APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Lake County; the Hon. HARRY
D. STROUSE, JR., Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE BOYLE DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
The plaintiffs appeal from the dismissal of their complaint against the defendants, the Department of Local Government Affairs (hereinafter the Department) and the Lake County Board of Review (hereinafter the Board). Plaintiffs brought this amended action to compel the public officials responsible for the assessment and equalization of real property for purposes of taxation to comply with the Revenue Act of 1939 as amended (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 120, pars. 501-811). The trial court found that the applicable provisions of the Revenue Act, sections 220-22, 131, 140 and 323 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 120, pars. 701-03, 612, 621, 804), did not apply to taxes lost due to the underassessment of a class or classes of property. In addition, the court refused to exercise its equitable power to order a retroactive reassessment for the 1967-73 tax years. The court further found that no adjustments in the 1974 assessed value of property were required because the court did not find a disparity between the classification of urban and rural property in Lake County for the 1973 tax year.
This appeal truly has a remarkable history and has resulted in decision, among others, in People ex rel. Hamer v. Jones (1968), 39 Ill.2d 360, 235 N.E.2d 589; Hamer v. Mahin (1970), 47 Ill.2d 252, 265 N.E.2d 151; and Hamer v. Mahin (1973), 13 Ill. App.3d 51, 299 N.E.2d 595. The plaintiffs present three issues for review in this court: (1) Whether the trial court erred in refusing to order a reassessment of those real properties which had been allegedly underassessed during the 1967-73 tax years; (2) Whether the trial court erred in refusing to order a reduction in the assessed value for the 1974 tax year based on alleged disparities during the 1973 tax year; and (3) Whether the trial court's ruling denies the plaintiffs due process of law, equal protection of the law, as well as their rights to a remedy. We find the plaintiffs' contentions to be without merit and we affirm the judgment of the circuit court of Lake County.
Prior to a discussion of these issues, however, it is important to note the following changes in the tax laws which have occurred since this action was first instituted and which affect the tax years involved. The law applicable from the 1967-70 tax years required real property to be assessed at full, fair cash value, which at this time was 100 percent. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1967, ch. 120, par. 629a.) This law was amended in 1971 to reduce the assessment level of all property from 100 percent to 50 percent. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 120, par. 482(24).) This change affects the 1971-73 tax years at issue here; but in this opinion, the assessment level of 50 percent for the tax years 1971-73 will be used interchangeably with the assessment level of 100 percent for the 1967-70 tax years since it is not the percentage of assessed value in a given year which is at issue in this cause, but the remedies available to the plaintiffs for noncompliance with the statutory level of assessment.
The statutory system of taxing real and personal property under the Revenue Act of 1939 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 120, pars. 501-811) pertinent here was succinctly set forth by our supreme court in Hamer v. Lehnhausen (1975), 60 Ill.2d 400, 328 N.E.2d 11, in a suit to recall the 1974 multipliers which had been previously certified and to recompute it on a uniform level of equalized assessed valuation for all counties in the State at 50 percent of actual value. In Lehnhausen the court stated that the Revenue Act:
"* * * provides for valuation of both types of property for purposes of taxation at `fair cash value' (pars. 501, 502), defined, except in counties with a population of more than 200,000 which classify real property for purposes of taxation, as 50% of actual value. (Par. 482(24).) Local boards are required to equalize intracounty assessments by local assessing officials among townships or assessment districts, or as between differing types of property. (Par. 589.1.) In order to insure the constitutionally required uniformity (Ill. Const. (1970), art. IX, sec. 4(a)), the State Department of Local Government Affairs is directed by statute to act as an equalizing authority to lower or raise the total assessed value of property in the several counties as certified to it by the county clerks, so that in counties throughout the State property will be assessed at the 50% level specified by law. (Par. 627.) The Act provides that the amount to be added to or deducted from the aggregate value of property as locally assessed is to be determined by the Department `[b]y means of a comparison of assessed valuations, as revised by boards of review or boards of appeals, as the case may be, and estimated full, fair cash values established through the analysis of property transfers, property appraisals, and such other means as it deems proper and reasonable * * *.' (Par. 627.) Notice of the Department's action is to be given by publication of the Department's estimates of full, fair cash value of locally assessed property within each county, and for a public hearing following which the Department may either confirm or revise its estimate. (Par. 629(a).) Thereafter, the Department is directed to equalize assessments of all property among the several counties as certified by the county clerks `by adding to the aggregate assessed value thereof in every county in which the Department may find the valuation to be less than full, fair cash value, such rate per cent as will raise the same to its full, fair cash value * * * and by deducting from the aggregate assessed value thereof, in every county or township in which the Department may find the valuation to be more than the full, fair cash value, such rate per cent as will reduce the same to its full, fair cash value.' (Par. 630.) This equalization rate, which is more commonly referred to as the `multiplier,' is then certified by the Department to the respective county clerks who extend taxes on the basis of the equalized assessed valuation resulting from application of the multiplier. Par. 632." 60 Ill.2d 400, 401-03, 328 N.E.2d 11, 12-13.
