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Village of West Dundee v. First United Methodist Church of West Dundee

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Second District

March 7, 2017

THE VILLAGE OF WEST DUNDEE, Plaintiff and Counterdefendant -Appellee,
v.
THE FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH OF WEST DUNDEE Defendant and Counterplaintiff -Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County No. 12-MR-573 Honorable James R. Murphy, Judge, Presiding.

          HUTCHINSON JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion, Justices Burke and Birkett concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          HUTCHINSON JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 In this case, the trial court dismissed the amended countercomplaint filed by defendant, the First United Methodist Church of West Dundee (the Church), and held a trial on the initial complaint filed by plaintiff, the Village of West Dundee (the Village). Ultimately, the trial court found for the Village. Because the amended countercomplaint should not have been dismissed, the judgment must be vacated.

         ¶ 2 This case concerns the fate of a building located at 310 West Main Street (the 310 building) in the Village. Constructed in 1849, the 310 building is one of the Village's oldest historic structures. The Church, which owns some of the adjacent structures on Main Street, acquired the 310 building in the 1950s and began using it as a parsonage-a residence for the pastor and his or her family. The record shows that the 310 building is one of the 65 buildings in the surrounding area comprising the Dundee Township Historic District (the Historic District), most of which were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. (A National Register listing places no obligations on private property owners, nor does it "restrict[ ] *** the use, treatment, transfer, or disposition of private property." See National Register of Historic Places Program: Fundamentals, Nat'l Park Serv., https://www.nps.gov/nr/national_register_ fundamentals.htm (last visited Mar. 6, 2017).)

         ¶ 3 The Church made some efforts to repair and maintain the building over the years, but by 2004 the building's age and deteriorating condition made it uninhabitable and the pastor and his family had to be relocated. Since 2004, the 310 building has sat unused and unrepaired, accelerating its decline. In 2007, the Church applied to the Village's appearance review commission for a permit to demolish the building. In its application, the Church stated that its congregation includes approximately 100 families and that it had insufficient parking spaces and handicapped spaces for its congregation. Accordingly, the Church averred that its needs would be better served if the 310 building were demolished and turned into additional parking. See generally Our Saviour's Evangelical Lutheran Church of Naperville v. City of Naperville, 186 Ill.App.3d 988, 994 (1989) (noting that "the parking needs of a church should [not] be considered on different legal principles than those applied to the church building itself"). In June 2008, however, the appearance review commission formally denied the Church's request, citing a desire to see the building repurposed and restored, or at the very least "mothballed"-that is, repaired to good condition for its continued preservation. The Church did not appeal the commission's decision to the Village's board of trustees, which it was entitled to do. See West Dundee Municipal Code § 2-2-6 (added Feb. 18, 2008).

         ¶ 4 In July 2012, following an inspection of the building by a Village code enforcement officer, the Village issued the Church an order of correction citing 14 property maintenance violations. Some of the violations listed in the correction order were significant and, per the order, the Church was given 45 days to repair or replace the building's roof, soffits, fascia, support posts, windows, siding, flooring, gutters, and downspouts, as well as the building's porch and interior and exterior brickwork. When the Church failed to comply with the correction order, the Village filed a complaint in the circuit court under section 11-31-1(a) of the Illinois Municipal Code (Municipal Code) (65 ILCS 5/11-31-1(a) (West 2012)).

         ¶ 5 Section 11-31-1(a) of the Municipal Code provides that, when a building falls into disrepair and becomes dangerous or unsafe, municipal authorities may seek a court order to require the building's owner or owners to "demolish, repair, or enclose the building." Id. Any costs incurred by the municipality in pursuit of the building's demolition or repair is recoverable as a lien on the property. Id. In this case, the Village's complaint exclusively sought the building's repair, not its demolition. To that end, the Village asked the court to place the 310 building in receivership and to place a lien on the Church for the costs of the building's repair.

         ¶ 6 The Church filed a countercomplaint asserting that it would cost $300, 000 in exterior work alone to mothball the outside of the 310 building and over $700, 000 to repair it. These sums, the Church stated, "would be financially devastating and likely cause the [Church's] financial demise." Moreover, they would be substantially more than the building was estimated to be worth. (Elsewhere, the record indicates that the building's value "as is" was less than $100, 000.) In its countercomplaint, the Church also noted its need for parking as integral to its congregation's freedom to worship. See generally Our Saviour, 186 Ill.App.3d at 994.

