The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals was presented a novel jurisdictional issue Tuesday: whether a municipal land use case can come within the exception to the doctrine of mootness for cases that are capable of repetition yet elude review.
The city of South Bend bought land next to a Catholic high school with the intention of transferring it to the school in exchange for use of the athletic complex. Some residents challenged the transfer, arguing it violated the establishment clause since no value had been attached to the use right that was the only compensation the city sought. The District Court granted a preliminary injunction, and instead of appealing, the city filed two subsequent motions to modify the injunction, eventually opening up the process to the highest bidder. The high school purchased the land.
After the sale, the city appealed the two interlocutory orders denying motions it made in the course of the litigation. At no time after the motions were denied did the city appeal. The city claimed that it didn’t appeal those orders because the high school needed to begin construction of the complex immediately in order to complete it by the 2012 school year. South Bend claimed that the District Court’s rulings establish precedents that will prevent the city from transferring land to religious institutions in the future.
“… the fact that a dissolved injunction may have consequences even though the case in which it was issued is now moot is not a permissible ground for invoking the doctrine that allows the appeal of moot cases that are capable of repetition but evade review,” wrote Judge Richard Posner. To allow the timing of a project as a ground for permitting moot cases to be appealed would bring “an unmanageable host of such cases into the appellate courts,” he continued in Roy Wirtz, et al. v. City of South Bend, No. 11-3811.
The city’s appeal is moot and untimely.