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Cherry Bowl v. Ill. Property Tax Appeal Bd.

OPINION FILED SEPTEMBER 18, 1981.

THE CHERRY BOWL, INC., PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

ILLINOIS PROPERTY TAX APPEAL BOARD ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County; the Hon. ROBERT C. GILL, Judge, presiding. MR. JUSTICE NASH DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff, The Cherry Bowl, Inc., appeals from a judgment of the circuit court of Winnebago County which, on administrative review, confirmed a decision of the Property Tax Appeal Board (PTAB) that plaintiff's automatic pinsetter machines and bowling lanes installed in plaintiff's building constituted real property for purposes of taxation. Plaintiff raises three issues: (1) whether the PTAB's decision that automatic pinsetters and bowling lanes are real property for purposes of taxation was against the manifest weight of the evidence; (2) whether the PTAB erroneously refused to consider evidence of the assessment practices of assessors in other counties; and (3) whether PTAB's decision violates the State constitutional (art. IX, § 5(c)) and statutory (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 120, par. 499.1) proscriptions against reclassification of personal property as real property for assessment purposes.

The Rockford township real estate assessor placed a value of $525,900 on plaintiff's land and building, including therein the pinsetters and lanes as part of it. Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Board of Review of Winnebago County which reduced the assessment to $413,127 because of an error in computation, but included the pinsetters and lanes as a part of the real estate. The PTAB thereafter denied plaintiff's claim that the value of the pinsetters and lanes should be omitted to reduce the assessed value of $283,363 and on review the circuit court confirmed that decision.

At the hearing before the PTAB evidence was presented that The Cherry Bowl, Inc., was a new corporate entity and its bowling establishment was first assessed for taxes in 1978, the assessment year at issue in this case. The building in which the bowling alley is located was constructed by plaintiff and completed in late December 1977 or early January 1978 and contains 32 automatic pinsetters and bowling lanes.

The evidence discloses that in constructing the lanes in plaintiff's building, a wooden substructure consisting of 2" x 10"s standing on edge and braced by 2" x 4"s was attached to the concrete floor by three stringers in each lane. Leveling strips were laid across this crib foundation and each lane was attached to the strips by 4" wide wooden screws every 20 inches. The bowling lanes could be removed by backing out the screws and cutting the lanes into three sections. It would take six men approximately six hours to remove one lane and no damage to the building would result. Further evidence was presented that bowling lanes are, in fact, sometimes removed from installations, as when a seller repossesses them upon default of the buyer, and that there is a ready market in the bowling industry for used lanes.

Each pinsetter machine is a steel A-frame with a box mounted on it, together with a pin and ball elevator. The pinsetter rests on a kickback, against which the balls and pins bounce, and is attached to it by six bolts. A pinsetter may be removed without damage to the building by removing these six bolts and two other bolts which attach it to the elevator. As is true with lanes, pinsetters are sometimes repossessed by conditional sellers and there is a ready market in the industry for used pinsetters.

The lanes and pinsetters in question had been previously installed in a bowling establishment in Japan prior to their purchase by plaintiff. If the pinsetters and lanes were removed, the wooden crib foundation could be dismantled and no damage would be caused to the building, which could then be used for other purposes.

The evidence also discloses that plaintiff did not file a personal property tax return for the year 1978 due to an oversight on the part of its accountant. The township personal property assessor thereupon prepared a return in which he listed the bowling lanes as personal property. Plaintiff paid the assessed tax, apparently under protest, and that matter was still unresolved at the time of the hearing before the PTAB.

• 1 The findings of the PTAB on questions of fact are considered prima facie true and correct (La Grange Bank v. Du Page County Board of Review (1979), 79 Ill. App.3d 474, 398 N.E.2d 992), and will not be set aside by the courts> on administrative review where they are supported by competent evidence and are not against the manifest weight of the evidence. (Lake County Board of Review v. Property Tax Appeal Board (1980), 91 Ill. App.3d 117, 414 N.E.2d 173; Robinson v. Property Tax Appeal Board (1979), 72 Ill. App.3d 155, 390 N.E.2d 942.) We review the law and evidence presented in this light.

• 2 All property in Illinois is subject to taxation unless specifically exempted. (Lake County Board of Review v. Property Tax Appeal Board (1980), 91 Ill. App.3d 117, 414 N.E.2d 173.) The Revenue Act provides that all real property which is not exempt shall be assessed and taxed (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 120, par. 499), and such property is defined by the Act as including

"[n]ot only the land itself, whether laid out in town or city lots, or otherwise, with all things contained therein, but also all buildings, structures and improvements, and other permanent fixtures, of whatsoever kind, thereon, and all rights and privileges belonging or in anywise pertaining thereto, except where the same may be otherwise denominated by this Act. * * *." (Emphasis added.) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 120, par. 482(13).)

If, as the PTAB found, the lanes and pinsetters are correctly classified as improvements or fixtures, their value would properly be included in the assessment of plaintiff's real estate.

In reaching its decision, the PTAB relied upon Ayrshire Coal Co. v. Property Tax Appeal Board (1974), 19 Ill. App.3d 41, 310 N.E.2d 667, one of the few Illinois cases discussing the circumstances under which personal property may become an integral part of land or buildings so as to be considered as real property for purposes of taxation. There, the taxpayer contended that heavy coal processing equipment in a building complex covering several hundred feet should be considered as personal property. The equipment had been purchased by the taxpayer under a conditional sales contract which provided that it would not be considered as a fixture by the parties and that the seller might separate any part of the equipment from the real estate in order to repossess it should the purchaser default. Although the equipment had been assessed as personal property for the preceding five years, the court held it to be part of the real estate for purposes of real property tax assessment, stating:

"Where property is adapted to the use to which the realty is devoted the use thereof in such manner furnishes such strong evidence of intent to make it a part of the freehold as not to be overcome by bookkeeping practices." 19 Ill. App.3d 41, 46, 310 N.E.2d 667, 671.

Ayrshire Coal Co. was later followed in In re Tax Objections of Hutchens (1976), 34 Ill. App.3d 1039, 341 N.E.2d 169. In holding that a cabin which was transported to and installed on leased premises by the lessee under provisions which gave him the right to remove it at the end of ...


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