State Supreme Court rules in favor of city of Rock Falls

Aims Industrial loses its argument for not hooking into city sewer system

Rock Falls City Attorney Matt Cole of Ward, Murray, Pace & Johnson argues the city's case before the Illinois Supreme Court on Nov. 16, 2023.

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Supreme Court has upheld an appellate court ruling that favored the city of Rock Falls’ decision to seek an injunction against Aims Industrial Services for failing to hook into the city sewer system, as required by city ordinance.

The 4th District ruled on Oct. 31, 2022, that Whiteside County Circuit Court Judge Stanley Steines erred when he “balanced the equities” involved and ruled against the city and for the owner of the metal fabrication company.

Balancing the equities occurs when a judge considers factors such as the hardship to the parties involved when determining the fairness of granting or denying an injunction (a judicial order compelling or restraining an action, in this case, an order to hook into the system).

Essentially, the appellate court ruled that all the city needed to prove was that Aims violated a city ordinance. Once that was proved, the decision was out of the court’s hands: It had to issue the injunction forcing Aims to connect to the city sewer system.

The Supreme Court affirmed that decision in its opinion, posted Friday at

The ruling is good news for municipalities that, had it gone the other way, might have seen their ability to enforce certain ordinances become more difficult.

The case was argued before the high court on Nov. 16 by Rock Falls City Attorney Matt Cole of Ward, Murray, Pace & Johnson and by James Mertes of Mertes & Mertes for Aims owner William W. Stickel Jr.

“The city is pleased with the outcome of this case and is confident that the Illinois Supreme Court made the correct decision,” Cole said in an email Monday.

“The underlying holding from this case is of significant importance – not just for the city of Rock Falls, but for all municipalities and government agencies across the state.

“As a result, this ruling strengthens our local communities’ ability to exercise their primary function – that of protecting the public health and safety for the benefit of their citizens.”

On March 3, 2017, Stickel paid $245,000 for the site at 2103 Industrial Park Road in Rock Falls, which had a functioning, private sewer system.

Rock Falls’ ordinance clearly requires that, upon purchase, property owners abandon their private systems and join the city’s.

Aims declined to do so, citing the additional, prohibitive cost of about $160,000 that would be incurred using a gravity system, because there were no lateral hookups, infrastructure typically needed to connect to the city sewage system, and it would have to install them.

Aims also declined to use an alternative, less expensive, method of connection involving an electric pump, estimated to cost $51,000.

AIMS sought a waiver for the requirement to hook up, but the city denied it. It did waive a fine involved.

The city filed a petition with Whiteside County court on Aug. 25, 2019, requesting fines and an injunction ordering Aims to connect.

A bench trial on the matter was held Aug. 20, 2021.

Testimony included that of City Administrator Robbin Blackert, who said that in 2020, while suing Aims, the City Council waived the same requirement that Carry On Gun Range, 1406 First Ave./state Route 40, connect with the city sewer system.

Like Aims, Carry On’s owner requested a waiver saying that the estimated cost of $36,000 was prohibitive and that there were no feasible alternatives.

The city granted the gun range a waiver.

Steines, who retired on Dec. 5, ruled against the city, noting that Aims was being treated differently than the previous owner of the property, who never was required to hook into the city system, and that had Stickel known of the requirement and the cost ahead of time, he might not have bought the site.

Also, by granting the gun range a waiver, the council already made cost a consideration, and it wasn’t fair to give that consideration to one business but not the other, Steines said.

He also said it was the city’s responsibility to either have lateral hookups installed or work with Aims to have them installed.

Steines said he had “a hard time understanding” why the sale or transfer of a property triggered the requirement to hook into the system if the current system was working and there was no health risk to the public.

“Having done what can be called the balancing in equity, because that’s really what we’re talking about, the fairness to everybody, the city’s request for injunctive relief is denied,” he said.

He was relying on a 2004 case, Kendall County v. Rosenwinkel, however, in which the 2nd District Court of Appeals ruled that judges should balance the equities – they should take into account the hardships involved and consider what’s fair – when deciding whether to grant an injunction.

That balancing of the equities was impermissible here, however, the justices said. They cited a 2003 case, Sherman v. Cryns, as the ruling precedent.

Cryns was explicit in holding that, “[o]nce it has been established that a statute has been violated, no discretion is vested in the circuit court to refuse to grant the injunctive relief authorized by that statute,” they said in their opinion.

In effect, a governing body creating a law already has “balanced the equities,” and a court is not free to disregard or “rebalance” the policy determinations made by a legislative body ... when a trial court is confronted with a continuing violation of statutory law, it has no discretion or authority to balance the equities so as to permit that violation to continue,” the court said, citing other case law.

It will take about a month for the ruling to be filed with the circuit clerk, giving Rock Falls the authority to enforce the ordinance.

Stickel could not be reached for comment Monday on his plans for the company, in the wake of the ruling.

For more details

Go to to watch Cole and Mertes make their arguments before the Illinois Supreme Court, or to read the Supreme Court ruling filed Friday, Jan. 19.

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Kathleen Schultz

Kathleen A. Schultz

Kathleen Schultz is a Sterling native with 40 years of reporting and editing experience in Arizona, California, Montana and Illinois.