Kane County has asked a federal judge to trim a legal action brought by the developers of a proposed $1,000-a-day substance abuse treatment center, saying Maxxam Partners LLC was too quick to take to federal court its claims the county violated its constitutional rights. The county is also asserting that its denial of Maxxam’s application to bring its detoxification facility to the former Glenwood School for Boys and Girls near Campton Hills does not entitle the developer to sue for big money damages.
At the end of October, attorneys from the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office, representing the county government, filed a motion asking the federal judge to dismiss Maxxam’s allegations the county violated its due process rights and to declare the developer doesn’t have the legal rights under state law to sue the county for punitive damages.
Lawyers for Maxxam and Glenwood Academy responded to that motion on Nov. 21, asking the court to reject the county’s arguments regarding its constitutional law claims, as different parts of the lawsuit are bound up together.
The lawsuit landed in Chicago federal court in August when Maxxam and Glenwood Academy filed suit, asking a judge to declare the Kane County Board had improperly and illegally denied their zoning application by a 14-9 vote about three months earlier.
In its action, Maxxam asked the court to order the county to allow the proposed drug and alcohol abuse treatment facility to open in the former boarding school, and asked the judge to order the county to pay monetary damages, including punitive damages, potentially for millions of dollars, equivalent to the losses Maxxam says the county’s delays and denials have cost it.
Maxxam’s case centered on allegations opposition to the project was rooted in discrimination against “disabled” people recovering from substance abuse “rooted in the all-too-common ignorance and prejudice of those who refuse to permit substance abuse treatment in their communities based upon illegal and discriminatory stereotypes about those seeking to recover from addiction.”
Maxxam has held the 120-acre property under a $9.5 million contract since 2014, contingent on the county’s approval of its plans for a treatment center. Maxxam filed its permit request with the county in mid-2015, and says in the more than two years since, it has complied with all county rules and requests. Yet Maxxam alleges it still was forced to move through the project through “almost two years of sham proceedings,” including 20 public hearings, before the County Board – allegedly buckling to public pressure – denied the permit request.
In addition to its discrimination claims, Maxxam alleged the county had violated its rights under the constitution.
But while Maxxam argued the county approval process violated its rights to due process, the county, in its motion to dismiss those constitutional law claims, asserted Maxxam is actually alleging the county has violated its private property rights, which, under legal precedent, would require the company to first bring its actions in state court – a step in the process the county says Maxxam has skipped.
In response, Maxxam argues the county has misinterpreted the law, asserting the final votes from the County Board should amount to a “final decision from … the relevant state body,” making the case “ripe” for a hearing before the federal judge.
Further, Maxxam argues the county’s targeted attempt to carve out its constitutional law claims – converting the case, at least in part, to a dispute over private property rights – could be seen as an attempt to undermine the lawsuit entirely, as all of the company’s other claims under federal anti-discrimination laws and state zoning laws “are inextricably tied to [Maxxam’s] due process claim.”
“It makes little sense in terms of cost and judicial economy for the court to stay plaintiffs’ constitutional claims while the other claims are fully litigated,” Maxxam wrote in its motion.
In its Nov. 21 response, Maxxam addressed only the county’s attempt to dismiss its constitutional law claims, not directly responding to county assertions the company’s request for potentially costly punitive damages are barred under state law.
In its motion to dismiss, the county said an Illinois law immunizes public bodies, like the county, from lawsuits demanding money for the county’s refusal to approve an ordinance, rule or permit request.
“There is no exception to this grant of immunity even if the public entity’s conduct was corrupt, malicious, or willful and wanton,” the county wrote in its motion, citing prior Illinois court cases rejecting lawsuits against other public bodies in zoning disputes.