A decision recently rendered in Illinois involved a requirement that a property be retrofitted with an automatic sprinkler system. The municipality had previously mandated that commercial buildings be retrofitted with the fire/life safety solutions. The ordinance excluded multiple residence dwellings from the retrofit sprinkler requirement.
The property in question consisted of two multi-unit, single story commercial buildings. The property was constructed using noncombustible materials with a brick masonry exterior and aluminum framing, windows and doors. At the time the plaintiff purchased the buildings, the defendant did not require the installation of an automatic sprinkler system.
The plaintiff filed an action seeking a declaration that an amendment to the village municipal code providing exceptions to the adopted International Fire Code was unconstitutional as applied.
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The plaintiff alleged that the defendant improperly exercised its police power, as the ordinance required the plaintiff to incur a cost, which outweighed the benefits an automatic sprinkler system would provide to the public. The plaintiff further claimed that applying the ordinance to the property violated the equal protection clause of the Illinois Constitution, along with constituting a “taking” violation of the constitution.
“The plaintiff alleged that the defendant improperly exercised its police power, as the ordinance required the plaintiff to incur a cost, which outweighed the benefits an automatic sprinkler system would provide to the public”
The trial court ruled against the plaintiff and in favor of the defendant on all counts, finding that the ordinance advanced a legitimate state interest for the welfare of the public by providing additional safety for the occupants of the property. The plaintiff appealed. On appeal, the appellate court said the issue was to determine whether the ordinance, as applied, violated the plaintiff’s due process rights under the Illinois Constitution, pointing out that it is important to first differentiate between “facial” and “as-applied” challenges.
The court indicated that in a facial challenge the court examines whether the statutes or ordinance at issue contains “an inescapable law that renders the statute unconstitutional under every circumstance.”
By contrast the court pointed out that as an as-applied challenge, “a plaintiff protests against how an enactment was applied in the particular context in which the plaintiff acted or proposed to act, and the facts surrounding the plaintiff’s particular circumstances become relevant.”
The court indicated that in this instance the balancing test was not applied as this case did not involve the retroactive application of the ordinance to the plaintiff. While the evidence demonstrated that when the property was transferred to the plaintiff, the property was not in compliance with the long standing ordinance and that the plaintiff could be charged with constructive knowledge.
Under rationale basis review, an ordinance “does not violate substantive due process protection if it bears a rationale relationship to a legitimate governmental purpose and is neither arbitrary nor discriminatory.” The court pointed out there is no question in this case that there is a rationale relationship between requiring the installation of automatic sprinklers and the defendant’s interest in protecting the health and welfare of its citizens.
The court further indicated that the ordinance is neither arbitrary nor discriminatory. The court further agreed with the trial court’s assessment that the plaintiff had the ability to afford a retrofit.
‘The plaintiff alleged that the defendant improperly exercised its police power, as the ordinance required the plaintiff to incur a cost, which outweighed the benefits an automatic sprinkler system would provide to the public.’
In summary, the court held that the ordinance meets the rationale basis test and that the difference between the plaintiff’s commercial property and multiple family dwellings are “easily perceived” and that the property and multiple family dwellings are not “similarly situated for the purpose of an equal protection analysis.” Nor did the ordinance constitute an unconstitutional taking of property. The judgment of the circuit court was therefore affirmed in favor of the defendant.