illinois Drainage Code (Act) (70 ILCS 605/12-5 (West 1998)). The bridge was Peters only access to the 17 acre parcel. That property became useless to Peters when the bridge could no longer handle the weight of his farm equipment.

In 1993, this court ruled that the District had an obligation to repair and maintain the bridge pursuant to the Act. See Peters, 243 Ill. App. 3d at 23, 610 N.E.2d at 1391. We also held that the District had "taken" 1.65 acres of Peters' land when it placed soil and debris beyond its easement and we ordered the District to pay just compensation in the amount of $4,125. Peters, 243 Ill. App. 3d at 20, 610 N.E.2d at 1390.

When the District failed to repair the bridge, Peters filed this suit for an order of mandamus to force the District to do so. In the same complaint, Peters asked for damages for crop loss from the 17 landlocked acres for the years 1992 through 1998 when he could not access the property due to the state of disrepair of the bridge. The District filed a counterclaim requesting that the court order Peters to convey to it the 1.65 acres of land for which it had paid just compensation.

The trial court denied the District's claim for a conveyance of the land, holding instead that the appellate court gave the District an easement. The court ordered the District to repair or replace the bridge, at least to the specifications of the bridge when it was originally constructed. Further, the court denied Peters damages for crop loss from the landlocked acres because, it concluded, Peters had not provided sufficient evidence of his damages. Peters now appeals.

Other relevant facts will be discussed as they become pertinent to the analysis.

ANALYSIS

The first issue on appeal is whether the trial court erred when it held that the Act (70 ILCS 605/12-5 (West 1998)) requires only that the District repair the bridge to the condition in which it existed when it was originally erected.

The primary rule of statutory construction is to give effect to the legislature's intent. Doyle Plumbing & Heating Co. v. Board of Education, Quincy Public School District No. 172, 291 Ill. App. 3d 221, 683 N.E.2d 530 (1997). When construing the language of a statute, a court should consider its plain and ordinary meaning within the overall context of its reason and necessity and its stated purpose. Illinois Bell Telephone Co. v. Illinois Commerce Comm'n, 282 Ill. App. 3d 672, 669 N.E.2d 628 (1996). This court reviews matters of statutory interpretation de novo. A.B. Dick Co. v. McGraw, 287 Ill. App. 3d 230, 678 N.E.2d 1100 (1997).

This issue is governed by the first paragraph of section 12-5 of the Act because the District was organized prior to June 28, 1919, and the bridge in question was erected prior to January 1, 1956. Paragraph one of section 12-5 states in pertinent part:

"In districts organized prior to June 28, 1919, under the Farm Drainage Act, the districts shall continue to be liable for the construction, reconstruction and maintenance of at least one bridge or proper passageway over each open ditch constructed or ordered constructed prior to the effective date of this Act [January 1, 1956] where the same crosses any enclosed tract or parcel of land in such a manner that a portion thereof is landlocked and has no access from any public highway other than by a bridge or passageway over the ditch. The cost of constructing, reconstructing and maintaining such bridge or crossing shall be paid by the district***." (emphasis added) 70 ILCS 605/12-5 (West 1998). In the first Peters case, this court held that the District must "maintain the bridge in a safe condition so that Peters can use the bridge for access to the landlocked portion of his farm." Peters, ...


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