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La Salle Nat. Bk. v. County of Cook

OPINION FILED MAY 29, 1974.

LA SALLE NATIONAL BANK, TRUSTEE, APPELLANT,

v.

THE COUNTY OF COOK ET AL., APPELLEES. — OAK PARK TRUST AND SAVINGS BANK, TRUSTEE, APPELLANT,

v.

THE COUNTY OF COOK ET AL., APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Walter P. Dahl, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE RYAN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff, La Salle National Bank, as trustee under a land trust, filed five separate suits in the circuit court of Cook County. Four of the suits were filed as class actions. These each name certain taxing units and taxing officials of Cook County as defendants and seek injunctive relief and a refund of taxes which the complaints allege are based on excessive assessments. Each complaint also seeks a declaratory judgment declaring certain assessment procedures invalid. The fifth suit was not brought as a class action and seeks only an injunction prohibiting defendants from assessing, levying, collecting or distributing certain real estate taxes. These five suits were consolidated in the trial court and were dismissed on motion of the defendants.

Plaintiff, Oak Park Trust and Savings Bank, as trustee under a land trust, represented by the same attorney who represented the La Salle National Bank in the five cases mentioned above, filed a complaint in five counts in the circuit court of Cook County. Three of the counts are class actions and two counts seek relief for the individual plaintiff. The complaint challenges the validity of certain assessment procedures and seeks an injunction prohibiting the assessing, levying, collecting or distributing of certain taxes computed on an assessment in excess of an amount contended for by the plaintiff. Count V prays for a declaration that the rules and regulations used in the assessment procedures are invalid. On motion of the defendants the trial court also dismissed all counts of this suit. The issues raised in the cases filed by the La Salle National Bank and those raised in the case filed by the Oak Park Trust and Savings Bank are substantially the same. The primary difference between the La Salle National Bank cases and the Oak Park Trust and Savings Bank case is found in the different classes purportedly represented. The La Salle National Bank, as trustee, appealed from the order dismissing the five suits and the Oak Park Trust and Savings Bank, as trustee, appealed from the order dismissing the five counts of its complaint. The appeals were transferred to this court pursuant to Rule 302(b) (50 Ill.2d R. 302(b)) and consolidated here for argument and opinion.

Pursuant to section 43 of the Revenue Act of 1939 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 120, par. 524), Cook County has been divided into four assessment districts for purposes of real estate tax assessments. The districts are numbered 1, 2, 3 and 4 and are referred to as quadrants. The quadrennial assessment of real estate is made in a different year in each district or quadrant. The validity of this method of making quadrennial assessments of real estate in Cook County has been upheld by this court in Apex Motor Fuel Co. v. Barrett, 20 Ill.2d 395. Both plaintiffs own real estate classified by the assessor of Cook County as "Class 93/Industrial." The property is located in quadrant 1, for which the quadrennial assessment was made in 1972.

Some of the defendants which are taxing districts filed motions which allege that the plaintiffs did not have authority as land trustees to institute the actions. However, the motions filed by the defendants who are taxing officials do not challenge the authority of the two banks to institute the suits. It is apparent that the dismissals in the trial court were not based on the lack of the plaintiffs' authority to sue. For purposes of this motion we will treat the plaintiffs as having the authority to institute the actions.

Since our disposition of this appeal affirms the judgment of the circuit court for the reasons set forth later in the opinion, it is unnecessary for us to determine whether these suits are proper class actions. It is also not necessary for us to decide whether all of the taxing districts of the county must be made defendants. The latter contention has been advanced because, it is urged, certain relief prayed in the complaint would adversely affect the taxes levied by every taxing district in Cook County.