In the instant case, the trial court requested the plaintiffs to submit a proposal to bring all real property up to the 50 percent level for the 1973 tax year in order to remove the inequities between the various classes of property, because the latest statistical figures published by the Department showed disparities between the urban and rural properties in Lake County. The trial court also requested that the plaintiffs present a proposal to handle the back tax years where inequities between the various classes of property had existed. The trial court, however, rejected plaintiffs' proposal, which dealt only with Lake County, and requested a further statewide proposal.
The plaintiffs subsequently submitted a new proposal which provided for:
(1) A reassessment of all property in the State, except Cook County, for the 1973 tax year in order to bring all property up to 50 percent of full value as required by sections 131 and 140-45 of the Revenue Act of 1939 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 120, pars. 612, 621-26).
(2) A sales-ratio study was to be conducted in selected counties to determine if commercial, agricultural and industrial properties were assessed at a lower percent of full value than residential properties for the 1967-72 tax years. Any disparities between these types of properties would require the Department to order a reassessment of those properties, and the difference between the original assessed values and the reassessed values would be treated as omitted property under sections 220-22 of the Revenue Act of 1939 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 120, pars. 701-03).
(3) In the alternative, the plaintiffs proposed that if the disparities in the assessments of different classes of property were shown by a sales-ratio study, then judgments would be entered against the local assessment officials for double the amount of the loss caused by the officials' failure to assess the property at its full cash value under section 323 of the Revenue Act of 1939 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 120, par. 804). The arrearage caused by this underassessment of the properties would be distributed to the various taxing bodies which would then be used to reduce the tax levies of those taxing bodies in subsequent years.
The plaintiffs, in addition, were permitted access to data compiled by the Department and county on the procedures used to equalize assessments among different classes of property in the county. This data, plaintiffs allege, clearly shows that there were disparities between the urban and rural categories and between townships within Lake County as well as showing that all property was not equalized at 50 percent as required by statute. The plaintiffs then filed a second supplemental complaint which sought to eliminate the disparities between urban and rural properties as well as the disparities between townships in Lake County for the 1973 tax year.
The trial court again requested that the plaintiffs submit a memorandum on a solution to the back tax years problems (i.e., 1967-72). In their memorandum the plaintiffs suggested essentially the same relief as before, except that they asked the court to use its equitable powers to either order the Department to reassess the property or to order the Board to reassess the undervalued property in the exercise of its equitable powers. However, this further relief requested in the plaintiffs' memorandum was denied by the trial court, and the taxpayers appeal.
The plaintiffs contend first on appeal that the trial court erred in denying their request to order a reassessment of those real properties which had been allegedly underassessed in the 1967-73 tax years. The plaintiffs contend that the evidence amply demonstrates that there were obvious disparities for the years in question in contravention of the Illinois Constitution of 1970 (art. IX, § 4(a)), which requires that taxes should be levied uniformly according to the valuation of real property, and the 1870 Constitution, which has also been interpreted to require uniformity in taxation. (People's Gas Light & Coke Co. v. Stuckart (1918), 286 Ill. 164, 173-74.) The plaintiffs contend that this record amply demonstrates that there was not uniformity in the assessments of urban ...