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Natt v. Sanitarium Dist.

OPINION FILED NOVEMBER 27, 1950.

MINNIE NATT ET AL., APPELLANTS,

v.

THE SUBURBAN COOK COUNTY TUBERCULOSIS SANITARIUM DISTRICT ET AL., APPELLEES.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. JOHN PRYSTALSKI, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE WILSON DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

The plaintiffs, Minnie Natt, Carl F. Natt, and Ann Plattner, qualified taxpayers, on behalf of themselves and all other taxpayers similarly situated, filed a complaint in the circuit court of Cook County against the defendants, the Suburban Cook County Tuberculosis Sanitarium District, hereafter referred to as the District, and its four officers and directors. On September 30, 1948, the District passed an ordinance authorizing the issuance of bonds in the amount of $6,000,000 to pay the cost of constructing and equipping three hospitals for the care and treatment of persons afflicted with tuberculosis. The ordinance provided for submitting to the electorate of the District on November 2, 1948, at a special election to be held at the same time and at the same place where the general election was to be held, the proposition of issuing the bonds. The result of the canvass of the votes was that 222,973 votes were cast for, and 122,136 against, the issuance of the bonds. By their complaint, plaintiffs sought to restrain (1) the issuance and sale of the bonds and (2) the levy or attempted levy of taxes to pay principal and interest on the bonds. Defendants answered, the cause was heard on the pleadings, and a decree entered finding the issues for defendants and dismissing plaintiffs' complaint for the want of equity. Plaintiffs appeal.

The District was organized in 1947 under "An Act to provide for the creation and management of tuberculosis sanitarium districts," hereafter referred to as the Sanitarium Districts Act, which has been in force since July 1, 1937. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1949, chap. 23, pars. 177a to 177n, inclusive.) The District comprises all the territory in Cook County lying outside Chicago. An action to enjoin the extension and collection of taxes produced by the tax levy ordinance of the District for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 1948, upon the grounds that the ordinance was not adopted within the time prescribed by law and that the Sanitarium Districts Act was unconstitutional resulted in a decree dismissing the complaint for the want of equity. On September 22, 1949, we affirmed the decree and sustained the constitutional validity of the challenged statute. (Kloss v. Suburban Cook County Tuberculosis Sanitarium Dist. 404 Ill. 87.) Thereafter, on October 26, 1949, the superior court of Cook County, in a quo warrantor proceeding instituted by the State's Attorney of Cook County, assailing the legal existence of the District, found the statute constitutional in its entirety and that the District had been lawfully organized thereunder. This present action was instituted on March 2, 1950.

Plaintiffs make numerous contentions. Of these, the first is that the special election of November 2, 1948, was void for the reason that section 14 of the Sanitarium Districts Act under which the election was called and held is, in turn, invalid because it fails to prescribe the method and procedure for holding and conducting an election called thereunder, and that, in consequence, the attempts of the District to hold the election were without warrant or authority of law and of no force or effect. In the alternative, plaintiffs contend that the election was void because of defendants' failure to comply with the Election Code in the seven respects enumerated in their complaint. Defendants maintain, on the other hand, that section 14 is complete and valid; that the Election Code governs the method and procedure for holding and conducting an election under section 14, and that they have complied fully with its provisions. The decisive issue thus made by the pleadings and argued upon this appeal is whether the Election Code applies to a special election under section 14 of the Sanitarium Districts Act.

To the extent relevant, section 14 of the Sanitarium Districts Act, (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1949, chap. 23, par. 177n,) declares, "No such district shall incur indebtedness for any purpose other than the acquisition of land unless the proposition to issue bonds or otherwise incur such indebtedness shall have been first submitted to the legal voters of such district at a general election or at any special election called for such purpose and shall have been approved by a majority of those voting upon the proposition."

The gist of plaintiffs' contention is that, although section 14 authorizes an election on a bond issue proposition, it fails to prescribe any method or procedure for holding and conducting the election; that, in particular, section 14 makes no provision for giving notice of the election; that nothing is said as to where the election shall be held and conducted and who shall serve as judges and clerks of election; that no attempt is made to provide a form of ballot or to prescribe the manner in which the returns of the election shall be made and canvassed, and that section 14 affords no means of determining these matters. Upon the basis of these assertions, plaintiffs invoke the familiar rule that a statute which is so vague, indefinite and uncertain that courts are unable, by accepted rules of construction, to determine, with any degree of reasonable certainty what the legislature intended, will be declared inoperative and void. (Triner Corp. v. McNeil, 363 Ill. 559; Mayhew v. Nelson, 346 Ill. 381.) Statutes vulnerable to the objection stated have been declared unconstitutional as denying due process. (Parks v. Libby-Owens-Ford Glass Co. 360 Ill. 130; People ex rel. Travis, v. Rogier, 326 Ill. 310.) The omission, however, to specify every detail, step by step and action by action, does not render a law vague, indefinite or uncertain from a constitutional standpoint. People ex rel. Christensen v. Board of Education, 393 Ill. 345.

Section 14 commands that a proposition to issue bonds of a sanitarium district organized under the statute for purposes other than the acquisition of land be submitted to the legal voters of the District at a general election or at any special election called for such purpose. When the Sanitarium District Act was passed, among the statutes then in force dealing with elections were the General Election Law of 1872, the City Election Law of 1885, and the Ballot Act of 1891. These statutes were of general application and prescribed the method and procedure for holding general and special elections. Other statutes, among them the School Act, the Drainage Act, and the Forest Preserve Act, provided for calling and holding special elections on public questions. Some of these statutes prescribed the exact manner of holding elections. Others, including the Forest Preserve Act, did not contain specific provisions governing the conduct of elections called thereunder. In 1943, "An Act concerning elections," (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1949, chap. 46, pars. 1-1 to 30-3, inclusive,) commonly called the Election Code, became effective. This act, the general law for the conduct of elections in Illinois, is a codification and continuation of all existing general laws relating to elections.