Since both injunctive relief and declaratory judgment are sought, we must consider whether the same rules which may prohibit injunctive relief likewise operate to prevent relief under the declaratory judgment statute (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 110, par. 57.1). A general principle of equity prohibits injunctive relief if the plaintiff has an adequate remedy at law. (See 7 Ill. Law & Practice, Chancery, sec. 31.) Generally the existence of another remedy does not preclude declaratory relief. (American Civil Liberties Union v. City of Chicago, 3 Ill.2d 334.) This court has held, however, that in cases challenging the validity of a tax assessment, declaratory judgment is not a viable alternative to the statutory remedies provided by the Revenue Act. In such cases relief should not be afforded by way of declaratory judgment in cases which would not have merited relief by way of injunction. (Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. v. Tierney, 411 Ill. 421; American Civil Liberties Union v. City of Chicago; People ex rel. Hamer v. Jones, 39 Ill.2d 360; see also Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. v. Huffman, 319 U.S. 293, 87 L.Ed. 1407.) Therefore, the same principles which we hereafter hold prohibit the granting of an injunction in this case likewise prohibit granting declaratory relief.

The complaints of the plaintiffs raise a substantial number of issues, all of which relate to the assessment of the plaintiffs' properties for real estate tax purposes. Generally the contention is that the plaintiffs' properties are assessed higher than plaintiffs contend they should be. Plaintiffs also complain about the rules and procedures of both the Cook County assessor and the Cook County Board of Appeals, and they contend that the statute provides for no meaningful judicial review for Cook County taxpayers, whereas judicial review is provided for taxpayers outside of the county (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 120, pars. 592.1 through 592.4). The plaintiffs contend that these alleged deficiencies result in a violation of their constitutional rights of due process and equal protection of the laws.

This court has often held that the taxation of property is a legislative and not a judicial function and that the courts will not review the assessments of property upon which taxes are based unless the assessments are fraudulent or constructively fraudulent. White v. Board of Appeals, 45 Ill.2d 378; People ex rel. Nordlund v. Lans, 31 Ill.2d 477; People ex rel. Callahan v. Gulf, Mobile and Ohio R.R. Co., 8 Ill.2d 66; People ex rel. Tedrick v. Allied Oil Corp., 388 Ill. 219.

Recently this court in Clarendon Associates v. Korzen, 56 Ill.2d 101, refused to allow equitable relief by way of injunction in a case of alleged constructively fraudulent assessments of real estate. We held that equity would only assume jurisdiction to enjoin the collection of taxes in cases where: (1) the tax is unauthorized by law, or (2) in cases where the tax is levied upon exempt property. In cases of fraudulent assessments we held that equity will grant relief only if an adequate remedy at law is not available. In Clarendon we held that the remedy at law provided by way of paying the taxes under protest and filing objections to the application for judgment provided an adequate remedy at law. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 120, pars. 675 and 716.

Our opinion in Clarendon was filed subsequent to the date the plaintiffs (appellants) filed their original briefs but prior to the date of the filing of their joint reply brief. In the reply briefs the plaintiffs' attempt to bring their cases within the two exceptions stated in Clarendon by contending that since the complaints allege that certain statutes, rules and regulations relating to assessments are unconstitutional, the assessments and taxes based thereon are "unauthorized by law."

However, an examination of the five-count complaint filed by Oak Park Trust and Savings Bank reveals that this plaintiff in both the three counts that are class actions and the two counts that are brought on behalf of the plaintiff individually is simply complaining that the property has been assessed at an excessively high value. This, the complaint charges, has resulted in various deprivations of constitutional rights. These allegations do not bring this case within the ambit of the "tax unauthorized by law" exception stated in Clarendon. This court stated in Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. v. Tierney, 411 Ill. at 428-429:

"Appellant's real complaint, as evidenced by a careful study of its brief and argument, is not that it was assessed but rather that it was assessed for too high a figure. Under the principles set forth in our earlier decisions, this case, therefore, does not involve the attempted imposition of a tax unauthorized by law * * *."

We reach the same conclusion in the present case and conclude that the plaintiff has not alleged grounds for relief by way of injunction or declaratory judgment. The legal remedy by way of payment under protest followed by objections to the application for judgment for delinquent taxes provides an adequate remedy at law wherein the alleged irregularities and violations of plaintiffs' constitutional rights may be litigated and, if warranted, relief granted. This court has held that it is proper to raise constitutional questions arising from alleged improper assessments in this manner. People ex rel. ...


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