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Goodfriend v. Board of Appeals

NOVEMBER 13, 1973.

STANLEY L. GOODFRIEND ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,

v.

THE BOARD OF APPEALS OF COOK COUNTY ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. CHARLES R. BARRETT, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE LEIGHTON DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

These are six appeals from judgments permanently enjoining the collection of certain 1970 real estate taxes in Cook County. Originally, they were taken directly to the Supreme Court on the ground that revenue was involved and public interest required expeditious resolution of the issues presented. A justice of that court, in vacation, consolidated the cases but reserved the question of jurisdiction for decision in the full term. On September 16, 1971, orders were entered transferring the appeals to us for disposition.

I.

Five issues are presented for review. (1.) Whether a common law writ of certiorari is the proper procedure by which to review the decision of a board of appeals. (2.) Whether, in one of the certiorari proceedings, it was error for the trial court to strike from the record a letter which appellants contended established a material fact. (3.) Whether, under the Revenue Act of 1939, to correct errors of judgment as to valuation, the County Assessor of Cook County had the authority to file with appellant Board of Appeals certificates of correction by which he proposed increases in the assessed valuation of real estate. (4.) Whether the appellant Board had jurisdiction to hear and rule on three certificates of correction filed by the County Assessor to correct errors of judgment as to the valuation of the real estate involved. (5.) Whether by filing complaints which only questioned the jurisdiction of appellant Board of Appeals, a taxpayer waives his objection that the County Assessor did not give him notice and an opportunity to be heard before the assessed valuation of his real estate was increased in a nonquadrennial year. These issues arise from the following facts.

II.

In 1970, plaintiffs-appellees Stanley L. Goodfriend, Louis R. Solomon, Albert Robin, George Dovenmuehle and Arthur Rubloff, partners in four limited partnerships; North Marina City Building Corporation; Mid-Continental Realty Corporation; Harris Trust and Savings Bank, Trustee of Trust No. 30980 and La Salle National Bank of Chicago, Trustee of Trust No. 39814, were the owners of real estate in Cook County, Illinois. Defendants-appellants Board of Appeals of Cook County; George M. Keane and Harry H. Semrow, its members; P.J. Cullerton, County Assessor of Cook County; Edward J. Barrett, Cook County Clerk; Bernard J. Korzen, Cook County Treasurer and Robert J. Lehnhausen, Director, Illinois Department of Local Government Affiairs, were responsible, respectively, for the correction of erroneous assessment of property in the county, assessment of property for tax purposes, extension of taxes and issuance of warrants for their collection, collection of the taxes levied in accordance with law and the equalization of assessed valuations on taxable property in Illinois.

In the Cook County townships where appellees owned real estate, 1970 was a nonquadrennial year. Harris Trust and Savings Bank held title to the Brunswick Building in Chicago, a multi-story office structure in South Chicago Township which had a 1969 assessed valuation of $4,970,653. On or about December 12, 1970, Harris Trust received a notice from appellant County Assessor that on December 21, 1970, in his office, he was going to hold a hearing to consider an increase in the assessment of the Harris Trust real estate for 1970 taxes. Mid-Continental Realty Corporation owned seven parcels of real estate in North Township, City of Chicago, all improved with multi-story apartment buildings. On February 16, 1971, the corporation received a notice from the Assessor's office stating that the seven parcels had been incorrectly assessed for 1970, and that the Assessor was instituting a correction "* * * which results in an increase in your real property assessment for 1970." Therefore, the notice said, on February 26, 1971, also in the Assessor's office, "* * * [a] hearing will be held * * * at which you will have the opportunity of presenting any facts you may have bearing on the value of your holding." LaSalle National Bank, whose realty was assessed for 1969 taxes at $2,826,014, also received a similar notice notifying it of a hearing on the same day, and for the same purpose.

As required by law, appellant Cullerton, as the County Assessor, on February 18 and 19, 1971, completed his work on the 1970 real estate assessments for North and South Chicago townships in the county. He forwarded the assessment books to appellant the Board of Appeals. Those books and collateral records showed that when the Assessor had completed his 1970 assesments for the townships involved, that is, a week before the February 26 hearings for which he had given notices, he had increased the assessed valuation of the real estate owned by Harris Trust, Mid-Continental and LaSalle National. In complaints they later filed before appellant Board, Harris Trust, Mid-Continental and LaSalle National attacked the Board's jurisdiction and objected to the increased assessments on the ground that the Assessor did not give them a hearing before he increased the assessed valuation of their real estate. The Board rejected the objections and confirmed the increases.