Recourse to the Election Code discloses that it applies to any special, general or primary election, including a special election on a bond-issue proposition under section 14 of the Sanitarium Districts Act. As of November 2, 1948, the day the special election in question was held, section 3 of article I of the Election Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1949, chap. 46, par. 1-3,) provided, in part: "1. `Election' includes the submission of all questions of public policy, propositions, and all measures submitted to popular vote, and includes primary elections when so indicated by the context. * * * 3. `Special election' means an election, either general or municipal, not regularly recurring at fixed intervals, irrespective of whether it is held at the same time and place and by the same election officers as a regular election. * * * 5. `Municipal election' means an election or primary, either regular or special, in cities, villages, incorporated towns, townships, park districts, school townships and school districts, sanitary districts, and in all other political and governmental subdivisions whose territorial limits are less than a county, irrespective of whether such election is held at the same time and place and by the same election officers as a general election; and `municipality' means any such political or governmental subdivision. 6. `Political or governmental subdivision' means any municipality and any other area less than a county in which elections are or may be held."

Article II provides for the establishment of election precincts and the places for holding elections, and all general and special elections must be held at the places designated. In the territory of counties beyond the jurisdiction of boards of election commissioners, the county board is named the authority to establish precincts and polling places. Where municipalities are operating under article 6 of the Code and are subject to the jurisdiction of a board of election commissioners, the board is designated as the authority to fix precincts and the places of election.

Section 1 of article 12 provides for publication of notice of the election by the county clerk at least thirty days previous to any general election, and at least twenty days prior to any special election. Section 3 of article 12 provides that, in any city, village or incorporated town operating under article 6, the board of election commissioners shall give timely notice through the press of the time and place of election in each precinct of the municipality. Article 13 provides for the appointment of judges and clerks of election in the territory of counties outside the jurisdiction of boards of election commissioners. Article 14 provides for such appointments in municipalities under the jurisdiction of boards of election commissioners. Article 16 deals with the printing and delivery of ballots and their form and content. Section 7 of article 16 declares, in part, "Whenever a public measure is submitted to be voted upon by the people within any district or political subdivision less than the State the substance of such public measure shall be clearly indicated on a separate ballot." A form of ballot is set forth, followed by provisions describing how the elector shall designate his vote thereon. Manifestly, voting upon a bond issue proposition under section 14 of the Sanitarium Districts Act is voting upon a "public measure," within the contemplation of section 7 of article 16.

Articles 17 and 18 cover the conduct of elections and making returns. These sections refer repeatedly to "special elections" and to "elections at which propositions are submitted to a popular vote." In short, there is no attempt to limit the scope of their application to general elections. Article 22, dealing with the matter of canvassing votes, makes provision for a county canvassing board to enter on a separate sheet, "votes for county officers and for propositions submitted to the electors of the county only." Section 8 provides for a canvassing board in municipalities operating under article 6 and specifies that "all votes for any proposition, which may be submitted to a vote of the people," shall be entered on one sheet and "all votes against any proposition, submitted to a vote of the people, on another other sheet." It is clear that article 22 applies to the canvassing of the returns of a referendum held under section 14 of the Sanitarium Districts Act. Indeed, the conclusion is inescapable that the legislative intent reflected in the Sanitarium Districts Act and the Election Code was to incorporate relevant provisions of the Election Code for holding and conducting elections into section 14 of the Sanitarium Districts Act.

Statutory provisions similar to section 14 of the Sanitarium Districts Act fortify our conclusion. Section 13 of the Forest Preserve Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1949, chap. 57 1/2, par. 14,) provides, so far as pertinent, "No district shall incur indebtedness for any purpose other than the acquisition of land unless the proposition to issue bonds or otherwise incur indebtedness shall have been first submitted to the legal voters of the district at a general election or at any special election called for such purpose and shall have been approved by a majority of those voting upon the proposition." It will be observed that the quoted language is identical with that employed by the General Assembly in section 14 of the Sanitarium District Act. The Forest Preserve Act has been in effect since 1913 and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, among other forest preserve districts, has been organized thereunder. Its constitutionality has been sustained. (Perkins v. Board of County Com'rs, 271 Ill. 449.) In the case cited, this court specifically held that the terms of the Forest Preserve Act were not so indefinite or incapable of execution as to render it invalid. People ex rel. Carr v. Chicago Heights Terminal Transfer Railway Co. 319 Ill. 389, construed section 13 of the Forest Preserve Act, but its constitutional validity was not assailed in the case cited or in any other case.

In People ex rel. Lauth v. Wilmington Coal Co. 402 Ill. 161, the validity of a special election held in the territory of High School District No. 204 was presented for decision. The contention was made that the election was illegal because the reverse side of the ballots used at the election allegedly did not bear the facsimile signature of the public officer causing the ballots to be printed, as required by section 3 of article 16 of the Election Code. The special election was held pursuant to the authority granted by section 3.1 of article 17 of the School Code. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1949, chap. 122, par. 17-3.1.) Article 17 does not, however, establish the form of ballot to be used in elections on the proposition of increasing school taxes nor does it refer to any other statute for the purpose of determining the form of such ballot. We pointed out that where the School Code, or any other statute, establishing special or local elections, ...


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