by Constantina Kokenes
U.S. District Judge John W. Darrah Thursday morning denied a motion by the city of Chicago and the Chicago Park District to dismiss a lawsuit against a proposal to locate the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art on Chicago’s Museum Campus.
“We felt that in the state court system, it might be less likely that the case would be determined because of the legal aspects.”
– Cassandra Frances, Friends of the Parks
“While we are disappointed that the court did not resolve the case today, we look forward to the next phase of the public process to determine the best way to make the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art a great new addition to Chicago’s Museum Campus,” the city of Chicago’s Law Department said in a statement.
Friends of the Parks filed the lawsuit against the city in November 2014 in federal court in order to avoid state courts, which the group considers more susceptible to political pressure.
“State courts are much more of an appointed system,” said Cassandra Francis, President of Friends of the Parks. “We felt that in the state court system, it might be less likely that the case would be determined because of the legal aspects.”
The lawsuit argues that building the museum on the lakefront is a decision for the State of Illinois rather than Chicago. It cited the Lakefront Protection Ordinance, which states that “in no instance will further private development be permitted east of Lake Shore Drive.”
“Anything on the lakefront still is absolutely, no question, public trust doctrine,” Francis said. “The city technically just can’t say, willy-nilly, ‘Yes, Mr. Lucas, go ahead and use this site.’”
The city of Chicago and the Chicago Park District filed the motion to dismiss the lawsuit in December. In the multiple replies for dismissal since then, they argued that the U.S. Supreme Court has never held that a state cannot convey property held in public trust under any circumstances.
“The filings speak for themselves,” said John Holden, spokesman for Mayor Emmanuel’s office. Holden declined to comment further.
Darrah denied the motion to dismiss the lawsuit on three of the four counts. In his written opinion, he said the memorandum of understanding makes clear that the Park District committed to transferring control of public park land to the museum. He also said the Park District cannot relinquish its trust over public land to a private party and that it is unclear if the Park District would remain the property owner.
Darrah dismissed the claim arguing that the museum plans to violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Friends of the Parks has the option to appeal this dismissal.
“We’re pleased with the court allowing the case [to move] forward,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, attorney for Friends of the Parks. “But we haven’t decided what’s next.”
Press contact for the Lucas museum, Kate LeFurgy, denied to comment about the lawsuit.
“Our stance has not changed,” LeFurgy said. “We remained committed [to] and focused [on] Chicago.”
The next status hearing will be held on April 28.