A property owner believes the state has wrongfully used Springfield’s ongoing budget dispute to improperly withhold payment on land the Illinois Department of Transportation seized for work on Route 59 in DuPage County, so the land owner has filed a class action to force Illinois to pay up to all others who have allegedly been similarly wronged.
Naper Corner, successor entity to North Star Trust, filed suit Dec. 28 in Cook County Circuit Court seeking payment for land IDOT condemned and took through its special so-called “quick take” powers. The complaint said the state has not completed paying for the land, and has made no attempt to pay since at least July 1, the first day of the new fiscal year.
The Naperville company named as defendants the state, Gov. Bruce Rauner, Comptroller Leslie Munger and IDOT. The complaint noted that, although Rauner and the Democrats who control the Legislature remain at odds about the state’s future, and as a result have failed to reach a compromise on a budget halfway through the fiscal year, Illinois “is sitting on at least $4 billion in cash among hundreds of accounts.”
The complaint cited a Munger report showing, as of Dec. 16, “the state also had access to cash receipts in its general funds of $246,564,402.90.” But on the same day, Illinois “reportedly owed more than $4.7 billion, not including an estimated $3 billion owed by other state agencies.”
Yet the state has continued “to take private property knowing they cannot and will not pay contemporaneous just compensation because no appropriations have been made,” Naper Corner’s complaint alleged, making such land acquisition unconstitutional.
Naper Corner’s complaint invoked foundational legal documents, such as the Magna Carta’s prohibition on any “constable or other bailiff” from taking “corn or other provisions from any one without immediately tendering money therefor.”
In this case, Naper Corner said IDOT used its “quick-take” powers, which expand the state’s eminent domain rules to let the government “obtain title to property shortly after filing a condemnation case by paying the approximate value of the property to be taken and any resulting damages.” In most cases, this power can be used to shorten the timeframe needed to complete land acquisition for roads and other public infrastructure projects, preventing, for instance, one recalcitrant landowner from holding up needed highway work amid a years-long court fight over the actual value of land.
After the land has been seized and the landowner issued a preliminary payment, the two sides can reach a more formal determination of the actual value of the land acquired, a figured dubbed “final just compensation.” The property owner is then entitled to the difference, plus interest from the date IDOT took possession.
The complaint also cited the American Revolutionary War, noting early Americans “struggled with appropriations of their personal property.” But, Naper Corner noted,
“the only war currently occurring in the state of Illinois is between politicians (yet) the state has reverted to ‘the arbitrary and oppressive mode of obtaining (land) by impressment … without any compensation whatever.’ ”
IDOT used “quick-take” to get land from Naper Corner and other landowners in August 2012 for the three-mile Route 59 expansion from Ferry Road to Aurora Avenue in Naperville. After Naper Corner balked at the initial offer of $135,000, IDOT took the land in question — a parcel at the south end of the project, where Route 59 meets Aurora Avenue — in July 2013 for “preliminary just compensation” of $211,504.
In March 2015, the parties settled a lawsuit over the transaction for $250,000, which left the state owing $38,496. The state has not paid. Naper Corner said the process can take up to six months, and that it expected payment no later than August.
Naper Corner asked the court to certify a class of plaintiffs, believing a large number of other landowners have similarly not been paid for land taken under quick take rules. The complaint detailed how the state’s failure to pay violated both the federal and state constitutions. For its alleged injuries, Naper Corner demanded compensatory damages, interest and legal fees.
Naper Corner is represented by Elizabeth A. Fehan, of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, Chicago, and Steve W. Berman, of the firm’s Seattle office.