City of Chicago v. International College of Surgeons

PETITIONER: City of Chicago
RESPONDENT: International College of Surgeons
LOCATION: The White House

DOCKET NO.: 96-910
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 522 US 156 (1997)
ARGUED: Oct 14, 1997
DECIDED: Dec 15, 1997

Benna Ruth Solomon - Chicago, IL, argued the cause for the petitioners
Richard J. Brennan - Argued the cause for the respondents

Facts of the case

In 1989, following the Chicago Landmarks Commission's preliminary determination that two of the International College of Surgeons and the United States Section of the International College of Surgeons' (ICS) buildings qualified for protection under the city's Landmarks Ordinance, the city enacted a Designation Ordinance creating a landmark district that included the buildings. After ICS applied for and was denied a permit to demolish all but the facades of the buildings, it sought judicial review of the Commission's decisions, alleging the ordinances and the manner in which the Commission conducted its proceedings violated the Federal and State Constitutions. Chicago removed the case to federal district court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction. Ultimately, the Court of Appeals reversed the District Court's decision in favor of the city, ruling that a federal district court lacks jurisdiction of a case containing state law claims for on-the-record review of local administrative action.


May a lawsuit filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County seeking judicial review of decisions of the Chicago Landmarks Commission be removed to federal district court, where the case contains both federal constitutional and state administrative challenges to the Commission's decisions?

Media for City of Chicago v. International College of Surgeons

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 14, 1997 in City of Chicago v. International College of Surgeons

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in Number 96-910, the City of Chicago v. The International College of Surgeons.

Ms. Solomon.

Benna Ruth Solomon:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:

Respondent International College of Surgeons owns two of the last seven remaining mansions reflecting an illustrious part of history around the turn of the century in the City of Chicago.

ICS sought permission to demolish all but the facades of the landmark four-story buildings and to build a 41-story condominium in its place.

The city's Landmark Commission refused both the demolition permits and the subsequent requests for hardship exceptions, and ICS challenged both decisions in State court.

The city removed the complaints to Federal court--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

That's a little odd, isn't it?

Why did the city want to take it out of State court?

Benna Ruth Solomon:

--Your Honor, we find that on Federal questions the Federal courts have more expertise with the questions, they tend to see them more often, and we find that that gives us greater predictability as we try to assess litigation risks.

When there is case law in the Federal courts, as there was on all of the Federal claims that ICS pled in this case, we can review that case law, and we can make a determination whether we should litigate or whether we should settle.

In State court, because the cases are not so frequently litigated there, there's a paucity of case law on some subjects.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, this was a mix of issues.

There was a... Chicago wanted presumably to... well, the respondents, I guess, had sought administrative review of the decision.

Benna Ruth Solomon:

Respondents sought a variety of things, Your Honor.

Respondents sought to have the ordinance declared... the landmarks ordinance declared unconstitutional, to have the specific ordinance delegating ICS's property as a landmark declared unconstitutional, to have a variety of State law claims litigated in the first instance, they had takings claims, nondelegation claims, vested rights... they had five State law claims.

They also had two claims that were presented on the administrative record, so there were a variety of claims.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

But to the extent this was brought as a review of a municipal agency decision, to the extent that this was a review of the decision of the Landmarks Commission, I was struck by the comment that the Ninth Circuit made in its recent decision that the prospect of a Federal court sitting as an appellate court over State administrative proceedings is rather jarring.

Indeed, it's so jarring that I don't know of any instance of a court other than this Court sitting in direct review of a State court proceeding.

Benna Ruth Solomon:

Justice Ginsburg, the Ninth Circuit case, like the Armistead case and the Fairfax County case that were also recently decided in the courts of appeals, are diversity cases.

They are unlike this case.

Of all the recent courts of appeals cases only this one was removed to the Federal court on the basis of Federal questions.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

But my question was the function of lower appellate courts vis-a-vis State agencies, and even in the Federal question domain, I know of no precedent where a district court, or even a court of appeals, sits as an appellate reviewer as distinguished from... a case might come up, say on habeas, on collateral review, but to my knowledge only this Court, from the highest court of the State, acts in the direct review line, so I don't know any precedent for this Court, for a lower court, for a district court sitting in direct review of a decision of a State agency.

Benna Ruth Solomon:

Our argument on that, Your Honor, is in two parts.

It is first that the district court had original jurisdiction over the civil claim, over the portion of ICS's complaint that fell within the district court's original jurisdiction.

ICS pled numerous Federal constitutional violations, and on the strength of those Federal constitutional violations, we removed the case to district court.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

But when one challenges an agency action, say, a liquor license or funeral home license, one challenges a State or local agency decision and normally brings up all possible arguments.

It violates the State law.

It violates the State constitution.

It violates the Federal Constitution.