Appeal from the Corporation,Circuit Court of Cook County Nos. 06 L 51280 06 L 51282 06 L 51283 06 L 51284 06 L 51286 06 L 51287 06 L 51288 Honorable Alexander P. White, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Karnezis
JUSTICE KARNEZIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice Harris concurred in the judgment and opinion.
Presiding Justice Cunningham specially concurred, with opinion.
Plaintiff, the Village of Bellwood, appeals from an order of the circuit court in favor of defendants, American National Bank and Trust Company of Chicago, as trustee under trust agreement dated December 29, 1949, and known as Trust #7973; Private Bank and Trust Company; Handschy Industries, Inc., a Delaware corporation; and unknown owners, denying Bellwood's motion to abandon eminent domain proceedings. On appeal, Bellwood contends that section 7-110 of the Eminent Domain Act (735 ILCS 5/7-101 et seq. (West 2004)) provides a municipality with the absolute right to abandon eminent domain proceedings prior to the municipality taking possession of the property. For the following reasons, we reverse the circuit court's order denying Bellwood's motion to abandon and remand this cause to the circuit court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
On December 29, 2006, Bellwood initiated seven eminent domain lawsuits against defendants to acquire certain parcels of property located in Bellwood, Illinois. Bellwood sought to redevelop the properties as part of a revitalization project that was to include a new Metra train station, retail shopping and residences. The properties Bellwood sought to acquire were: 120 S. 25th Avenue, 2601 Grant Street, 2615 Grant Street, 2701 Grant Street, 2715 Grant Street, 2801 Grant Street, and 2821 Grant Street. The seven lawsuits were consolidated by the circuit court.
Due to concerns about possible environmental contamination of two of the properties, Bellwood hired Pioneer Engineering & Environmental Services to evaluate the condition of the properties. Pioneer determined that two of the properties were contaminated and needed to be remediated. Pioneer provided Bellwood with an estimate to remediate the properties, which ranged from $1,314,000 to $2,050,000.
Subsequently, Bellwood negotiated and finalized an "Agreed Stipulation and Final Judgment Order" (collectively agreed orders) with each defendant that contained the purchase price of each property and the terms of the taking. Each of the agreed orders was substantially similar, and provided generally:- on or before September 1, 2009, Bellwood shall deposit with the treasurer of Cook County, Illinois, the sum of (amount of compensation) for the benefit of the owners, as full and just compensation for the property taken; - upon making the deposit with the treasurer of Cook County, Illinois, Bellwood shall be thereby vested with the fee simple title to the property; - each party waives its rights of appeal in this cause; - this order is final and disposes of all issues that have been raised or could have been raised in this action; there is no just cause to delay entry or enforcement of thisorder.
Each of the agreed orders was filed with the court between October and December of 2008.
On August 31, 2009, the day before Bellwood was to deposit just compensation with the treasurer and take title to the properties, Bellwood filed a motion entitled "Combined Motion to Vacate Agreed Stipulation and Final Judgment Order and for Leave to Voluntarily Dismiss Complaint." Bellwood sought to vacate all seven of the agreed orders and sought to dismiss the cases without prejudice. In the motion, Bellwood noted several reasons why the revitalization project had subsequently become financially unfeasible, including depressed property values and increased costsfor remediating the contaminated properties.
Shortly thereafter, on September 22, 2009, Bellwood withdrew its motion to vacate and filed a motion entitled "Motion to Confirm Abandonment of Eminent Domain Proceedings and to Voluntarily Dismiss." Bellwood sought to confirm its abandonment of the eminent domain cases pursuant to sections 7-110 (735 ILCS 5/7-110 (West 2004)) and 7-123 (735 ILCS 5/7-123 (West 2004)) of the Eminent Domain Act and sought to dismiss the complaint pursuant to section 2-1009(a) of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-1009(a) (West 2006)). After a hearing, the circuit court denied Bellwood's motion to abandon. The court stated that it was denying the motion because "you can't just go out and make agreements and then all of a sudden back out on them. I mean, and that's the long and the short of it right there. I realize that I'm treading on some very thin ice, primarily because as a matter of law, it makes it very clear that there can be a voluntary dismissal, abandonment." In the court's written memorandum and order, the court found that although a party generally has the right to dismiss a suit initiated under the Eminent Domain Act, Bellwood was precluded from doing so because it had entered into the agreed orders with defendants. The court determined that the agreed orders were essentially contracts that could only be modified or rescinded by the parties or for certain other reasons not applicable here. Bellwood appeals from the court's denial of its motion to abandon.
The question presented on appeal is whether Bellwood's right to abandon the eminent domain cases is precluded by Bellwood entering into the agreed orders with defendants. We note that there is no Illinois case on point in which a condemning authority has sought to abandon condemnation proceedings after entry of a ...