The real estate owned by the Goodfriend partners consisted of five tracts of land in North Township improved by a residential and office complex known as Carl Sandburg Village in Chicago. In 1969, this real estate was assessed a total of $7,258,820. North Marina City Building Corporation owned a parcel, also in North Township, which had a 1969 assessed valuation of $1,470,080. Mid-Continental Realty Corporation, in addition to its seven North Township parcels, owned real estate in Lakeview Township which had a total assessment of $9,402,482. On April 7, 1971, the Goodfriend, North Marina City and Mid-Continental (as to its Lakeview Township real estate), received notices from appellant Board that, as to each of them, the County Assessor had filed with it a certificate of correction by which he proposed an increase in the assessed valuation of their respective real estate. The notices stated "[t]he Cook County Assessor claims that an error (other than an error of judgment as to value) was discovered after the 1970 assessments were completed." For the Goodfriend partners, the certificates of correction showed that the proposed increase was $4,426,340; for Marina City Building, $1,512,783; for Mid-Continental, $2,739,153.

In later proceedings before appellant Board, Goodfriend, Marina City and Mid-Continental attacked the Board's jurisdiction and objected to the proposed increases on the ground that they were based on the Assessor's error of judgment as to valuation of their real estate; and that despite their rights under the revenue laws, they had neither received a notice nor had a hearing prior to the Assessor's having determined the amount by which the 1970 assessed valuation of their real estate was to be increased. On April 19, 1971, appellant Board sustained its jurisdiction, overruled the objections and confirmed the Assessor. Thereafter, Goodfriend, Marina City and Mid-Continental filed individual suits to permanently enjoin collection of the real estate taxes based on the increased assessments. The complaint in the Mid-Continental suit added a count for a writ of certiorari requiring appellant Board to certify to the court the proceedings it had undertaken pursuant to the certificates of correction filed by the Assessor.

In separate suits, Mid-Continental, as to its seven parcels in North Township, Harris Trust and LaSalle National, filed a two-count complaint. One count prayed for a permanent injunction against collection of the increased assessments and another petitioned for issuance of a writ of certiorari directing the appellant Board to certify to the trial court the proceedings by which it confirmed the Assessor. The trial court ruled that certiorari was "eminently proper" and issued the writs which had been prayed for in four of the six suits. After hearing evidence and reviewing the record shown on return of the writs, the trial court found that contrary to their rights under the revenue laws, Harris Trust, Mid-Continental Realty (as to its North Township real estate) and LaSalle National Bank were not given a hearing by the County Assessor before he increased the assessed valuation of their real estate for 1970 taxes. As to the certificates of correction in which the Assessor proposed increases in the assessed valuation of the real estate owned by the Goodfriend partners, North Marina City Building Corporation and Mid-Continental Realty Corporation (the parcels in Lakeview Township), the trial court found that no hearing was given the affected taxpayers prior to the Assessor's determination of the proposed increases, or prior to the filing of the certificates; and that the certificates were based on the Assessor's errors of judgment as to valuation, an invalid use of a certificate of correction. The trial court filed a memorandum concluding that all the increased assessments were void; and that appellants, in their respective capacities, could not enforce them. Therefore, in the four cases where writs of certiorari had issued, the proceedings before the Board of Appeals and the Assessor were quashed; and in all the cases, collection of the 1970 real estate taxes based on the increased assessments was permanently enjoined.

III.

• 1 It is the law in this State that circuit courts have the power to issue common law writs of certiorari addressed to all inferior tribunals whenever it is shown either that they have exceeded their jurisdiction or have proceeded illegally, and no direct appeal or other mode of direct review of their proceedings is provided. (People ex rel. Loomis v. Wilkinson, 13 Ill. 660; Doolittle v. Galena and Chicago Union R.R. Co., 14 Ill. 381; Kinsloe v. Pogue, 213 Ill. 302, 72 N.E. 906.) This law calls attention to the fact that by provisions in the Revenue Act of 1939, the legislature has vested appellants Board of Appeals, Keane and Semrow (its members), with the power to decide the property rights of others, a power which when exercised makes their official actions judicial. (McKeown v. Moore, 303 Ill. 448, 453, 135 N.E. 747.) However, when considered in relation to the circuit court, the Board of Appeals is an inferior tribunal. Jarman v. Board of Review of Schuyler County, 345 Ill. 248, 178 N.E. 91.

• 2, 3 Taxation of property is a function that is legislative rather than judicial, and under the limitations expressed in section 1, article IX of the Illinois constitution, courts of this State do not possess authority to directly review a decision of the Board of Appeals. (White v. Board of Appeals of Cook County, 45 Ill.2d 378, 259 N.E.2d 51.) With the exception of actual or constructive fraud, instances which can be occasion for injunctive relief, the Board's administrative decisions concerning assessments are final. (People ex rel. Nordlund v. S.B.A. Co., 34 Ill.2d 373, 215 N.E.2d 233.) Therefore, appellees having alleged that the Board had either exceeded its jurisdiction or had proceeded illegally, and that no mode of direct review was available, the writs of certiorari were the ...


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