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In Re Application of County Collector


APRIL 7, 1965.




Appeal from the County Court of Cook County; the Hon. THADDEUS V. ADESKO, Judge, presiding. Reversed and remanded.


Petitioner, as the assignee of tax sale certificates covering real estate in the City of Chicago, applied to the County Court for the issuance of a tax deed conveying merchantable title to her under the authority of Section 266 of the Revenue Act of 1939. (Ill Rev Stats 1963, c 120, § 747.) Respondent, City of Chicago, objected to the granting of the relief sought unless reimbursement was first made to it as the owner of certain prior tax deeds to the premises. The City's position was based on Section 270 of the same act. (Ill Rev Stats 1963, c 120, § 751.) After full hearing, the trial court ordered the County Clerk to issue a tax deed in accordance with the petition, and the City has filed this appeal. *fn1

There is no issue of fact. Petitioner purchased a tax sale certificate from one J. Rogers who had bought the premises in question at a sale for nonpayment of the 1959 general taxes. Rogers had also paid the general taxes for the years 1947 through 1958, which amounts were included in his certificate of sale. All taxes subsequent to the sale were also paid. The period of redemption had expired and due notices had been given when petitioner applied for the issuance of a merchantable tax deed.

The City of Chicago was listed in the petition among those persons alleged to have an interest in the premises. That interest, which petitioner, in effect, sought to foreclose, stemmed from the City's ownership of tax deeds which, in turn, were based on its purchase of the premises for the nonpayment of special assessments for the years 1907 through 1912. *fn2

Pertinent parts of the two sections of the statute here involved read as follows:

§ 747 (Section 266):

At any time within 5 months prior to the expiration of the time of redemption from the sale of any real estate for nonpayment of taxes or special assessments, pursuant to judgment and order of sale on the County Collector's application for judgment and order of sale under the provisions of Section 225 of this Act, as amended, the purchaser or his assignee may file a petition in the county court in the same proceeding wherein the judgment of sale was entered upon which the sale was had, praying that the court direct the county clerk to issue a tax deed if the real estate shall not be redeemed from the sale. Such petition shall be accompanied by a filing fee of $15.00. Notice of the fact of filing the petition and the date on which the petitioner intends to make application for an order on the petition that a deed issue if the real estate shall not be redeemed from the sale shall be given to occupants, owners and persons interested in the real estate in the same manner as provided in Section 263, except that only one publication shall be required. . . . The county clerk shall be notified of the filing of the petition and any person owning or interested in the real estate may, if he desires, appear in the proceeding. If the time of redemption expires and the real estate has not been redeemed from the sale and all taxes and special assessments which became due and payable subsequent to the sale have been paid and all forfeitures and sales which occur subsequent to the sale have been redeemed and the notices required by law have been given and the petitioner has complied with all the provisions of law entitling him to a deed, the court shall so find and shall enter an order directing the county clerk on the production of the certificate of purchase and a certified copy of said order, to issue to the purchaser or his assignee a tax deed. . . . The county court is hereby given jurisdiction to, and upon application therefor shall, issue a writ of assistance to put the grantee in possession of said real estate and is also given jurisdiction to, and shall have the power to, enter such orders and issue such writs as may be necessary or desirable to maintain the grantee in possession of said real estate. Tax deeds issued pursuant to this section shall be incontestable except by appeal from the order of the county court directing the county clerk to issue the tax deed. This section shall be liberally construed so that tax deeds herein provided for shall convey merchantable title. (Emphasis supplied.)

§ 751 (Section 270): . . . No final judgment or decree of court in any case either at law or in equity or in proceedings under the Eminent Domain Act involving the title to or interest in any land in which such party holding such tax deed shall have an interest or setting aside any tax deed procured under this Act shall be entered until the claimant shall make reimbursement to the party holding such tax deed and payments as herein provided in so far as it shall appear that the holder of such deed or his assignors shall have properly paid or be entitled to in procuring such deed. (Emphasis supplied.)

Considering first the provisions of Section 266, we are urged by petitioner to interpret this language as fully supporting the trial court's order. Prior to the 1951 amendment of this section of the Act, a tax deed purported to convey title to the premises involved, but consistent case law through the years had declared that such a tax deed constituted merely a lien or "color of title." To acquire good title the lienholder was required to take possession of the property, pay taxes for seven consecutive years, and file a bill to quiet title based on Section 6 of the Limitations Act. Ill Rev Stats c 83, § 6.

There can be no doubt but that the 1951 amendment was intended to change this situation as to the character of a tax deed. To say this much, however, is not to reach any conclusion as to the requirements established for the issuance of such a deed conveying merchantable title. The section itself sets forth conditions which must be met before the court may properly direct the issuance of a tax deed. These are:

(1) The period of redemption must have expired without redemption.

(2) All taxes and special assessments becoming due and payable subsequent to the sale must have been paid.

(3) All forfeitures and sales occurring subsequent to the sale must have been redeemed.

(4) The notices required by law must have been given.

(5) The petitioner must have complied with all the provisions of law entitling him to a deed.

In the case at bar the petitioner contends that she has fully complied with all these conditions. The City does not contest the first four points, as listed above, but argues that the fifth condition has not been met; that this condition is broader than the provisions of Section 266 standing alone, and must be considered as encompassing the requirements of any other provision of law which might be pertinent, including Section 270. More specifically, the City contends that the order in this case is a final judgment or decree which has the effect of setting aside its tax deeds, and it could, therefore, not properly be entered under the restrictions of Section 270 without reimbursement to the City.

