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Chicago Gun Club, Inc. v. Village of Willowbrook

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

June 6, 2018




         Before the Court is Defendant Village of Willowbrook's (“Village”) Motion to Dismiss (“Motion”) Plaintiffs The Chicago Gun Club, LLC and TCGC Property, LLC's (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, the Court grants the Village's Motion.


         The following facts are taken from Plaintiffs' Complaint. Well-pled facts are assumed to be true for purposes of this Motion. Murphy v. Walker, 51 F.3d 714, 717 (7th Cir. 1995). The Court draws all reasonable inferences in Plaintiffs' favor. Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 2008).

         The central parties are as follows. Co-plaintiff The Chicago Gun Club, LLC (“Club”) is an Illinois organization that holds an option to purchase a parcel of property (“Subject Property”) within the municipal limits of the Village. Co-plaintiff TCGC Property, LLC (“TCGC”) owns the Subject Property. The defendant Village, a town of approximately 8, 540 people per the 2010 census, is a municipal entity in Illinois governed at all relevant times by Mayor Frank A. Trilla (“Mayor Trilla”) and a six-member Board of Trustees (“Board”). The Willowbrook Plan Commission (“Plan Commission”) is a seven-member body that advises the Board on matters relevant to the instant case, such as zoning. The Plan Commission also possesses final authority on zoning grievances.

         The Subject Property, located at the northeast corner of the Village's 79th Street and Frontage Road intersection, is approximately 3.42 acres in area and classified in the B-3 General Business Zoning District. It is presently surrounded by lots classified in the B-4 Highway and Service Business Zoning District, including three properties - all hotel/motels - identified in the Complaint as immediately abutting the Subject Property or lying across the street.

         Frontage Road runs in a north-south direction and borders the entire west side of the Subject Property. To the immediate west of Frontage Road, running parallel in a north-south direction, is Route 83, a six-lane highway. To the west of Route 83 is a residential area of single-family homes in an R-2 Single Family Residence District. Measured lot line to lot line, the residential area is located beyond both Frontage Road and Route 83, over 260 feet from the Subject Property.

         On or about January 6, 2017, and at a cost of $18, 009.50, Plaintiffs filed an application with the Village for a “special use permit” to construct, develop, and operate a “Firing Range, Indoor” on the Subject Property (“Application”). The Application also requested the Village to rezone the Subject Property from a B-3 classification to a B-4. If developed as proposed, the Subject Property would have housed a 31, 000-square-foot indoor shooting facility, to have included thirty-two shooting lanes alongside training/educational classrooms, members' lounges, retail, vehicle retail, and offices. The remainder of the Subject Property would have consisted of approximately 129 off-street parking spaces and two large water detention areas. As of the filing of the Complaint on August 18, 2017, the facility would have been the Village's only indoor shooting range.

         On March 5, 2014, almost three years before the Application was filed, the Senior Planner for the Village identified the Subject Property as “potentially consistent with, or eligible for, a B-4 zoning for the specific use of an indoor shooting range.” As of March 24, 2014, the B-4 classification has provided that firearms stores, so long as they do not adjoin I-55 or Route 83, are permitted “as a matter of right.” Additionally, “Firing range, indoor” is a “special use, ” requiring a special use permit issued under Willowbrook Ordinance 9-6D-2. Plaintiffs allege, in conclusory fashion, that the Subject Property is the “only property with any practical chance of development with an indoor shooting facility, ” as no other “existing B-4 zoned properties within [the Village] are suitable for a modern indoor shooting range consistent with the [Village's] parking requirements.” On April 13, 2016, the Club informally presented its development concept to the Plan Commission, which recommended that the Club “proceed with a submittal for Rezoning, Special Use Permit, and Site Plan Review.” Over a seven-month span, from June 1, 2016 through January 5, 2017, Plaintiffs incurred approximately $74, 818.81 in direct application-related expenses to comply with Village processes. On October 4, 2016, in the middle of the seven-month period, Plaintiffs entered into a Real Estate Purchase Option Agreement (“Option Agreement”), whereby the Club reserved the right to purchase the Subject Property from TCGC.

