Fourth District Reverses Trial Court for Second Time in Case Pitting Farm Against Neighbors


Our Chicago business emergency attorneys were interested to read an appellate opinion in which the Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed a Sangamon County judge for the second time in the same case. The Rochester Buckhart Action Group v. Young, No. 4-09-0037 (Ill. 4th Sept. 8, 2009) is a lawsuit filed by a community group attempting to stop Robert Young from building a hog farm on his property. The Rochester Buckhart Action Group, a nonprofit that opposes activities it feels decreases the quality of life in its area, sued to stop Young, arguing that the hog farm should be regulated as a new farm rather than an extension of Young’s existing dairy farm. The trial court granted the group’s request for a preliminary injunction, but the Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed it. On remand, Young asked for costs and damages stemming from that injunction, but the trial court denied it — only to be reversed again by the Fourth.

Young’s property already had a 40-cow dairy farm, and had once had a 2,300-animal hog confinement operation that was demolished in 2004. He notified the Illinois Department of Agriculture of his intention to add a 3,750-hog finishing operation, which is where piglets are grown into adult pigs. In that notification, he told the state that this would be an expansion of an existing operation, not a new operation. The Rochester Buckhart Action Group disagreed and sued for a declaratory judgment under the Livestock Management Facilities Act, which requires public notice, comment and hearing for new facilities. The lawsuit also included counts for nuisance and public nuisance. It moved for a preliminary injunction stopping construction of the hog farm. That order also required the plaintiff to post a $60,000 bond. The trial court then declined to vacate its decision and the defendant successfully appealed to the Fourth.

On remand, the defendant requested costs and damages, pursuant to the Code of Civil Procedure on a “wrongfully entered injunction.” He requested the proceeds of the $60,000 bond to set off the $294,159.01 that he said the injunction cost him. The plaintiff moved to strike that motion, claiming there was no adjudication of the injunction as “wrongful.” The trial court granted that motion to strike, saying it did not believe the injunction was wrongful and thus, the defendant could not recover costs. This appeal followed, arguing that the defendant’s situation met the definition of “wrongful” in the Code of Civil Procedure.

The Fourth agreed. It noted that Illinois Supreme Court precedent allows damages only when judgment has been entered that a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order was entered wrongfully. The plaintiff argued that there was no such adjudication, but the Fourth was not convinced. It said its prior opinion was a legal determination that the injunction was wrongfully issued. “It is hard to fathom what the appeal in Rochester I was all about if it was not a determination of whether the trial court rightfully or wrongfully enjoined defendant from continuing the construction on his hog farm. The sole issue in Rochester I was whether the trial court erred in declining to vacate the preliminary injunction.” Furthermore, the court noted, Jefco Laboratories, Inc. v. Carroo, 136 Ill. App. 3d 826, 829, 483 N.E.2d 1004, 1006 (1985) specifically said there was only a semantic distinction between “in error” and “wrongfully issued.”
The plaintiffs next argued that the preliminary injunction order was the law of the case because the defendant did not appeal that order — he appealed the trial court’s refusal to vacate it. However, the Fourth said, the issue of the injunction itself was before the court when the issue of whether to vacate the order for an injunction was before it. Thus, it wrote, the defendant cannot be said to have waived the issue of whether the injunction was properly issued.

Finally, the plaintiffs said damages should not be awarded because it is a nonprofit “seeking to vindicate public rights.” It supported that argument by citing Save the Prairie Society v. Greene Development Group, Inc., 338 Ill. App. 3d 800, 801, 789 N.E.2d 389, 390 (2003), in which the First District Court of Appeal found that the trial court should not have imposed a $200,000 bond on a nonprofit seeking to serve the public interest. It is true that the Code of Civil Procedure gives trial courts discretion not to impose bond if it would be a hardship, the Fourth said, but no rule of law says this must be done in every case. The plaintiff did not object to the bond as a hardship at the time, it noted. And the state Supreme Court noted in Buzz Barton & Associates, Inc. v. Giannone, 108 Ill. 2d 373, 384, 483 N.E.2d 1271, 1276 (1985) that it would be “inequitable and would invite spurious litigation” to allow parties to interfere with legal activities without being held liable for wrongful interference.

That is the situation in this case, the Fourth said. It reversed and remanded the trial court, saying the defendant is entitled to damages and the trial court must allow him an opportunity to prove any damages.

Lubin Austermuehle represents businesses and individuals in make-or-break business litigation. Our Illinois business emergency lawyers have a special practice focusing on cases that cannot wait — cases in which immediate action is required to prevent imminent harm to the client. This frequently means requesting a declaratory judgment and preliminary injunction, as was the case here, or a temporary restraining order. Businesses of all sizes and purposes can end up in such a situation, which is why our Aurora business law attorneys represent individuals and businesses from small, closely held concerns to major corporations. Based in Chicago and Oak Brook, we represent clients throughout Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and all of the United States. To get help right away with a business emergency or learn more about how we can help, contact us through the Internet or call us toll-free at 630-333-0333.

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