In 2006, the plaintiff, Alice Guth, owned four parcels of agricultural land and sought to rezone them as rural residential, but the Tazewell County Board denied Guth’s applications. Guth proceeded to file suit, and a year later on the eve of trial, the parties settled. The settlement provided that the Board would hear the applications again and recommended approval, as it was impermissible to order approval. Guth applied for the permits for a second time, was denied, but then was approved one year later. Guth then filed this instant suit, alleging statutory and constitutional violations resulting from the three year delay between her initial application and the date she was issued the permit.
Guth attacked the second denial on three grounds. First, Guth claimed that the denial constituted “class of one” discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. The Board denied Guth’s rezone application due to the parcels’ close proximity to hog farms. The Board was concerned that building residences near the hog farms would lead to the hog farms being driven out of the area. The facts in this case did not support a class of one claim, as the rezoned land was not as close to the hog farms, and the hog farm closest to the rezoned lots was vacant. Thus, the denial was supported by facts that did not apply to the comparator parcels.
Guth next claimed that her second application was denied in retaliation for her filing suit against the County. The court stated that for the plaintiff to succeed on a federal retaliation claim, the plaintiff would need to show retaliatory intent of the Board itself, rather than individual members (a remedy Guth could have sought in Illinois state court). The court found that Guth failed to show the entire Board denied her applications in retaliation, as many of the Board members who voted against the application did so because they wanted to preserve agricultural land.
Lastly, the court determined that Guth’s claim for liability failed as well. In seeking relief, Guth sought the difference in value between what her property would have been worth if rezoned when she initially applied, and the value when the property was actually rezoned three years later. If the rezone was approved when initially sought, the property would have been worth much more than it was worth when it was actually approved, due to the downfall of the housing market. The court held this claim could not be sustained, as the failure of the housing market was not a foreseeable risk and could not be attributable to the Board. Thus, the Board was not liable for the relief sought.
Guth v. Tazewell County, 2012 WL 4901159 (7th Cir., 10/17/2012).
The opinion can be accessed here.