         After filing their Application on or about January 6, 2017, and through April 24, 2017, Plaintiffs incurred an additional $16, 131.20 in engineering, architectural, survey, landscape, and other costs directly related to the Village's review and comment process. Per the Village's requisite Traffic Impact Study, a civil engineering firm determined that the proposed development of the Subject Property would not result in significant delays or require changes to the existing traffic-related infrastructure. During this period, the Plan Commission held two public hearings, one each on February 22 and April 5, to receive evidence and testimony. On April 5, 2017, the Plan Commission, with five affirmative votes, no negative votes, and one abstention, recommended that the Application be granted. The Plan Commission forwarded its recommendation and Findings of Fact to Mayor Trilla and the Board on or about April 10, 2017.

         On April 24, 2017, the Board held a public meeting on Plaintiffs' Application (“April 24 meeting”). Plaintiffs allege that during the meeting, and in contravention of numerous Village ordinances, their representatives were heckled, the Village failed to discourage or limit redundant comments, and no time limits were imposed. The meeting was continued and resumed on May 22, 2017 (“May 22 meeting”), where it is alleged that multiple public speakers who offered comment at the April 24 meeting were allowed a second opportunity to speak, again in contravention of a Village ordinance. Plaintiffs allege that these deviations from Village rules “unfairly prejudice[d] the [Board] in its consideration of Plaintiffs' Application.” At the conclusion of the additional public comment period, certain Board members asked security-related questions of Plaintiffs, such as whether they would consider adding a fence around the Subject Property, to which Plaintiffs responded affirmatively. Plaintiffs state that at neither the April 24 meeting nor the May 22 meeting did any Village Trustee make a statement that signaled disagreement with the Plan Commission's Findings of Fact.

         On May 22, 2017, the Board denied Plaintiffs' Application by a vote of four to two. On June 12, 2017, the Board ratified the minutes of the May 22 meeting without any motion from a Village Trustee for reconsideration of the Application's denial. On June 13, 2017, Willowbrook's Village Administrator sent the Club a letter indicating that the Application had been denied. Plaintiffs state that they have exhausted their administrative and local remedies.

         As a result of their Application's denial, Plaintiffs allege that they have been prevented from developing the Subject Property and that the Club has lost its primary and essential source of investor funds to timely execute on the Option Agreement. Plaintiffs also allege that the denial has deprived them of the “highest and best use of their property” and “destroy[ed] the value of their property.” Finally, Plaintiffs insist that, if they are not permitted to develop the Subject Property in accordance with their proposed indoor shooting range, “they will continue to suffer a substantial loss in the value of their property without any compensating gain to the public or governmental purpose.”

         Plaintiffs filed their instant Complaint on August 18, 2017. It states five discrete causes of action as well as an addendum of sorts, which requests relief “for all counts.” Plaintiffs' first three counts are all brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Count I raises a Second Amendment challenge to the denial of the Application, claiming that it “effectively banned the operation of gun ranges, thereby prohibiting numerous traditional lawful uses of firearms.” Count II is a First Amendment action and alleges that “[b]y banning gun ranges open to the public, ” the Village deprived Plaintiffs “of their right to free speech.” Count III is brought by TCGC in its individual capacity and asserts a Fifth Amendment regulatory takings claim. Count IV, brought pursuant to §§ 1983 and 1981(a), alleges that the Village deprived Plaintiffs “of their right to open and operate gun ranges, unconstitutionally den[ying] Plaintiffs equal protection of the law” in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. Count V sets forth an Illinois state law claim and requests the Court to review, de novo, the Village's actions under 65 ILCS 5/11-13-25. Finally, “for all counts, ” “Plaintiffs seek a declaration that the Village's denial of Plaintiffs' [Application]…is unconstitutional.”


