APPEAL from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County; the Hon.
RALPH L. MAXWELL, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE FULTON DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Rehearing denied March 17, 1952.
Appellant, The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, filed a petition for a declaratory judgment in the circuit court of St. Clair County, naming as defendants in the proceeding the members and clerk of the St. Clair County board of assessors, the members of the St. Clair County board of review, the collector and former town collector of Canteen Township, St. Clair County, and the county collector of St. Clair County. In its petition appellant asked the court to find and declare that certain tax assessments made against it by the local taxing authorities of St. Clair County were invalid and void and for such other relief as the court might deem proper.
The petition was filed on October 25, 1949, and on November 8, 1949, the State's Attorney of St. Clair County filed on behalf of appellees a motion to dismiss the petition, the principal ground being that the petition showed on its face that petitioner was not entitled to the relief sought. This motion was overruled by the court on March 2, 1950. Appellees, on March 7, 1950, filed an answer containing an affirmative defense, the substance of which was that petitioner should not have any relief or cause of action under the Declaratory Judgments Act because it had failed to pursue the remedies provided by statute in such cases, and particularly that it had failed to file any complaint either with the board of assessors or board of review; that it had failed to pay 75 per cent of its taxes under protest and also had failed to file written objections in the county court. Petitioner's reply, filed on March 27, 1950, alleged in substance that the existence of the other statutory remedies pointed out by defendants in their answer was no defense to its action for a declaratory judgment.
The case was tried before the court on May 26, 1950. Only one witness testified, Frank T. Quirk, called by petitioner. The court then took the case under advisement for submission on briefs. On June 13, 1951, the court entered its final order in the case dismissing the petition for a declaratory judgment and finding that the petitioner had not exhausted all of its statutory legal remedies. Appellant, by this appeal, seeks to reverse the judgment of the court below. The case is brought directly to this court because the revenue is involved.
The pertinent facts as established by the petition and brought forth in the testimony at the trial are as follows:
On or about February 1, 1947, appellant entered into possession of certain improved real estate in St. Clair County which was owned by the United States government. This property was a manufacturing plant, where, through a subsidiary corporation, appellant manufactured prefabricated houses known as "Wingfoot Homes." Possession of this property was taken by the corporation under a so-called "interim permit" from the War Assets Administration. This permit was evidenced by a letter dated January 29, 1947, from the St. Louis office of the latter agency. The letter states acceptance of a counterproposal made by the corporation for occupancy of the premises at an annual rental of $79,095.70 and an option to purchase at $829,729.50. The letter gives appellant the right immediately to use and occupy the premises with the understanding that it will at once place a binder for insurance on the premises in the amount of $1,500,000 and assume complete responsibility for custody, protection and maintenance. The permit states that a lease is to be executed between the parties and that the negotiations therefor are to begin at once.
Appellant occupied the plant under the permit until July 31, 1948. It was in possession and occupancy of the premises on April 1, 1947, and on April 1, 1948. No formal lease was ever entered into between appellant and the United States government.
In 1947 the local assessing authorities of St. Clair County assessed the property to appellant at an equalized value of $884,940, and in the year 1948 at an equalized value of $915,470. Taxes were extended against these assessments in the amount of $24,265.14 in 1947 and $24,324.14 in 1948 and appellant-corporation was billed therefor. No part of these amounts has been paid. Appellant filed no complaint before the board of review either in 1947 or 1948. Nor did it file any objections in the county court for either of the years in question. It took no steps to question either of the assessments or the taxes extended until the filing of its action in the circuit court of St. Clair County on October 25, 1949, except as hereafter related. On or about April 22, 1947, Quirk, representing the real estate department of appellant, came to St. Clair County to file appellant's personal property return about which there was no dispute. He talked to Mr. Costello, the chief clerk of the board of assessors, and, while there, raised the question of the assessments on the real estate here involved. Quirk told Costello that he believed the assessment of the real estate was governed by sections 20 and 26 of the Illinois Revenue Act of 1939. Costello stated that he did not feel that those sections applied but that, in any event, since this property had never been assessed before, nothing could be done until a complete appraisal of the plant had been made.
In August of the same year Quirk appeared before the board of assessors at Belleville at their request. They advised him that the property was to be assessed to appellant in the amount of $884,000. No one representing appellant appeared before the board of review in 1947 and, so far as the record shows, no one representing appellant appeared either before the board of assessors or the board of review in 1948.
The record does not show (except that Costello got that idea from his conversations with the board) that the freehold was being assessed to appellant, but paragraph 9 of the petition alleges the following, which is admitted in the answer filed by appellees: "The said assessments were based upon the value of the entire freehold interest in said property and were made in the manner ordinarily followed in assessing improved real property in Illinois which is owned by individuals and private corporations in fee."
Appellant contends that the assessments in question are illegal and void, reasoning that since the assessments were on the entire value of the freehold, and since property of the United States of America is exempt from taxation under the law of this State, the assessments of the property to appellant were, in effect, the imposition of a tax on exempt property. As a corollary to this proposition appellant contends that since we have here the question of a void tax on exempt property, its imposition and collection may be restrained by injunction or relief had in an action for a declaratory judgment under the Declaratory Judgments Act. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1951, chap. 110, par. 181.1.) Appellees contend that, under the facts of the case here presented, an action under the Declaratory Judgments Act cannot be maintained; that appellant is bound to pursue its remedies afforded in the Revenue Act of 1939 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1951, chap. 120, pars. 482 et seq.,) and particularly sections 108 and 235 of the act. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1951, chap. 120, pars. 589 and 716.) These are the sections providing for the making of complaints before the board of review and the paying of 75 per cent or more of disputed taxes under protest and the filing of objections in the county court.
Appellant first argues that since the assessment imposed is an attempt to tax exempt property, the action by the local authorities would be a proper subject of injunctive relief, and, therefore, the action for a declaratory judgment is proper. We do not think it follows that because appellant might have obtained an injunction, he is also entitled to the relief sought here, nor are we compelled to pass upon the propriety of the injunctive remedy, since no injunction was sought. But, assuming for the moment that the actions are similar in their essential characteristics and legal effect, let us examine appellant's premise i.e., that this would be a proper case for injunctive relief.
Appellant has cited many cases decided by this court in which injunctions against the imposition and collection of taxes have been held proper. Among those cited is Owens-Illinois Glass Co. v. McKibbin, 385 Ill. 245. In that particular case we held that the retailer in question was not subject to the Retailers' Occupation Tax Act and that the complaint stated a cause of action for the injunctive relief sought. In our opinion rendered in that case we had occasion to review many of the Illinois cases on the general question of injunctive relief in tax matters and we finally stated, at page 256, certain propositions by way of conclusion which are applicable here: "From the foregoing resume the enjoining of the collection of illegal taxes constitutes an exception to the general rule that equity will not take jurisdiction of a cause when there is an adequate remedy at law. It is established that where a tax is unauthorized by law, or where it is levied upon property exempt from taxation, equity will take jurisdiction and enjoin the collection of the tax. This constitutes an independent ground of equitable relief, and in such cases it is not necessary that special circumstances exist to authorize issuing an injunction. It is also the rule in such ...