Posted by: Patricia Salkin | April 26, 2017

IL Appeals Court Reverses Dismissal of Substantial Due Process and Private Nuisance Claims Against Sand Mining Company

Aramoni, a sand mining company that owned approximately 497 acres north of Interstate 80 in Waltham Township near Utica, Illinois, was comprised of tracts A, B, C, D and E. Plaintiffs owned, resided on, and operated farmland that was adjacent to or within ½ mile of the company’s mining property. In 2009, North Utica annexed tracts A and B into the village pursuant to an annexation agreement between Aramoni and North Utica. Both tracts were previously zoned A–1 Agricultural and retained that designation under the agreement. Plaintiffs, thirteen owners and possessors of land in La Salle County, filed a three-count complaint against defendants, the Village of North Utica and Aramoni LLC, seeking to invalidate several village ordinances that allowed Aramoni to operate a silica sand mine in Waltham Township, and requested an injunction based on prospective nuisance. The trial court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ second amended complaint, and plaintiffs’ appealed.
The trial court held that plaintiffs failed to state a claim of arbitrary and capricious rezoning that would have violated their substantive due process rights. A map attached to the complaint showed that the surrounding area was zoned A–1 and indicated that another sand mine was located within the A–1 zone: indicating that the annexation ordinances conformed to the A–1 designation and use of the other properties in the zoning area. Despite this, Plaintiffs presented reports of diminished property values due to sand mines in other locations and a report from the Federal Reserve Bank stating that studies of gravel and coal mining in other parts of the country indicating that homes situated near a mine or sand truck route lose value.
In balancing the harms to the parties, the court found that “the harm to Aramoni from denial of the special use would be the inability to profit from the Proposed Mine at this location,” whereas plaintiffs would suffer harm to their health, water supply, and agricultural land, and experience a decrease in the values of their properties. The court determined that these harms would outweigh the loss of any potential gain to Aramoni. Additionally, the comprehensive plan specifically mandated that the north and northeast sections of the planning area should continue as agricultural; however, mining was listed as an “industrial” use, and was therefore not in harmony with the community’s comprehensive plan. Based on a balancing of these factors, the court found that plaintiff’s successfully stated a constitutional substantive due process claim. Thus, the trial court erred in dismissing this count based on failure to state a claim.
Plaintiffs next argued that they sufficiently stated a claim for a violation of their equal protection rights. Here, the annexation agreement did not treat plaintiffs any differently than the other residents of North Utica, and did not single out plaintiffs for unequal treatment. The court determined that North Utica’s interpretation of its ordinance applied generally and equally to all residents of the village. As such, the court found that the plaintiff’s equal protection claim was properly dismissed.
Lastly, the court noted Illinois courts have held that invasions of property rights as a result of noise, water contamination, bright lights, and diminished property values constitute a cognizable private nuisance. Here, because plaintiffs alleged similar invasions on their properties, the court held that plaintiffs’ allegations were sufficient to show that the operation of the mine may result in a private nuisance.
Whipple v Village of North Utica, 2017 IL App. 3d 1050547 (IL 4/25/2017)

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