         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) “tests the sufficiency of the complaint, not the merits of the case.” McReynolds v. Merrill Lynch & Co., 694 F.3d 873, 878 (7th Cir. 2012). The allegations in the Complaint must set forth a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Plaintiffs need not provide detailed factual allegations, but they must provide enough factual support to raise their right to relief above a speculative level. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). “In conducting our review, we must consider not only the complaint itself, but also…documents that are critical to the complaint and referred to in it, and information that is subject to proper judicial notice.” Phillips v. Prudential Ins. Co. of America, 714 F.3d 1017, 1019-20 (7th Cir. 2013) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

         A claim must be facially plausible, meaning that the pleadings must “allow…the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The claim must be described “in sufficient detail to give the defendant ‘fair notice of what the…claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, ” are insufficient to withstand a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.


         I. Count I: Second Amendment Claim

         It is Plaintiffs' contention that the rejection of their Application for a special use permit and a rezoning of the Subject Property to B-4 - the combination of which would have allowed for the construction and operation of an indoor gun range and gun store -effectively imposed an outright ban on gun ranges and gun sales in the Village of Willowbrook. The Complaint lacks allegations of fact in support of its sweeping “outright ban” generalization. Plaintiffs' broad posture is contradicted by judicially noticed exhibits demonstrative of both sizable areas in the Village zoned B-4 as well as a permissible special use of “indoor firing range” in B-4 districts. With this in mind, we turn to the legal terrain of the instant dispute.

         Seven years ago, a collection of plaintiffs challenged a City of Chicago (“City”) ordinance that “mandate[d] one hour of range training as a prerequisite to lawful gun ownership…yet at the same time prohibit[ed] all firing ranges in the city….” Ezell v. City of Chi., 651 F.3d 684, 689-90 (7th Cir. 2011) (“Ezell I”). Before striking down the ordinance, the Seventh Circuit addressed the threshold question of whether the gun range ban, like the handgun bans of District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008) and McDonald v. City of Chicago, 561 U.S. 742 (2010), warranted examination under “an appropriate standard of review from among the heightened standards of scrutiny the Court applies to governmental actions alleged to infringe enumerated constitutional rights….” Id. at 703. Because “[t]he right to possess firearms for protection implies a corresponding right to acquire and maintain proficiency in their use, ” the court held that the statutory gun range ban severely impinged the plaintiffs' Second Amendment rights. Id. at 704, 706. Therefore, “the City b[ore] the burden of justifying its actions under some heightened standard of judicial review, ” which it ultimately failed to do. Id. at 706, 711.

         After having its citywide ban enjoined in Ezell I, the City's Second Amendment bona fides were challenged again last year, this time over the regulations that it imposed to replace the ordinance invalidated in 2011. In “Ezell II, ” the Seventh Circuit was presented with a pair of municipal regulations - a manufacturing-district classification and a distancing restriction - the combined effect of which left “only about 2.2% of the city's total acreage even theoretically available to site a shooting range.” Ezell v. City of Chi., 846 F.3d 888, 894 (7th Cir. 2017). Although the regulations were “not on their face an outright prohibition of gun ranges, ” the court found that they “nonetheless severely restrict[ed] the right of Chicagoans to train in firearm use at a range.” Id. Reiterating Ezell I's holding - that range training “lies close to the core of the individual right of armed defense” - the Seventh Circuit applied a heightened standard to the City's new restrictions on the Second Amendment, requiring “the City to establish a close fit between the challenged zoning regulations and the actual public benefits they serve.” Id. at 893, 894. Mimicking its struggles in Ezell I, the City's ordinances were again unable to survive heightened scrutiny. Id. at 896.

         It is under this evolving branch of constitutional law that Plaintiffs raise their instant Second Amendment cause of action. Count I's stated § 1983 violation alleges that the Village's denial of Plaintiffs' Application and the Board's attendant declination to rezone the Subject Property “effectively banned the operation of gun ranges, thereby prohibiting numerous traditional lawful uses of firearms.” Plaintiffs ask the Court to examine the Village's actions under the heightened scrutiny of Ezell I and II, which, to be sure, contemporary right-to-bear-arms jurisprudence essentially requires whenever a municipal zoning scheme outright or effectively bans firing ranges. See Ill. Ass'n of Firearms Retailers ...

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