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Bd. of Educ. of Sch. Dist. 201-u v. Pomeroy

OPINION FILED APRIL 14, 1977.

THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF COMMUNITY UNIT SCHOOL DISTRICT 201-U, WILL COUNTY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

OREN POMEROY ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Will County; the Hon. ROBERT E. HIGGINS, Judge, presiding.

MR. PRESIDING JUSTICE ALLOY DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

This is an appeal from a judgment of the Circuit Court of Will County denying a motion to vacate a previous order of the said circuit court granting a motion to dismiss the complaint. An alternative request, as to two counts of the amended complaint, for leave to amend, was granted, and such order is not appealed from. Plaintiff comes to this court pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 304(a) for the reason that the trial court has made an express written finding that there was no just reason for delaying enforcement or appeal.

The action was instituted by the Board of Education of Community Unit School District 201-U of Will County, Illinois, in its individual capacity and also sought relief as a representative of a class of Boards of Education of Will County. No authorization is stated or shown as to any boards of education, other than the plaintiff specified in the action. The action was instituted against Oren Pomeroy, supervisor of assessments of Will County, and as against Roy Hassert, Bernard J. Bannon and Daniel T. Lambert, as members of the Board of Review of Will County, and also as against Kent Bosworth, county treasurer and ex-officio county collector of Will County. The action is brought with respect to certain alleged practices of the defendants in the assessment of property, collection of taxes and distribution of tax revenues, and for the recovery of tax revenues alleged to be wrongfully withheld, and additionally for interest and statutory penalties.

As we have noted, pursuant to defendants' motion to dismiss, the trial court, on February 26, 1975, dismissed plaintiff's complaint. Plaintiff subsequently filed a motion to vacate the order of February 26, 1975, and requested leave to file an amended complaint as to counts III and IV. On April 23, 1976, the trial court denied plaintiff's motion to vacate the prior order of dismissal of February 26, 1975, but granted plaintiff leave to file amendments to counts III and IV of their complaint. The trial court entered a finding in accordance with Rule 304(a) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 110A, par. 304), that there was no just reason for delaying enforcement or appeal of the order appealed from.

It appears that plaintiff Board of Education derives a substantial portion of its operating revenue from personal and property taxes extended and collected upon property within its school district. Although plaintiff has the responsibility of establishing its operating budget and of levying certain taxes, various county officials referred to have the responsibility of assessing the property to be taxed, of extending the taxes, of collecting the tax moneys and distributing the tax revenues to local boards of education, under the provisions of the Revenue Act of 1939 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 120, par. 482 et seq.).

The complaint filed by plaintiff on December 12, 1973, consisted of four counts. Counts I and II of the complaint alleged that the defendants either unreasonably delayed or failed to perform their statutory duties in the assessment of property and the collection of taxes. Plaintiff alleged that in 1971 and 1972, defendant Oren Pomeroy, supervisor of assessments, did not make assessments as required by section 95 of the Revenue Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 120, par. 576) and did not return the assessment books to the Board of Review by the third Monday of June as required by section 100 of the Revenue Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 120, par. 581). Plaintiff also alleged that the Board of Review of Will County, consisting of defendants Roy Hassert, Bernard J. Bannon and Daniel T. Lambert, did not meet on or before the third Monday in June 1971, nor complete its work and adjourn prior to January 20, 1972, and that the Board of Review did not meet on or before the third Monday in June 1972, nor complete its work and adjourn prior to December 31, 1972, all as required by section 107 of the Revenue Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 120, par. 588). Plaintiff further alleged that Kent Bosworth, county collector, did not prepare and mail tax bills 30 days prior to the first delinquent date (June 1, 1973) (nor prior to the second delinquent date (September 1, 1973), as required by sections 190 and 224 of the Revenue Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 120, pars. 671, 705)). Plaintiff also alleged that defendants joint and several delays had forced plaintiff, and other school boards similarly situated, to borrow money to keep their school districts solvent, and to pay interest on that borrowed money.

The complaint also alleged that plaintiff fairly represents the class of Boards of Education injured by defendants' conduct, and stated that plaintiff was bringing this action on behalf of itself and all members of the class consisting of all other school districts within Will County. On the basis of such allegation, in count I of the complaint, plaintiff then prayed that the actions of defendants be decreed to be in violation of the statutes and that the court issue a mandatory injunction compelling defendants and their successors (in the future) to proceed according to statutory provisions in forthcoming years, and that the court grant such other relief as it deemed necessary. Count II, labeled by plaintiff "In Law," contained the same basic allegations as count I, but added the allegation that defendants' delay has caused the plaintiff class to pay legal interest through December 7, 1973, in the amount of $250,000, and prayed that defendants be compelled to pay such sum to plaintiff as damages.

