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Village of Belle Rive v. Illinois Central Railroad Co.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fifth District

March 12, 2018

THE VILLAGE OF BELLE RIVE, an Illinois Municipal Corporation, Plaintiff-Appellant,
ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD COMPANY, an Illinois Corporation, d/b/a CN, Defendant-Appellee.

          Rule 23 order filed Motion to January 31, 2018

          Publish granted March 1, 2018

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, No. 16-L-25; the Hon. David K. Overstreet, Judge, presiding

          Gary L. Smith, of Loewenstein & Smith, P.C., of Springfield, for appellant.

          Kurt E. Reitz, of Thompson Coburn, LLP, of Belleville, for appellee.

          JUSTICE MOORE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Welch and Goldenhersh concurred in the judgment and opinion



         ¶ 1 The plaintiff, the Village of Belle Rive, an Illinois municipal corporation (village), appeals the order of the circuit court of Jefferson County that dismissed its complaint against the defendant, Illinois Central Railroad Company, an Illinois corporation, doing business as CN (railroad). For the following reasons, we affirm.

         ¶ 2 FACTS

         ¶ 3 The facts necessary to our disposition of this appeal follow. On May 10, 2016, the village filed a three-count complaint in the circuit court of Jefferson County, which is the county in which the village is located. In count I of the complaint, the village requested declaratory relief and alleged, inter alia, that (1) on April 21, 1925, the village adopted an ordinance (ordinance) that granted permission to the railroad's predecessor in interest to construct a rail line through the village; (2) on May 8, 1925, the railroad's predecessor in interest accepted the terms of the ordinance, which provided, inter alia, that it would construct and "thereafter maintain" three bridges and their accompanying "necessary approaches" over its tracks at Fifth, Tenth, and Thirteenth Streets; (3) under the ordinance, the village agreed to vacate portions of certain streets and alleys to make room for the bridges and approaches and subsequently did so; (4) the ordinance required the railroad to "maintain" the bridges and approaches, which created "a continuing duty" to keep the bridges "in a safe and passable condition for the public, " and required the railroad to be responsible for "the entire expense of performing and completing all of the work set forth in" the ordinance; (5) the ordinance "is a contract between" the village and the railroad; (6) the village has in all ways upheld its end of the contract, but the railroad has failed to maintain the bridges and approaches, despite repeated requests from the village to do so; (7) the railroad's failure to maintain has led to the closure of the bridges and "completely obstructed" the ability of the public to "ingress and egress along the streets" where the bridges are located; (8) "[c]onstruction of railroad grade separations and pedestrian bridges over railroad tracks are, in part, subject to the jurisdiction of the Illinois Commerce Commission" (ICC); (9) "[t]he replacement of the 3 bridges would require adherence to current bridge safety standards, but [the railroad] has failed and refused to request or seek to apply and submit plans to the ICC for the bridges" to be replaced; and (10) a study estimates the cost to replace the bridges would be close to $3 million. The relief requested by the village in count I of the complaint included a judgment declaring that, inter alia, the ordinance created a perpetual easement in favor of the village over the tracks on the streets in question and the railroad must maintain the bridges at those locations at its sole expense.

         ¶ 4 Count II of the complaint was styled as "Injunction." The relief sought within this count included a judgment in the village's favor in the amount of $3.6 million (which the village estimated would be the actual cost of replacing the three bridges once "engineering, flagging, acquisition costs and legal services" were added to the estimate found in the aforementioned study) and "a permanent injunction requiring [the railroad] to permanently maintain the replacement bridges after constructed at the expense of [the railroad]." Pleading in the alternative, count III, which was styled as "Recission, " alleged that the railroad had "materially breached" the terms of the ordinance and that the railroad's "promise to maintain the bridges" constituted "a continuing contractual obligation." The count requested a judgment "rescinding" the ordinance and executing "a judicial deed conveying the land previously vacated" back to the village. All three counts of the complaint also requested "costs of suit" and "such other and further relief as is deemed just." Attached to the complaint as Exhibit A was a copy of the ordinance, as well as a copy of the railroad's predecessor in interest's acceptance of the ordinance; attached as Exhibit B was the "Bridge Location Study" that included the estimate of the cost to replace the three bridges, as well as an "Average Daily Traffic Map" of the village, the latter of which was purportedly created by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and downloaded from the IDOT website.

         ¶ 5 On June 10, 2016, the railroad filed, pursuant to sections 2-615 and 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-615, 2-619 (West 2016)), a motion to dismiss the village's complaint. Therein, the railroad contended, inter alia, that (1) all three counts of the complaint "must be dismissed" because the circuit court had no "subject matter jurisdiction over the bridges at issue, " (2) "the Illinois Commercial Transportation Law (formerly the Public Utilities Act)" preempted the ordinance, (3) the ICC had already "exercised jurisdiction" over the Tenth Street bridge, (4) the complaint's claims were barred by both the 5-year statute of limitations for an ordinance violation and the 10-year statute of limitations for breach of contract, (5) the complaint's claims were barred by the doctrine of laches, (6) count II must be dismissed because it improperly sought both monetary and injunctive relief, and (7) count III must be dismissed because it improperly sought "a judicial deed" when the allegations in the complaint did not establish that the village ever owned the property at issue.

         ¶ 6 In the memorandum of law filed with its motion to dismiss, the railroad noted, with regard to its statute of limitations and laches defenses, that it was attaching to the memorandum exhibits that substantiated its position. Attached to the memorandum as Exhibit 2 was a July 16, 2008, order from the ICC that noted that the railroad closed the Tenth Street bridge on November 13, 1995, after it was set on fire by vandals and experienced deterioration and that the bridge was "actually removed" by the railroad on November 27, 2007. Attached as Exhibit 1 was a February 17, 2006, letter from then-counsel for the village to the railroad that stated that the Tenth and Thirteenth Street bridges were "closed and barricaded due to their state of severe disrepair, having not passed safety inspection, " and that the Fifth Street bridge was "on the brink of closure for the same reason." The letter requested that the railroad "fulfill its duty under the contract by replacing, at the railroad's expense, and as provided in the contract, " the three bridges. The letter stated that although the village preferred "to resolve this issue amicably, " the village was "prepared to proceed with further legal action." Attached to the memorandum as Exhibit 4 was the June 7, 2016, affidavit of attorney Michael J. Barron, who attested to receiving the February 17, 2006, letter from the village's then-counsel, as well as the July 16, 2008, order from the ICC.

         ¶ 7 A hearing on the railroad's motion to dismiss was held on January 3, 2017, before the Honorable David K. Overstreet. On January 12, 2017, Judge Overstreet entered an order, by docket entry, in which he ruled that the ICC had "exclusive jurisdiction over the issues raised in [the village's] complaint and has in fact previously exercised that jurisdiction over the [Tenth Street] bridge without objection by [the village]." Judge Overstreet ruled that the village "prematurely asks this court to rule on issues prior to seeking relief from the [ICC]." ...

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