Judge Affirms First Amendment Rights to Oppose Development Projects
A federal court has affirmed the right of real estate project opponents to actively oppose government permits, even when opponents are business competitors and even when their opposition is not publicly announced.
In a decision filed March 27, the U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois dismissed all claims brought in a suit against The Saint Consulting Group of Hingham, MA, and SuperValu of Eden Prairie, MN, in connection with a proposed shopping center in Mundelein, IL.
In dismissing the claims brought by Rubloff Development Group of Rockford, IL, U. S. District Judge Harry B. Leinenweber said the activities of Saint and SuperValu, which sought to help neighbors block Rubloff’s proposed development in city council and court proceedings starting in 2007, are protected by their First Amendment right to petition government and by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Noerr-Pennington Doctrine.
In June 2010, the Wall Street Journal had reported that Saint had worked for numerous grocery chains opposing government permits for new Walmart stores. The story was sourced by an ex-employee of Saint, who was paid $10,000 by Rubloff to engineer the Journal story in hopes it would help with its claims against Saint and SuperValu. Rubloff brought suit shortly after the story appeared.
The decision dismissing the allegations cites protections that guarantee citizens and businesses the right to petition government for relief without fear of antitrust liability.
Judge Leinenweber said the Noerr-Pennington Doctrine extends “absolute immunity” from antitrust laws to businesses and other associations when they join together to petition legislative bodies, agencies or courts for action that may have anti-competitive effect.
The decision upholds the right of businesses to defend their market share.
The ruling allows claims by Saint against Rubloff Development Group to continue to trial.
The Saint Consulting Group specializes in getting citizens to participate in the public approval process for controversial land use projects.
“While this ruling comes as no surprise, we are very happy to see the court so strongly reaffirm our right to petition government on behalf of our clients,” said P. Michael Saint, CEO and founder of The Saint Consulting Group.
“It is clear from this decision and others that advocacy to get government to turn down projects is protected even where competitors are involved and third parties are brought into the battle to organize the campaign,” Saint said.