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After judge’s dismissal, Skokie appeals federal lawsuit over Evanston water rates

Friday, November 08, 2019
Chicago Tribune
by Genevieve Bookwalter

Skokie officials have appealed a federal judge’s September decision to dismiss their lawsuit against Evanston over water rates that Skokie officials have called discriminatory and a violation of residents’ rights.

The appeal was filed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals on Oct. 23, according to court documents. The appeal follows the Sept. 27 dismissal of Skokie’s claims by federal district court Judge Charles Kocoras.

On Friday, Evanston attorneys declined to comment on the appeal. Skokie officials did not immediately return requests for comment.

The appeal comes after Kocoras declined to rule on the merit of the case, but instead wrote that Skokie does not have standing to sue Evanston in federal court on this issue. That’s because Skokie has not yet paid the rate Evanston demands, and therefore has not been injured with grounds to sue in federal court.

 

Whether Evanston’s requested rate is valid is an issue to be determined by Cook County Circuit Court, Kocoras wrote. Evanston sued Skokie in Cook County Circuit Court in 2017 over this issue.

Skokie joined residents Elaine Jacobson, Paul Pitalis and Robert Quane, along with local business Georgia Nut Company, in filing the federal suit.

The federal suit followed Evanston’s county suit previously filed against the village of Skokie over an impasse in water rate negotiations. That case has been on hold pending the results of the federal lawsuit.

Evanston wants Skokie to pay $2.06 per 1,000 gallons of the Lake Michigan water it treats and supplies to Skokie, according to Evanston’s county lawsuit.

But Skokie wants to pay “somewhere in the vicinity of 70 cents per 1,000 gallons” which Evanston states in the county lawsuit is “far below a fair and reasonable rate.”

The two towns previously had long-term agreements for Evanston to supply the water. The latest contract, which started in 1997 and went for 20 years, expired Dec. 31, 2016, the lawsuit states.

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Skokie turned around and sued Evanston in federal court. Village attorneys asked that court to declare that Evanston’s rate ordinance adversely affects the rights of Skokie plaintiffs in a discriminatory way and that it violates Skokie citizens’ rights. Skokie calls the $2.06 per 1,000 gallons rate that Evanston seeks to charge a “Punitive Rate Ordinance.”

Further, Skokie makes the argument that Evanston’s higher rates would violate due process and equal protection rights guaranteed in the Fifth and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution — hence the federal lawsuit.

According to the Seventh District Court of Appeals docket, Skokie officials have until Dec. 23 to file the village’s brief with the court. Evanston officials have until Jan. 23 to respond, and Skokie has until Feb. 13 to file a reply brief.




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