By Igor Studenkov | Bugle Staff
Cook County Circuit Court Judge Franklin Valderrama threw out a lawsuit against Sportsman’s Club, a proposed Niles gun shop and firing range.
The lawsuit was the second attempt by Skokie-based People For a Safer Society to block the opening of the gun shop.
The gun control advocacy group argued that Sportsman’s Club would be located too close to several area schools, putting local youth and other residents in danger.
It sought to not only revoke Sportsman’s Club special-use permit, but ban any gun shops from occupying that particular site.
In his Feb. 9 decision, Valderrama ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing to file the lawsuit and that they filed the lawsuit based on the wrong legal standard.
However, the group’s attorney, Tony Hind, told reporters that the group wasn’t giving up just yet. Hind said they planned to file an appeal within the next 30 days and expressed hope that appellate court judges would be more receptive to his legal arguments.
In May 2014, a group of business owners operating as 6143 Howard Partners applied for a special use permit to open a gun shop at 6143 W. Howard St., in Niles industrial district.
Over the next few weeks, a number of Niles, Skokie and Lincolnwood residents raised concerns that the shop would be too close to Niles West High School, Niles Central High School and New Hope Academy – a private school for students struggling with emotional challenges.
People for a Safer Society, which formed in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shootings, were among the most vocal opponents of the proposal.
The Niles Board of Trustees ultimately approved the special-use permit. In October 2014, the group sued the village of Niles, arguing that the process by which it granted the permit was unconstitutional. Village attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the group filed the lawsuit on “as applied” basis but should have filed on “facial” basis. The group, they argued, couldn’t file on “as applied” basis because none of the plaintiffs were directly affected by the gun shop’s opening. The facial basis was a much tougher standard to prove, because the plaintiffs would have to show that the village didn’t have the legal authority to grant a special-use permit to any gun shop.
In June 2015, Valderrama ruled in favor of the village of Niles. But because he dismissed the lawsuit without prejudice, People for a Safer Society had an opportunity to file an amended version of the lawsuit – which it did a month later.
The second lawsuit made similar arguments as the first, claiming that a gun shop would endanger the nearby schools, as well as the employees of Lifeway Foods — the Morton Grove-based dairy product maker whose facilities are located a few blocks north of the site. The lawsuit also included Howard Partners as a defendant.
The attorneys for the village and the gun shop subsequently filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that People for a Safer Society still lacked standing to bring the lawsuit and that the potential harm it described was purely hypothetical.
On Feb. 9, Valderrama granted the motion to dismiss the second lawsuit. He said that, under existing legal precedent, plaintiffs had to own the property involved in the lawsuit or any of the adjoining properties in order to have standing. The judge specifically cited the 1988 Landmark Preservation Council v. City of Chicago case, where the Illinois Supreme Court found that the Landmark Preservation Council of Illinois didn’t have the standing to challenge the Chicago City Council’s decision to remove landmark status from the since-demolished McCarthy building. The reason reason for that ruling was that none of the plaintiffs owned property anywhere near the building.
Valderrama also said the new lawsuit didn’t address the argument that it shouldn’t be filed on as applied basis, which gave him additional reason to dismiss the second lawsuit on the same grounds as the first.
This time around, Valderrama dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice.
Tisha Ashcroft, a People for a Safer Society member who lives in Niles, didn’t mince words.
“It’s basically disgusting that we have this kind of business in our village,” she said. “It’s supposed to be a No. 1 place to raise kids.”
Denyse Stoneback, head of People For a Safer Society, said she was disappointed and asked reporters to direct their questions to Hind.
The attorney said one of the challenges of the case was that it was different from typical zoning-related lawsuits.
“In a typical zoning case, the municipality denies relief to property owners,”said Hind. “This one is more nuanced because the property owner had the application granted, and [residents] are the parties who were aggrieved.”
Hind said that, while he respected Valderrama’s legal expertise, he didn’t agree with the ruling. He believed that the judges who will consider the appeal will see things differently.
“We believe that, once we have a panel of three appellate court judges, we stand a chance,” Hind added.