[1-5] The general rules of statutory construction are not difficult of ascertainment, but genuine problems often present themselves in application of the rules to particular situations. We are required by Section 266 itself to construe it liberally "so that tax deeds herein provided for shall convey merchantable title." Yet we must not confine our interpretation to one section of a statute, but, rather, the legislative intent must be gathered from the entire act. Illinois Bell Tel. Co. v. Ames, 364 Ill. 362, 366, 4 N.E.2d 494; School Directors of School Dist. No. 82, Whiteside County v. County Board of School Trustees, 15 Ill. App.2d 115, 122, 145 N.E.2d 285. Since Sections 266 and 270 were amended by separate bills in the 1951 session of the legislature, there could probably be an analogy drawn to the rule that two acts passed at the same session must be considered in pari materia. Town of Cicero v. Weilander, 35 Ill. App.2d 456, 466, 183 N.E.2d 40. Even separate statutes relating to the same subject or object are in pari materia and must be construed together. Southmoor Bank & Trust Co. v. Willis, 15 Ill.2d 388, 394, 155 N.E.2d 308. Further, in seeking to determine the intent of the legislature, we should not only consider the language used but also "the evil to be remedied and the object to be attained." Jones v. Pebler, 371 Ill. 309, 311, 20 N.E.2d 592. At the same time, however, we must bear in mind that basic to the whole approach is the rule that where "the language used in a statute is plain and unambiguous, there is no room for construction." Mason v. Cutkomp, 15 Ill. App.2d 378, 381, 146 N.E.2d 382.

It is quite obvious that both sections of the statute were enacted with a view to encouraging tax buyers, thus increasing the collection of money by the various taxing authorities and returning delinquent properties to the tax rolls on a current basis. Cherin v. The R. & C. Co., 11 Ill.2d 447, 143 N.E.2d 235. But the recognition of this intention furnishes scant, if any, assistance here because both parties are tax buyers.

Equitable principles which might be considered in making a liberal construction of Section 266 are also of little value to us in this case. It is argued tellingly that the City could have perfected a title to the premises, as mentioned above, and thus become the owner thereof; that it did not do so; that the owner's interest is eliminated by the tax deed procedure under Section 266; that the City, under the circumstances, should not be in a stronger position than it would be if it had become the owner. On the other hand, if neither the City nor anyone else had bought the premises for nonpayment of the old special assessments they would have remained a lien on the land and would have had to be paid by petitioner's assignor when he purchased the premises for nonpayment of the 1959 general taxes. Ill Rev Stats, c 120, § 753. From this springs the classical argument of the tax buyer that his certificate or deed should stand in a preferred position equivalent in priority to that of the taxes whose lien was extinguished by his purchase. Chicago Land Clearance Commission v. Narodski, 57 Ill. App.2d 302, 207 N.E.2d 81, and cases therein cited.

Turning to the language of Section 266, it is there made perfectly plain that the petitioner must comply "with all the provisions of law entitling him to a deed." If by this it had been intended to limit requirements to those set forth within that section of the Act, it would have been very simple to say so. That such was not the intention is indicated, for example, by that section's failure to refer specifically to the obligation of a tax buyer to pay prior taxes. Ill Rev Stats, c 120, § 753. We conclude, therefore, that the City is correct in its contention that to determine petitioner's compliance with Section 266 we must determine petitioner's compliance with all other provisions of law, including all sections of the Revenue Act.

Considering, then, the wording of Section 270 to see if it applies in the instant case, we find that it does. It is hard to conceive of broader or stronger terminology than that used in the preliminary phrase: "No final judgment or decree of court in any case either at law or in equity or in proceedings under the Eminent Domain Act involving the title to or interest in any land. . . ." This statute was on the books when Section 266 was amended to provide for a court-directed issuance of merchantable title tax deeds. As mentioned above, the same 1951 session of the legislature amended both Section 266 and Section 270, but it did not see fit to alter the part of Section 270 which we have just quoted and which is of critical importance in the case at bar.

We take notice of the fact that many actions of the General Assembly are not self-initiated; that parties interested in a particular problem will submit their suggestions to the legislature and urge their adoption; that this is especially true in an area of expertise so narrow and so complex as that involving tax deeds. Now, it may have been the intention of the proposers of the 1951 amendment to Section 266 that the procedure there established should not be affected by the terms of Section 270. But neither section so states. The intention of those who present legislative proposals, the intention of the legislature in adopting an amendment to an individual section of a statute, and the intention of the legislature as expressed in the entire act, may be three different things. By hindsight it appears that the proposers of the Section 266 amendment might well have suggested also that orders entered thereunder be excepted from the prohibition of Section 270. Whether or not such a provision would have been adopted is now, however, only a matter of speculation.

Able counsel for both parties have been unable to cite any authorities bearing directly on the issue before us, and, in consequence, we are aware of the importance attached to the decision in a case of first impression. It is our conclusion that Section 270 of the Revenue Act is applicable to the instant case, and under its terms the County Court's order should not have been entered until the petitioner *fn3 had made reimbursement to the City of Chicago for its tax deeds.

The parties have argued minimally in this court regarding the result which would follow if the City's deeds were not purchased after a reversal of the trial court's order. *fn4 We make no decision on this point because the case has not reached that stage, and, for one reason or another, the issue may never arise.

The order of the County Court is reversed and the cause remanded to the Circuit Court of Cook County for further proceedings not inconsistent with the views expressed in this opinion.

Reversed and remanded.

McCORMICK, P.J. and DRUCKER, J., concur.

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