Leland Stahelin and JES Ventures owned property that bordered the Morton Arboretum in DuPage County, Illinois. The county forest preserve and the arboretum wanted to preserve the property in its undeveloped state. After purchase negotiations failed, the forest preserve sued the owners in a condemnation suit, then withdrew the suit. At the same time, the forest preserve passed an ordinance that stated “the acquisition of the property in the future would be important to furthering the statutory purposes of the [District].”
The owners claimed they could not develop the property for commercial purposes because the ordinance stated the government’s intention to condemn it. So the owners sued the forest preserve and the arboretum under the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution for engaging in a conspiracy to take the land. The trial court dismissed that lawsuit. The arboretum then asked the trial court to award attorney fees. Meanwhile, the owners appealed the dismissal, but the appellate court affirmed. The owners’ petition for leave to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court was denied. The arboretum then asked for an award of its attorney fees incurred in defending the owners’ appeal.
The trial court awarded the arboretum its fees under Section 1988 [federal civil rights statute] for defending the appeal, but not for defending the case in the trial court. The owners then appealed the award of attorney fees.