September 28, 2018
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 13 C 3994 - Jorge
L. Alonso, Judge.
Ripple, Sykes, and Scudder, Circuit Judges.
Paramount Media Group, Inc., leased a parcel of
highway-adjacent property in the Village of Bellwood,
Illinois, and planned to build a billboard on it. But
Paramount never applied for a local permit. When the Village
enacted a ban on new billboard permits in 2009, Paramount
lost the opportunity to build its sign.
later sought to take advantage of an exception to the ban for
village-owned property, offering to lease a different parcel
of highway-adjacent property directly from the Village. But
again it was foiled. The Village accepted an offer from Image
Media Advertising, Inc., one of Paramount's competitors.
Its goal slipping away, Paramount sued the Village and Image
Media alleging First Amendment, equal-protection,
due-process, Sherman Act, and state-law violations. The
Village and Image Media moved for summary judgment. The
district court granted the motion on the federal claims and
relinquished supplemental jurisdiction over the state-law
affirm. Paramount lost its lease while the suit was pending.
That mooted its claim for injunctive relief from the sign
ban. The claim for damages is time-barred, except for the
alleged equal-protection violation. That claim fails because
Paramount was not similarly situated to Image Media. And the
Village and Image Media are immune from Paramount's
antitrust claims. We need not consider whether a
market-participant exception to this immunity exists because
Paramount failed to support its antitrust claims.
Paramount contracted with Khushpal and Harmeet Sodhi to lease
1133-1135 Bell wood Avenue for the purpose of building a
billboard. Paramount thought the property, which sits
alongside the high-traffic 1-290 corridor in Chicago, was an
ideal location for its sign. In 2007 it applied for and
received an Illinois Department of Transportation
("IDOT") permit authorizing construction of the
sign on the Sodhi property.
Paramount did not apply for the necessary local permit from
the Village. This lapse would come back to haunt it. In 2009
the Village passed Ordinance 9-4, which mandated that
"no new off-site advertising sign permit will be issued
by the village." Bellwood, III., Code § 156.207(E)
(2009). As Bellwood officials confirmed in later meetings
with Paramount, the ordinance prevented the Village from
issuing a local permit for the Sodhi property.
March 2012 the Village amended the ban to exempt
"village owned or controlled property."
Id. § 156.207(F) (2012). As luck would have it,
the Village owned property at 1156 Bellwood Avenue, across
the street from the Sodhi property. Seeing another
opportunity to build its sign, Paramount offered to lease the
property from the Village for $1, 140, 000 in increasing
installments over 40 years. But Paramount wasn't alone.
Image Media offered a lump sum of $800, 000. In October 2012
the Village accepted Image Media's offer without
responding to Paramount. Unaware of the Village's
decision, Paramount made a lump-sum offer in January 2013.
The Village again did not respond.
eventually learned of the Village's contract with Image
Media. It wasn't happy. In May 2013 it sued the Village
and Image Media, bringing six claims. Counts I and II alleged
that the billboard ban violated the First Amendment and the
Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Count III
alleged that the lease agreement between Image Media and the
Village violated the Equal Protection Clause. Count IV
alleged that the ban violated § 2 of the Sherman Act.
Count V alleged that the Village and Image Media violated
§ 1 of the Sherman Act through their lease agreement.
Finally, Count VI requested a declaratory judgment that the
Village lacked authority under Illinois law to enter into the
lease agreement with Image Media. Paramount sought damages
for lost advertising revenue and an injunction to prevent the
Village from enforcing the billboard ban and its lease
agreement with Image Media.
after Paramount filed its complaint, a representative from
Image Media met with Khushpal Sodhi to discuss his lease
agreement with Paramount. In October 2013 the Sodhis told
Paramount that they were cancelling the lease because
Paramount failed to uphold its end of the bargain. They
entered into a lease-option agreement with Image Media that
same month. The Sodhis gave Image Media the right to lease
their land for billboard construction in exchange for $30,
000. Image Media also indemnified the Sodhis from any legal
actions arising out of the agreement.
responded by adding Count VII to its complaint, which alleged
that Image Media tortiously interfered with its lease
agreement by contracting with the Sodhis. It also sued the
Sodhis in state court seeking a declaratory judgment that its
lease agreement was still enforceable. The Sodhis responded
by sending a letter to the IDOT requesting that it void
Paramount's state permit because they had cancelled the
lease. The IDOT complied and voided Paramount's permit in
March 2014. ...