         ¶ 7 Accordingly, the Church claimed that the Village's refusal to authorize demolition of the 310 building imposed a substantial burden on the Church in violation of section 2000cc(a)(1) of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) (42 U.S.C. § 2000cc(a)(1) (2012)). That section forbids a government agency to "impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person, including a religious assembly or institution, unless the government demonstrates that imposition of the burden on that person, assembly or institution-(A) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (B) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest." Id. Since, according to the Church, RLUIPA forbade the financially ruinous repair of the 310 building, the Church sought a court order authorizing the building's demolition as an alternative remedy for its condition under section 11-31-1(a) of the Municipal Code.

         ¶ 8 The Village filed a combined motion to dismiss the Church's countercomplaint. According to the Village, because the Church had not alleged "that the Village ha[d] denied a request to expand their parking on existing vacant Church[-]owned land, " the Church's countercomplaint failed to state a claim (see 735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2012)). In addition, the Village asserted that, as an affirmative matter (see 735 ILCS 5/2-619(a)(9) (West 2012)), the Church was estopped from seeking demolition of the 310 building, because the Church had not exhausted its administrative remedies by appealing the 2008 denial of its request for a demolition permit. The Church countered that, under cases such as Village of Lake Villa v. Stokovich, 211 Ill.2d 106 (2004), the Church, as the building's owner, was entitled to choose either the building's demolition or its repair in response to official action per section 11-31-1(a) of the Municipal Code. See id. at 127 (noting that "section 11-31-1[(a)] provides for repair or demolition in the alternative and, thus, 'contemplates repair where feasible and demolition where the state of deterioration is such that repairs would amount to a substantial reconstruction' " (emphasis added) (quoting City of Aurora v. Meyer, 38 Ill.2d 131, 136 (1967))). The Village responded by distinguishing Stokovich on the ground that there, as in virtually every similar case, local officials had sought demolition without providing the owner with an opportunity to repair the structure; but here, the Village argued, it was seeking the remedy of repair exclusively so the concerns of Stokovich and cases like it did not apply. After a hearing, the trial court granted the Village's section 2-615 motion to dismiss and denied the Village's section 2-619(a)(9) motion.

         ¶ 9 Thereafter, the Church filed a three-count amended countercomplaint. In this version of the countercomplaint, the Church revised its estimates for work on the 310 building, stating that it would cost $250, 000 to mothball the exterior and $600, 000 to repair the entire building. The first count in the amended countercomplaint restated the Church's RLUIPA claim, but this time added an allegation-that the Village had approved the demolition of three other specific structures in the Historic District for commercial uses. The remaining two counts sounded in inverse condemnation, alleging that the Village's refusal to issue a demolition permit constituted a "taking" of the building, for which the Church sought either just compensation or to compel the Village to institute eminent domain proceedings under a writ of mandamus. The Village filed a combined motion to dismiss the amended countercomplaint on substantially the same grounds as its earlier motion per sections 2-615 and 2-619(a)(9). After commenting at length on the Church's "failure" to exhaust administrative remedies, the trial court issued the conclusory pronouncement that the amended countercomplaint failed to state any claim and granted the Village's motion to dismiss the countercomplaint with prejudice.

         ¶ 10 As the trial date neared on the Village's complaint, the Village filed a motion in limine to bar the Church from presenting any evidence regarding the value of the 310 building and its projected "repair" costs. The Church objected, but the trial court granted the Village's motion. The Church next sought leave to tender affirmative defenses related to the cost of the repairs and the alternative remedy of demolition, but the trial court denied the Church leave to do so.

         ¶ 11 The evidence at trial revealed that the 310 building was a wreck. Age, mold, and rot had clearly overtaken the almost-170-year-old building. A Village code officer testified concerning the property code violations. An architect with experience in the preservation of historic structures testified that the building's foundation, exterior and interior walls, and columns would all require various types of shoring and replacement. At numerous times throughout the hearing, the Church attempted to make offers of proof concerning the value of the 310 building, the ...


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