The firm’s pro bono representation of a group of Park Ridge residents sued for speaking out against a development project in their town led to Illinois legislation that will become law in January 2018. The new law will protect all Illinois residents from being sued for voicing their opinions at zoning board meetings.
Gov. Bruce Rauner signed Senate Bill 731 in August. The bill amends an obscure provision of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure that was said to require lawsuits for administrative review of local zoning decisions to name as defendants anyone who spoke publicly at the zoning board meeting. The amendment provides that the “parties of record” who must be named as defendants in these zoning lawsuits include only the zoning board and applicants before the board – and not members of the public who attended a board meeting and took the microphone.
State Sen. Laura M. Murphy and Reps. Martin J. Moylan and Mike Fortner sponsored the legislation after a builder sued the Park Ridge zoning board and a group of residents who had spoken at public meetings on the builder’s proposal in May and September of 2014. The builder’s lawyers asserted that the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure, 735 ILCS 5/3-107, required the residents to be named as defendants because the statute’s wording indicated they were among the “parties of record” in the proceeding, and the statute required all parties of record to be sued.
Partner Gabriel A. Fuentes and former associate Daniel Truesdell stepped in to represent 11 Park Ridge residents named as defendants, including Park Ridge Ald. Frank Wsol. After the builder refused to dismiss the residents voluntarily, the firm filed a motion to dismiss on their behalf, arguing that Section 3-107 did not require the residents to be sued, and that if it were construed to do so, it violated the residents’ constitutional rights by punishing them for speaking. While the motion was pending, the builder eventually dismissed the residents.
Mr. Fuentes later worked with Mr. Wsol and fellow Park Ridge Ald. Marty Maloney to draft language for a proposed amendment to Section 3-107, and the aldermen brought the language to their state legislators for inclusion in what became Senate Bill 731, enacted this summer.