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Mester v. Otter Lake Water Commission

February 8, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard Mills, U.S. District Judge


This case is before the Court on Defendant's motion for summary judgment.

This is a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, wherein the Plaintiffs allege in Count I a deprivation of property without due process. Count II contains a pendant state law claim for inverse condemnation.



Defendant Otter Lake Water Commission, ADGPTV, ("the Commission" or "the Defendant") is a public corporation established in the late 1960's pursuant to Division 135 of the Illinois Municipal Code, 65 ILCS 5/11-135-1 et seq., originally pursuant to an intergovernmental agreement among the municipalities of Auburn, Divernon, Girard, Pawnee, Thayer and Virden, Illinois. The Commission presently owns and operates a wholesale water production and distribution system serving the original six members plus the Village of Nilwood, as well as a number of retail customers in unincorporated areas in Sangamon and Macoupin Counties, Illinois. The Commission's main reservoir is Otter Lake in Macoupin County. The Plaintiffs are four individuals who, along with over 100 others, occupy camping space on the Defendant's real estate.

Pursuant to 65 ILCS 5/11-135-3, the Commission has the following statutory powers as they relate to operation of a recreation system:

The commission is authorized to develop, promote and provide for recreational facilities on property acquired in and for the operation of its common source of supply of water and to include reasonable charges for such recreational facilities as part of the cost of operation and maintenance of the waterworks system.

As part of its statutory mandate, the Commission operates a recreational system at Otter Lake. The system includes a campground consisting of 254 campsites.

The Commission alleges that since the inception of the campground in the early 1970's and through October 16, 2007, the campground was operated by so-called "Concessionaires," who leased the campground from the Commission and, in turn, subleased campsites to seasonal campers such as the Plaintiffs in this case. The Plaintiffs dispute that their relationship to the other campers was as sublessees. The Concessionaire at the time was the husband-wife team of Jack and Peggy Roberts and, after Mr. Roberts's death, Ms. Roberts alone. The Commission further asserts that the Roberts lease provided that the Concessionaire would sublease the campgrounds to campers at rates established by Commission ordinances and would observe and enforce Commission ordinances within the campground, and would permit tenant improvements only according to Commission specifications. The Roberts lease expired, after all option periods, in November 2007. The Plaintiffs contend that the evidence is inconsistent with a standard owner-lessee-sublessee legal relationship. The lease with the Robertses provided that the ordinances of the Defendant "shall be legally supreme to any provisions of the lease."

The Commission alleges that the subleases had no express expiration date and were renewed annually. Either from camp scuttlebutt or discussions with the Robertses, the Plaintiffs all believed that the subleases were perpetual in duration, in the sense that if the Plaintiffs observed all camp rules, their subleases would be renewed annually in perpetuity. The Commission further asserts that two of the Plaintiffs knew that the Concessionaires themselves held the campground pursuant to a lease, but the other Plaintiffs were unaware of the precise arrangement. No Plaintiff obtained any title work on their camping lot before securing a sublease. Although they knew that the Roberts's term as concessionaires had a defined expiration date, the Plaintiffs say that they believed their right to the campsites survived that expiration date.


Beginning in 1993, when the Robertses took over as Concessionaires, the Commission began the process of imposing a uniform set of standards pertaining to "portable" improvements, such as roofs and patios, which could be made by sublessees. In consultation with a contractor who was in the business of constructing such decks, roofs, etc., the Commission established a set of Specifications for tenant improvements. At the same time, the Commission adopted an ordinance, which banned "fixtures," although the specifications required roofs over campers to be anchored in the ground as a safety measure.

The Defendant has, through its Commissioners and General Manager, admitted that the improvements built by the Plaintiffs are and always were the personal property of the Plaintiffs. This characterization applies even though the improvements are permanently affixed to the site. The Plaintiffs cite the testimony of Dennis Ross, the General Manager of the Commission, in alleging that even under the new ordinance, if a camper left his site and left behind the improvements, ownership of those improvements would pass to the new camper and not to the Defendant. The Defendant notes that Ross also testified that a departing camper who leaves improvements in place is in breach of ...

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