opc rendering

A north-facing rendering of the Obama Presidential Center campus in Jackson Park.

The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals sent the Protect Our Parks (POP) case against the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) back to district court in an opinion issued Friday afternoon, finding that some of the claims brought by the plaintiffs should have been dismissed. 

Though it is unlikely that much will change when the case returns to district court, it does open the door for more future litigation, said POP president Herbert Caplan. 

The district court ruled in favor of the city and the Chicago Park District last June — at the time, Judge John Robert Blakey remarked that “this is not a difficult case.” 

The appeals court agreed with Blakey on the two claims that POP brought under federal law. According to the ruling, POP argued that, under public trust doctrine, the public has a private property right in Jackson Park. The court found that this claim did not hold water, citing as precedent a case in which landowners next to a park didn’t have a property right when it came to the adjacent land. 

“Although the plaintiffs wish it were otherwise,” wrote Judge Amy Coney Barrett, “the Illinois cases make clear that the public trust doctrine functions as a restraint on government action, not as an affirmative grant of property rights.” 

But POP also brought two state claims — on these, the court found it did not have standing. This was unsurprising: the judges on the Seventh Circuit questioned the nonprofit’s standing during oral arguments in May, and ordered both POP and the city to submit supplementary briefs on the issue afterward. 

Barrett gave three reasons in the opinion why the group did not have standing in federal court on half of its claims. First, she wrote, there are different standards in Illinois and federal courts for a claim that public trust doctrine has been violated — even though POP might have standing in state court, Barrett wrote, it’s “irrelevant” to the question of whether they have federal standing. 

The group also can’t argue that the construction of the OPC will cause damage to Jackson Park, because standing requires showing that the construction causes injury to the plaintiff. “The plaintiffs can’t repackage an injury to the park as an injury to themselves,” Barrett wrote. 

Finally, Barrett found that the plaintiffs did not have standing as municipal taxpayers. 

That means the ruling is partially affirmed and partially vacated and the case is remanded, or returned, to the district court. 

Both POP and the city argued in their supplemental briefs that the nonprofit did have standing. (Barrett notes the motivation on the city’s side briefly, writing that “having secured a judgment on the merits, they’d prefer an affirmance to a dismissal.”)

POP president Herbert Caplan said that the group was planning to file a motion for rehearing in front of a panel with all 11 judges on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, alleging that the three responsible for the decision had misunderstood some of their claims. 

For instance, Caplan said that Barrett's argument that the plaintiffs couldn't "repackage an injury to the park as an injury to themselves" missed the argument, which was that the plaintiffs' lost enjoyment of the park was the injury they were claiming. 

"By this opinion, what the rules provide is that we have a new opportunity altogether in the trial court," said Caplan, who added that the group may file new complaints in both state and federal court.

"The important conclusion of what the court has said and what we’re planning to do is that the Obama Center cannot start construction in Jackson Park until the litigation is finally over. It’s still in the interim proceedings." 

The Herald has reached out to the city for comment.  

This story has been updated with comments from Herbert Caplan. 


Christian Belanger graduated from the University of Chicago in 2017. He has previously written for South Side Weekly, Chicago magazine and the Chicago Reader.

(5) comments

South Shore Resident

Soooo does this new paper always delete comments that go against their beliefs, because my post that goes against save our parks was removed for no valid reason. This is a classic example of how the media and news outlet controls content to what they believe and want people to believe,

From the Herald: Nothing has been removed; you merely need to scroll down to find your comment. The Herald denies comments only if they are racist, incendiary or otherwise unsuitable.

(Edited by staff.)

Ross Petersen

Dear South Shore Resident, please try again to post your comments. I would be curious to know how you feel. I don't think the paper has censored your comments, more likely it is a technical problem. The free and open exchange of ideas has always been important, here.


I guess it's fashionable to be an environmentalist, until money, power, and prestige come into the picture. SAVE OUR PARKS.

Ross Petersen

The struggle to maintain our open, clear and free Parks, and Lakefront, continues. We do want to honor Obama, but plowing up, developing Jackson Park - that isn't the way to do it. My heartfelt thanks to Protect Our Parks, their attorneys. There are many who feel, as I do, that Parks are worthy of our protection, both now and for generations to come.

I urge all Chicagoans to join Protect Our Parks, or Jackson Park Watch, get involved to save nature, save trees, save Jackson Park.


You've got my vote, Ross!

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