APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. ROBERT
J. DEMPSEY, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE LINN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Objector, Randolph-Wells Building Corporation, appeals from an order of the circuit court of Cook County dismissing its valuation objection to the application of the county treasurer and ex-officio county collector of Cook County for judgment and order of sale against real estate for taxes levied in 1975. On appeal, the objector contends (1) the trial court erred in dismissing its valuation objection for failure to pay the protested taxes prior to the time the judgment and order of sale was entered; and (2) it was an abuse of the trial court's discretion to deny it leave to file the valuation objection instanter, more than one year after the time for filing objections had expired. A question is also raised regarding the finality of the order from which the appeal is taken.
For the year 1975, the assessor of Cook County assessed certain property owned by the objector at a value of $968,956, and the objector appealed to the Cook County Board of Appeals which refused to lower this assessment. After the 1975 tax bill was issued, the objector made a part payment of the tax and again appealed to the assessor to lower the assessment. At that time the assessor issued a revised tax bill and certificate of error pursuant to section 123 of the Revenue Act of 1939, as amended (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 120, par. 604). Nevertheless, at the time judgment was entered on the application of the county collector for sale of the tax delinquent property, the certificate of error issued by the assessor had not been endorsed by the board of appeals nor approved by the court.
The trial court first heard the county collector's application for judgment and order of sale on November 1, 1976, after due notice had been given by publication. The application listed the objector's property, showing a 1975 tax delinquency of $80,188.73. An order was entered on that date reciting that the county collector had made a prima facie case and that any objections to the judgment and order of sale should be filed "in this Court, on or before November 12, 1976 at the hour of 10:00 o'clock A.M." On November 8, a similar order was entered again reciting the November 12, 1976, 10 a.m. deadline.
On November 12, 1976, a judgment and order of sale was entered on the county collector's application. The record indicates that the objector filed its valuation objection pursuant to sections 194 and 235 of the Revenue Act of 1939, as amended (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 120, pars. 675 and 716), on November 12, 1976; but the court stamp does not disclose the exact time of filing.
One year later, a hearing was scheduled on the objector's valuation objection. At that time the collector moved to dismiss the objection, alleging that the objector had failed to append to its objection original or duplicate receipts showing that all taxes had been paid at the time the objection was made. The court eventually denied the collector's motion to dismiss on this basis, since a stipulation had been entered into by the collector and various objectors, including the instant objector, dispensing with the requirement that paid receipts accompany the tax objections.
However, during argument on the collector's motion to dismiss, counsel for the objector produced a duplicate 1975 receipted tax bill and a protest letter which had been filed by the objector. The tax bill showed payment of the tax on November 15, 1976, and the protest letter was stamped "November 16, 1976." Counsel for the objector attempted to reconcile the discrepancies between the November 12, 1976, filing date of the valuation objection and the dates reflected on the tax receipt and protest letter, by submitting to the court an affidavit of a law firm messenger who stated that he had paid the taxes on November 12, 1976. At the trial court's request for additional evidence, the objector produced this messenger to testify. The witness stated that he worked between the hours of 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. and that he had delivered the tax payment to the county collector's office sometime during the afternoon of November 12, 1976. He could not remember if he had submitted any other document for filing at that time.
Based on the dates stamped on the various documents and the testimony of the objector's witness, the court found that even if the evidence was viewed in a light most favorable to the objector, the earliest the tax payment could have been made was on the afternoon of November 12, 1976, after the 10 a.m. deadline. Therefore, on its own motion, the trial court dismissed the objector's valuation objection for failure to make full payment of the taxes under protest before the judgment and order of sale was entered on November 12, 1976.
The trial court entered an order on February 3, 1978, denying the objector's subsequent motion to reconsider or to permit the refiling of its tax objection instanter. After the objector filed its notice of appeal from that order, the collector moved to dismiss this appeal for lack of a final and appealable order. We took the collector's motion for consideration with the case.
1-3 In addition to exercising available administrative remedies, property taxpayers seeking relief from excessive or illegal assessments may pay the applicable taxes under protest and then file objections in answer to the county collector's application for judgment and order of sale. The objection procedure is set out in sections 194 and 235 of the Revenue Act of 1939, as amended (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 120, pars. 675 and 716). The county collector's application for judgment and order of sale is in the nature of a complaint and, when presented to the court after the statutorily required notice has been given to the taxpayers (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 120, par. 711), it is ruled upon summarily. If a taxpayer wishes to avail himself of the tax objection procedure, he must appear in the application for judgment proceeding and object to the tax assessment, provided "he shall first pay all of the tax installments due, and such payment shall be accompanied by a [written protest letter]." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 120, par. 675.
4, 5 When no objection is filed to the application for judgment, the taxpayer, in essence, is guilty of failing to file an answer to the county collector's complaint, and the tax judgment in such situations is equivalent to a default judgment. (See People ex rel. Thompson v. Clark (1975), 34 Ill. App.3d 228, 338 N.E.2d 408.) If an objection has been filed, the court will hear and determine the matter and enter an order as prescribed by section 235, ordering a refund for taxes to which the objection has been sustained and entering judgment for the amount of taxes due.
6 The county collector's motion to dismiss the appeal for lack of a final order raises a preliminary jurisdictional question which is dispositive of this appeal. As is apparent from the foregoing summary, a final order in a tax objection proceeding must be in compliance with section 235 and enter judgment against the property for the amount of taxes due. We interpret section 235 to prescribe the required form of all judgment orders entered upon the application of the county collector for judgment and order ...