CHICAGO – A state appeals court will allow residents and government officials in suburban Barrington Hills to resume their court fight over a now-repealed village ordinance governing horse-boarding challengers assert was enacted to benefit one particular property owner.
On Dec. 12, a three-justice panel of the Illinois First DIstrict Appellate Court State reversed part of a Cook County judge's ruling in the long-running litigation involving the village, plaintiff James Drury III and a group of residents.
The judge had rejected a settlement agreement between Barrington Hills and Drury and also granted a motion to dismiss filed by a group of residents who intervened in the case. Drury challenged these findings.
The appellate court agreed with the rejection of the settlement agreement, but reversed the dismissal ruling.
Drury had sued the village alleging that one resident, Benjamin LeCompte III, forced the local government to change an ordinance regarding horse boarding and home occupation.
"In 2006, the village amended its zoning code to permit residential horse boarding as a 'home occupation,' which essentially meant residents could board horses but subject to strict limitations and only during specified hours," Ellis' opinion states.
In 2008, per the ruling, the village cited LeCompte "for violating the ordinance, claiming that he was conducting a large-scale commercial horse boarding operation that exceeded any 'home occupation' as defined by ordinance."
After losing the appeal, LeCompte turned towards the village's board of trustees for a legislative change.
"His effort succeeded. In February 2015, the Board adopted an ordinance (Ordinance 14-19) over the president’s veto that permitted large-scale horse boarding operations on residential property throughout the village as a matter of right. It also made this rezoning retroactive to 2006, thus effectively validating LeCompte’s operations from their inception and thereby eliminating the fines LeCompte had accumulated from the village. The ordinance, in essence, gave LeCompte a legislative pardon," the ruling stated.
Right after the new ordinance was enacted, Drury and other residents sued the village over allegations the new legislation was made only for LeCompte's benefit.
The board repealed the ordinance in 2016, and an agreement was made with the plaintiffs.
LeCompte and other residents intervened in the suit and moved to dismiss the constitutional challenge.
In the ruling authored by First District Justice David Ellis, the appeals court sided with the lower court in rejecting the agreement.
"There are two distinct reasons why we agree with the Circuit Court’s rejection of the settlement agreement. The first is that the village’s purported agreement with Drury crossed the line when it declared that the ordinance, though duly and lawfully adopted, was 'at the time of its adoption null and void ab initio,'" Ellis wrote. "The village was agreeing with Drury, in other words, that the ordinance was facially unconstitutional."
In the case of the dismissal, he added that "any notion that Drury is unable to present evidence that Ordinance 14-19 bore no substantial relation to the public welfare, based on the allegations we have discussed above - (Lecompte) being the sole beneficiary of at least part of the ordinance, the background leading up to the ordinance’s passage, the legislative and procedural machinations, etc. - simply because his challenge is a 'facial' one, is incorrect."
Justices James Fitzgerald Smith and Cynthia Cobbs concurred in the decision.
Illinois First District Appellate Court Case No. 1-17-3042