Counts III and IV related solely to defendant Bosworth, county collector. It was alleged that Bosworth was authorized to withhold from distribution the amounts of taxes paid under protest or 1% of the total taxes collected, whichever is less, by section 194 of the Revenue Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 120, par. 675), and that defendant Bosworth in 1971 and 1972 withheld from distribution to plaintiff and other school districts 1% of the taxes collected or the amount paid under protest, whichever was greater. Count III prayed that Bosworth's action be declared to be in violation of the statute and that Bosworth and his successors be enjoined from this practice and also asked for further relief as this court deemed necessary. Count IV, at law, requested restitution of the amounts wrongfully withheld, together with damages authorized by section 17-15 of The School Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 12 par. 17-15). All four counts, including those labeled "legal" and "equity" were framed as representative suits or class action counts seeking relief for both the board of education named in the complaint and all others similarly situated. The complaint in this cause does not allege that defendants intentionally violated any of the statutory provisions, but only asserts that the particular functions described were not completed by the certain dates specified.

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint setting up various grounds as a basis therefor. The trial court, in its order dated February 26, 1975, found that plaintiff could not maintain its action as a class action or representative suit and that, also, the complaint, with respect to plaintiff individually, failed to state a cause of action. Plaintiff subsequently filed a motion to vacate the February 26 order and requested leave to file an amended complaint as to counts III and IV. On April 23, 1976, the trial court denied plaintiff's motion to vacate but granted plaintiff leave to amend counts III and IV of its complaint.

As a preliminary matter, we should note defendants' argument that since the motion to vacate which was requested prayed in the alternative for leave to file an amended complaint as to counts III and IV, which request was granted, and since plaintiff has filed an amended complaint on counts III and IV thereafter, plaintiff has acquiesced in the trial court's ruling and may not now proceed with this appeal. As support for this position, defendants cite People ex rel. Valentine v. Biggs (1st Dist. 1941), 312 Ill. App. 199, 207, 38 N.E.2d 366, wherein the court stated:

"`As a general rule, if a party, after an order or judgment upon demurrer to the pleadings is given against him, under leave of court, amends the pleading demurred to, * * * he acquiesces in the judgment or order upon the demurrer, and will not be permitted to appeal therefrom, or, unless an exception is duly saved, to assign it for error in the appellate court * * *.'"

We believe, however, that Supreme Court Rule 304(a) to which we have referred, which provides for taking of an appeal where there are multiple parties or claims and where there is a final judgment as to one or more but fewer than all of the parties or claims, if the trial court makes an express finding that there is no just reason for delaying enforcement or appeal, an appeal may be sanctioned at such time. While we may entertain some doubt as to whether certain of the issues considered on appeal were designed to be covered by the Supreme Court rule to which we refer, we nevertheless have concluded that we will consider plaintiff's appeal as being properly before this court.

We shall first consider whether the trial court ruled correctly in dismissing plaintiff's action as a representative or class action. In this connection we should refer to the order of the trial court of February 26, 1975, where the court says:

"At the outset it appears to the court that the class actions in Equity, as alleged in Counts I and III, and in Law, as alleged in Counts II and IV, cannot be maintained. The Illinois law governing class or representative suits is all case law. The class suit is an invention of equity to enable it to proceed to a decree in suits where the number of those interested in the subject litigation is so great that their joinder as parties in conformity to the usual rules of procedure is impractical. [Citations.]"

The trial court then went on to refer to the case of Reardon v. Ford Motor Co. (3d Dist. 1972), 7 Ill. App.3d 338, 341, 287 N.E.2d 519. In the Reardon case, this court, in its opinion, states:

"The mere fact that there are numerous aggrieved parties all of whom have similar claims against a defendant is not alone sufficient to support a class action in our state. See Fetherston v. National Republic Bancorp., 280 Ill. App. 151; Michelsen v. Penney, 10 F. Supp. 537.

Representation by a few on behalf of many as a device to conclude the rights of the absent parties must be regarded by the courts as conduct requiring close and vigilant scrutiny, and as a technique which should be resorted to only when complete justice to all interested parties will follow from its application. Each situation must be carefully analyzed and considered from the viewpoint of the entire class, and general definitions as to the right of the named party to bring the action must give way to particular circumstances. Where the right to proceed is doubtful, permission will be generally refused. See Fox, Representative Actions and Proceedings, 1954 U. Ill. L. Forum, page 97.

It is to be noted that the matter of `class or representative actions' in Illinois is governed entirely by case law so we must examine and analyze the situation presented in the instant case in the light of the authoritative decisions rendered by the reviewing courts of our State." 7 Ill. App.3d 338, 341.

• 1 In the cause before us, there are only 46 separate school districts in Will County. This is not so large a number as to render separate litigation in the courts of the county impossible or impractical. All such districts have convenient access to the court. It appears, also, that the claims would be based on numerous separate and distinct transactions (as to payments, assessments, and protests). We conclude that maintenance of a representative suit under the facts is not mandated. The trial court, in the exercise of its discretion, has determined ...


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