A Cook County judge recently denied the village of River Forest’s request to throw out a lawsuit by Keystone Montessori, a nonprofit private school.The judge also denied Keystone’s motion for a preliminary injunction. 

“We are very pleased that our complaint against River Forest was validated by the court. This gives us further confidence that we are doing the right thing to support our school and the students and families of Keystone,” Vicki Shea, director of Keystone, said in a statement.

Keystone filed its lawsuit against the village on March 6 in the Cook County Circuit Court, alleging River Forest officials said they would only approve the school’s zoning permit if Keystone agreed never to seek a property tax exemption. The lawsuit claims its agreement with the village contravenes public policy and constitutes unconstitutional condition, illegal contract zoning, illegal perpetual contract and equal protection violation. The school is asking for reimbursement for attorneys’ fees, $1.1 million in property taxes they said they paid over two decades, and an end to its agreement to the village.

In the motion to dismiss, filed March 20 in the federal district court in the Northern District of Illinois, the village argues the school’s two federal complaints are subject to a two-year statute of limitations and its three contract claims are subject to a five-year statute of limitations. Therefore all of Keystone’s charges are untimely, the motion said.

The motion also asserted that charges should be thrown out because Keystone knowingly signed an agreement to contract away its rights. Village attorneys argued the nonprofit had a right to agree to never seek a property tax exemption.  

In a statement, the village said it was “pleased” Judge Sanjay Tailor denied Keystone’s preliminary injunction. 

“The village will continue to defend the agreement, which has been in place for 20 years,” the statement reads. “Keystone Montessori has experienced significant financial troubles unrelated to its agreement with the village, and the village remains ready and willing to help it relocate its school to a suitable location so it may continue educating children.”

In March, Busey Bank filed to foreclose on the school’s more than $2 million mortgage, according to records from the Cook County Recorder of Deeds.

Attorney John Mauck, from the Chicago-based Mauck & Baker firm that is representing Keystone, has said that if the nonprofit school can break its agreement with the village and become tax-exempt, Keystone will be solvent and able to pay its mortgage and other obligations. The school pays about $100,000 annually in real estate taxes, and has not paid its 2017 taxes yet, Mauck said. He said the school had been relying on private donors to help pay the taxes, but this past year donors stopped giving.

“When a motion to dismiss such as this is denied, it means that the judge feels all the matters alleged in the complaint create valid claims,” Mauck said in a statement. “Because the judge upheld the complaint, and because River Forest repeatedly conceded that no substantive factual issues are disputed, we feel that Keystone is in a very strong legal position.”

CONTACT: ntepper@wjinc.com

This article has been updated to reflect the village of River Forest is pleased the judge denied Keystone’s motion for a preliminary injunction. 

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