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Hamer v. Dixon

OPINION FILED JUNE 15, 1978.

PAUL E. HAMER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

ALLAN DIXON, TREASURER OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



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:

On August 19, 1976, the circuit court of Lake County denied plaintiff-appellant, Paul E. Hamer, hereinafter plaintiff, leave to file a first amended complaint which sought to enjoin the disbursement of public funds by the defendants-appellees, Allan Dixon and George W. Lindberg, the respective Treasurer and Comptroller of the State of Illinois, hereinafter the defendants.

The plaintiff, on behalf of all taxpayers situated in the county of Lake and State of Illinois, brought this suit pursuant to the provisions of "An Act in relation to suits to restrain and enjoin the disbursement of public moneys by officers of the state" (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 102, pars. 11-16), to restrain and enjoin the disbursement of public moneys and, in particular, grants-in-aid for education, library, and public assistance, "until the levels of assessment are equalized between the various taxing districts to the same level, as required by law." In count I, plaintiff contends that "the distribution of these funds is in inverse proportion to the level of assessment of the real and personal property of each taxing district," and that such a "distribution * * * based in part upon the assessed values of taxing districts which are not equalized to the same assessment level throughout the State is fraudulent, illegal and void * * *." In count II, plaintiff alleges that "the statutes which permit the distribution of the State grants-in-aid based either directly or indirectly upon the total assessed value of taxing districts, * * * are illegal, void and unconstitutional" because they "grant special privileges to those taxing districts which have a low level of assessment" and deny equal protection where they are "based upon the assessed value of a taxing district and not on the population of that district."

The pertinent statutes at issue here provide that:

"A suit to restrain and enjoin the disbursement of public moneys by the proper officer or officers of the State may be maintained either by the Attorney General, or by any citizen and tax payer of the State disbursing such public moneys." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 102, par. 12.)

Further,

"Such suit, when prosecuted by a citizen and taxpayer of the State, shall be commenced by petition for leave to file a suit to restrain and enjoin the defendant or defendants from disbursing the public funds of the State. * * *

[After] a hearing, if the court shall be satisfied that there is reasonable ground for the filing of such suit, the court may grant the petition and order the complaint to be filed and process to issue. The court may, in its discretion, grant leave to file the complaint as to certain items, parts or portions of any appropriation Act sought to be enjoined and mentioned in such complaint, and may deny leave as to the residue." (Emphasis added.) Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 102, par. 14.

The sole issue on appeal is whether the trial court erred in denying plaintiff's request to file his proposed amended complaint. Plaintiff's basic contention is that the trial court should have granted leave to so file because it was neither frivolous nor malicious. We disagree.

• 1, 2 In evaluating the propriety of the trial court's denial of leave to file a complaint to enjoin the disbursement of public money, certain principles are fundamental. First, the allegations in the complaint are assumed to be true (People ex rel. White v. Busenhart (1963), 29 Ill.2d 156, 193 N.E.2d 850), and the trial court must exercise its sound judicial discretion in reaching its determination whether or not to grant plaintiff leave to file his taxpayer's suit (Lund v. Horner (1940), 375 Ill. 303, 31 N.E.2d 611). Secondly, the purpose of the statutory requirement that a suit to restrain and enjoin the disbursement of public moneys by officials must be commenced by petition for leave to file such an action was to establish a procedure which would provide a curb upon indiscriminate filings of such suits. Strat-O-Seal Manufacturing Co. v. Scott (1963), 27 Ill.2d 563, 190 N.E.2d 312.

The essence of plaintiff's proposed amended complaint is set forth in plaintiff's brief, wherein he states that:

"The basic contention in the case at bar was that since there were disparities between counties in the equalized assessment levels, those counties which had a lower equalized assessment level received a proportionally greater share of the State grants-in-aid, because the grants were given in inverse proportion to the assessed value of the county, i.[s]., the lower the assessed value of the county, the more State aid they received."

Plaintiff further avers in his brief that:

"It is the contention of the Taxpayers that this state financial assistance is being grossly misallocated to at least five types of local governments because the formulae for distribution incorrectly assumes that the property tax assessments are ...


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