A Cook County judge has put in the hangar a lawsuit by Bensenville homeowners against the city of Chicago, which alleged homeowner property rights were violated by air traffic noise from nearby O’Hare International Airport, saying they waited too long to sue.
In late December, Cook County Circuit Court Associate Judge Thomas Mulroy threw out a suit lodged in October 2015 by dozens of Bensenville residents against Chicago City Hall.
The action alleged that after a new runway opened at city-operated O’Hare on Oct. 17, 2013, takeoffs and landings from the runway brought planes over their homes, usually at altitudes of 500 feet or less. The resulting racket ruined their quality of life, constituting an “inverse condemnation,” or illegal taking of their property under the U.S. and Illinois constitutions.
In spring 2018, the city moved for summary judgment, saying the suit should be grounded, because the statute of limitations gave plaintiffs one year from the runway’s opening to take legal action. The clock ran out in October 2014, according to the city.
The homeowners tried to get around the city’s argument, by contending the statute of limitations was triggered in late 2014 or early 2015, when air traffic spiked and the noise changed from a mere nuisance to an outright infringement of their rights to enjoy their property.
The homeowners further alleged city officials deliberately lulled them into believing City Hall would act to lessen the din, which made them delay their suit until after October 2014. The city responded that no city officials ever directly made promises to the homeowners, but rather, issued general public statements about the noise situation.
The homeowners’ arguments hit turbulence with Judge Mulroy.
“Weeks after this runway opened, Plaintiffs knew or should have known the nature and extent of the noise impact from the flights. When the City built, opened and began to use the runway, Plaintiffs were put on notice that overflights and noise would continue into the future. In fact, Plaintiffs in their depositions admitted they were painfully aware of the noise and disruption immediately after the runway opened,” Mulroy said.
In addition, Mulroy found the noise did not worsen in 2014-15 as plaintiffs claimed. Mulroy said airport statistics showed no increase in flight frequency, altitude, flight path or aircraft type in connection with the new runway after autumn 2013.
“The pattern of operations that began on October 17, 2013 was definitively established by summer 2014,” Mulroy observed.
The judge also shot down the homeowners’ contention the city vowed to correct the noise problem. Mulroy said City Hall’s announcements were not binding and even if they were, the announcements were no excuse to put off the lawsuit.
Mulroy ruled the case was disposed of in its entirety.
The homeowners are represented by the Chicago firm of LeonardMeyer.
The city is represented by city lawyers and Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell, of Denver, Colo.