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Friends of The Parks v. Chicago Park District

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

March 12, 2015



JOHN W. DARRAH, District Judge.

Plaintiffs brought this action, seeking to bar or enjoin Defendants from approving or otherwise proceeding with the construction of a museum on land that is adjacent to Lake Michigan. Defendants have moved, pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), to dismiss the Complaint.


The following is taken from the Complaint, which is assumed to be true for purposes of a motion to dismiss. See Reger Dev., LLC v. Nat'l City Bank, 592 F.3d 759, 763 (7th Cir. 2010). Plaintiff Friends of the Parks ("FOTP") is a nonprofit park advocacy organization, dedicated to preserving, protecting, and improving Chicago's parks and forest preserves. Plaintiffs Sylvia Mann and John Buenz are residents of Illinois. Defendant Chicago Park District ("Park District") is "a body politic and corporate" established by state law. 70 ILL. COMP. STAT. § 1505/3. Defendant City of Chicago is a body politic and municipal corporation. (Compl. ¶¶ 6-10.)

In May 2014, a task force appointed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a report recommending the parking lots south of Soldier Field as the site for constructing a museum, to be known as the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. The Museum is to be operated by a nonprofit corporation also called the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art ("the LMNA") and will be dedicated to the exhibition of "narrative art" selected by the LMNA. The Mayor has publicly endorsed the proposed location. ( Id. ¶¶ 13-16, 27.)

On or about September 8, 2014, the Park District entered into a memorandum of understanding ("MOU") with the LMNA, attached to the Complaint as Exhibit A. The MOU memorializes the terms discussed between the Park District and the LMNA, including the construction, use and operation of the Museum. ( Id. Ex. A at 2, ¶ G.) It provides that the Museum will be located on the plot of land recommended by the task force and endorsed by the Mayor:

The Museum will be located in the Museum Campus in the area generally lying between East Waldren Drive on the north and the McCormick Place Lakeside Center (East Building) on the south (the "Project Area").

( Id. Ex. A at 2, ¶ 1.) The "Project Area" is located within Burnham Park and consists entirely of land recovered from the navigable waters of Lake Michigan, most of it during the 1920s. ( Id. ¶ 22.) Under the MOU (as more fully set out below), the LMNA "will have the exclusive right to occupy, use, maintain, manage and control the Museum Building and the Museum Site." ( Id. Ex. A at ¶ 10.) The MOU does not specify whether the Museum will be owned by the LMNA, the City or the Park District. ( Id. ¶¶ 28-29.)

On November 13, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a four-count Complaint, asserting federal claims under § 1983 for violation of due process and equal protection (Counts I and II, respectively) and state law claims that Defendants acted ultra vires and in violation of the public trust (Counts III and IV, respectively). Defendants have moved to dismiss the Complaint under Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of standing and lack of ripeness and under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim.


12(b)(1) Motion

A Rule 12(b)(1) motion challenges standing and ripeness. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). Under Article III § 2 of the United States Constitution, federal courts are limited to hearing "cases" and "controversies." Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 750 (1984). This case-or-controversy limitation requires "a claim that is ripe and a plaintiff who has standing." Ind. Right to Life, Inc. v. Shepard, 507 F.3d 545, 549 (7th Cir. 2007). These concepts are related but distinct: "Whereas ripeness is concerned with when an action may be brought, standing focuses on who may bring a ripe action." Id. (quoting Pic-A-State Pa. v. Reno, 76 F.3d 1294, 1298 n. 1 (3rd Cir. 1996) (emphasis in original)). The plaintiff bears the burden of alleging facts sufficient to establish standing and ripeness. See, e.g., Scanlan v. Eisenberg, 669 F.3d 838, 841-42 (7th Cir. 2012). The court may look outside of the complaint's allegations and consider whatever evidence has been submitted on these issues. Ezekiel v. Michel, 66 F.3d 894, 897 (7th Cir. 1995).

12(b)(6) Motion

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Christensen v. County of Boone, 483 F.3d 454, 458 (7th Cir. 2007). To survive a 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint must allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Rather, the complaint must provide a defendant "with fair notice' of the claim and its basis." Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 2008) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) and Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

For purposes of a motion under Rule 12(b)(1) or Rule 12(b)(6), the court accepts all well-pleaded factual allegations as true and construes all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Scanlan, 669 F.3d at 841; Tamayo, 526 F.3d at 1081.


Standing and Ripeness

Defendants first argue that Plaintiffs' claims fail to satisfy the requirements of standing and ripeness because they are contingent on future events, specifically the approval of the Museum by the Chicago Plan Commission, the Chicago City Council and the board of the Park District. Plaintiffs respond that under the MOU, the Park District has already committed to a transfer of exclusive control of the public property to the LMNA, in breach of the public trust (as discussed more fully below) without legislative approval, and consequently, Plaintiffs are suffering an injury to their beneficial interest they hold in the property as citizens of Illinois.

Standing exists where a plaintiff can show: (1) a concrete and particularized injury that is actual or imminent; (2) a causal connection between the injury and the defendant's action; and (3) a likelihood that the injury can be redressed if the court finds in the plaintiff's favor. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992). "All that a plaintiff need show to establish standing to sue [in the Article III sense] is a reasonable probability - not a certainty - of suffering tangible harm unless he obtains the relief that he is seeking in the suit." Hoover v. Wagner, 47 F.3d 845, 847 (7th Cir. 1995) (citing Pennell v. San Jose, 485 U.S. 1, 8 (1988)); Sierakowski v. Ryan, 223 F.3d 440, 443 (7th Cir. 2000) ("[A] plaintiff in search of prospective equitable relief must show a significant likelihood and immediacy of sustaining some direct injury."). Thus, standing is not precluded simply because the harm is not immediate, but rather likely to occur in the near future. "Standing depends on the probability of harm, not its temporal proximity." 520 S. Michigan Ave. Assocs., Ltd. v. Devine, 433 F.3d 961, 962 (7th Cir. 2006).

In Paepcke v. Public Building Comm'n, 263 N.E.2d 11, 18 (Ill. 1970), the Illinois Supreme Court addressed the standing of a group of taxpayers who sued to prevent the implementation of plans to construct facilities on public parks. The court held that the plaintiffs had standing to contest the ...

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