The legal dogfight between
the city of Chicago and dozens of Bensenville homeowners, who say air traffic from O'Hare's busy new runway has demolished their quality of life, has returned to Cook County court, where attorneys
for City Hall and the homeowners are now skirmishing over the question of precisely
when the homeowners’ problems began, and whether that should determine their
ability to sue the city for its decision to steer an endless stream of roaring aircraft
flying low over their homes each day.
The two sides have squared off in Chicago courtrooms for
almost a year, after homeowners again locked on to City Hall in an attempt to
secure a judgment ordering the city to pay them for the damage to their homes
and lifestyles the homeowners allege has been wrought by the opening of the new
At that time, the residents filed suit in Cook County
Circuit Court in February 2016, alleging the opening of the new runway at O’Hare
International Airport and the ensuing heavy air traffic, flying 500 feet or
less above their homes, constituted an illegal taking of their property under
the U.S. and Illinois constitutions.
That complaint had followed earlier litigation brought by
the residents against the city, which had been dismissed by a Cook County
judge, but which had not included the homeowners’ so-called “inverse
condemnation” and illegal takings claims.
In response to the new complaint, the city took the case to
federal court, saying the homeowners’ claims under the U.S. Constitution made
the federal court a better venue in which to consider the matter. The city then
moved to dismiss the case again.
However, before a federal judge could rule on that dismissal
request, the Bensenville homeowners persuaded the judge to send the case back
to Cook County court.
In October, the city’s attorneys again asked the judge to
dismiss the case, arguing the homeowners filed too late, as Illinois law gave
them only until 2014 – a year after the new runway first opened – to bring
their legal action against the city.
The homeowners, however, maintained their argument the clock
on the statute of limitations should not begin at the time of the runway’s
They noted air traffic built gradually in the months
following the runway’s opening. And they have alleged city officials repeatedly
misled or even deceived them and the general public to believe City Hall had
plans in place to relieve the impacts of the noise on those living in the
flight path from the new runway.
The homeowners said the date at which the air traffic
reached a level at which it severely impacted their rights to the enjoyment of their property,
and at which the homeowners became aware that the city had no intention of
doing anything about the situation, fell sometime during the summer of 2015.
And that, they argued, is when the one-year statute of limitations began to
“The precise date on which the statute of limitations began
to run for each Plaintiff is a fact intensive inquiry that may vary on a case
by case basis, improper for a motion to dismiss,” the homeowners wrote in their
Dec. 30, 2016, response to the city’s motion to dismiss. “However, the …
allegations clearly point to the summer 2015 as the time when the overflights
of Plaintiffs’ properties became unbearable and triggered a legally cognizable
The city, however, has argued the contention officials
deliberately misled or lulled the homeowners into waiting too long to file
their lawsuit cannot fly. The city’s attorneys said the statements cited by the
homeowners were made by officials to “the press” or to “the public,” and not
directly to the homeowners. Nor did city officials ever promise to relieve the
homeowners’ situation, the city argued.
“The statements quoted … describe elements of the normal
political process when communities are concerned about the impacts of
government action: holding public hearings and discussions, installation of
noise monitors, or the collection of data, all part of an ongoing analysis,”
the city wrote in its filing. “The City employees did not commit to or promise
Plaintiffs specific mitigation, resolution of potential legal claims, or a
definitive reduction of the alleged noise impacts designed to address
Plaintiffs’ specific injuries, and certainly not closing the Runway.”
Chicago City Hall is represented in the action by attorneys
with the firms of Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell LLP, of Denver, Colo., and
lawyers with the city’s Department of Law.
The Bensenville homeowners are represented by attorneys
Michael I. Leonard, John P. Killacky and Ethan E. White, of the firm of
LeonardMeyer LLP, of Chicago.