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People ex rel. Scott v. Chicago Park Dist.

Citation: 7 ELR 20346
No. No. 48061, 360 N.E.2d 773/66 Ill. 2d 65, (Ill., 12/03/1976)

The Illinois Supreme Court holds that a statute conveying 194.6 acres of Lake Michigan submerged lands to United States Steel violates the public trust doctrine. The statute, passed in 1963, was challenged by a taxpayer, whose suit was dismissed for lack of standing. Droste v. Kerner, 34 Ill.2d 495, 217 N.E.2d 73 (1966). After United States Steel tendered payment, the Attorney General brought a declaratory judgment action against the company and the named defendant. Droste is not res judicata in the instant litigation because dismissal for lack of standing is not a judgment on the merits. Regarding the merits of this suit, the court reaffirms the public trust rule that the state holds title to submerged lands and, in general, cannot relinquish governmental powers over those lands. The court takes notice of state statutes evidencing a concern for environmental protection in support of the proposition that courts may mold the public trust doctrine to fit changing needs. The steel company's plan to extend its plant onto the subject parcel would adversely affect public use of the land solely for private gain. Increased employment resulting from such plant expansion is too incidental and remote an effect to qualify as appropriate public benefit from the sale of these submerged lands.

A dissent argues that Droste is res judicata since the court had to consider the validity of the statute in order to take appellate jurisdiction over the controversy and that, since the benefits and detriments of the sale are unsettled, the court ought not to disturb the legislature's judgment.

Counsel for Plaintiff
William J. Scott, Attorney General; Fred F. Herzog, Richard W. Cosby, George W. Wolff, Ass't Attorneys General
500 S. 2d St., Springfield IL 62701
(217) 782-1090

Counsel for Defendant-Appellant United States Steel
Henry L. Pitts, Laurence A. McHugh
Rook, Pitts, Fullagar & Poust
208 S. LaSalle St., Chicago IL 60602
(312) 372-5600