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Bd. of Commissioners v. County of Du Page





Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Second District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County, the Hon. John S. Teschner, Judge, presiding.


This is the second time these parties have been before this court. Since our earlier opinion (96 Ill.2d 378) and the appellate court's decisions (107 Ill. App.3d 409; 119 Ill. App.3d 1085) set forth the facts of this case, we will not discuss its lengthy history. Rather, we will briefly set forth the facts pertinent to this appeal.

The Du Page County treasurer collects tax moneys for and on behalf of the county's local governmental units. For some time, the treasurer has invested these moneys and has earned interest on the investments. The county has not distributed the interest to the local governmental units. Instead, the county has deposited the interest moneys in the county corporate fund. The county relied on section 6.1 of "An Act concerning county treasurers * * *" (the County Treasurer's Act) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 36, par. 22.1) as authority to retain the interest moneys. The district is challenging this practice.

In the first appeal, we affirmed the appellate court's holding that the county's practice of retaining the interest was unconstitutional in that it violated section 9(a) of article VII of our 1970 Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. VII, sec. 9(a)). We remanded the cause to the trial court for that court to consider the effect, if any, of a recent amendment to section 280 of the Revenue Act of 1939 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 120, par. 761) on the issues presented; the amendment became effective after the trial court had dismissed the case. Board of Commissioners v. County of Du Page (1983), 96 Ill.2d 378.

On remand, the trial court found that section 280 prospectively barred the district's claim and that the district was not entitled to retroactive relief. The district appealed from the trial court's order which granted the county's motion for summary judgment and which denied the district's motions for a preliminary injunction, class certification and summary judgment. The district prayed that the appellate court enjoin the defendants from keeping the interest earned on the collected tax moneys and that the moneys be placed in a separate fund pending a full accounting by the county.

The appellate court reversed the trial court and held that section 280 did not prospectively bar the district's claim and that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment for the county. (Board of Commissioners v. County of Du Page (1983), 119 Ill. App.3d 1085, 1093.) The appellate court also held that retroactive relief was proper from the date of this court's opinion in City of Joliet v. Bosworth (1976), 64 Ill.2d 516, which was filed on October 1, 1976. The appellate court remanded the issues of class certification and preliminary injunctive relief to the trial court. The trial court had originally denied the district's motions for a preliminary injunction and class certification on the basis that the summary judgment decision for the county rendered these issues moot. The county petitioned this court for leave to appeal. The petition was denied. The county petitioned for reconsideration, and we vacated our earlier denial.

The only issue before this court is whether relief should be awarded retroactively to October 1, 1976, the date this court's opinion was filed in City of Joliet v. Bosworth (1976), 64 Ill.2d 516, or prospectively from the date of our ruling in Wood Dale I, May 27, 1983. (Since this case has been to the appellate court and to this court twice, we will refer to the first appeal to the appellate court and this court as Wood Dale I (107 Ill. App.3d 409; 96 Ill.2d 378) and to the second appeal to the appellate court and this court as Wood Dale II (119 Ill. App.3d 1085).)

"It is within our inherent power as the highest court of this State to give a decision prospective or retrospective application * * *." (Molitor v. Kaneland Community Unit District No. 302 (1959), 18 Ill.2d 11, 28.) This court may apply its decisions prospectively (Great Northern R.R. Co. v. Sunburst Oil & Refining Co. (1932), 287 U.S. 358, 77 L.Ed 360, 53 S.Ct. 145), when retroactive application would be inequitable (Chevron Oil Co. v. Huson (1971), 404 U.S. 97, 30 L.Ed.2d 296, 92 S.Ct. 349; Flynn v. Kucharski (1971), 49 Ill.2d 7).

Chevron Oil listed three factors the United States Supreme Court has used for determining when a decision in a civil case should be applied prospectively only. The court said:

"First, the decision to be applied nonretroactively must establish a new principle of law, either by overruling clear past precedent on which litigants may have relied [citation], or by deciding an issue of first impression whose resolution was not clearly foreshadowed [citation]. Second, it has been stressed that `we must . . . weigh the merits and demerits in each case by looking to the prior history of the rule in question, its purpose and effect, and whether retrospective operation will further or retard its operation.' Linkletter v. Walker [(1965), 381 U.S. 618, 629, 14 L.Ed.2d 601, 608, 85 S.Ct. 1731, 1738]. Finally, we have weighed the inequity imposed by retroactive application for `[w]here a decision of this Court could produce substantial inequitable results if applied retroactively, there is ample basis in our cases for avoiding the "injustice or hardship" by a holding of non-retroactivity.' [Citation.]" 404 U.S. 97, 106-07, 30 L.Ed.2d 296, 306, 92 S.Ct. 349, 355.

In Lemon v. Kurtzman (1973), 411 U.S. 192, 36 L.Ed.2d 151, 93 S.Ct. 1463, the court emphasized the first factor in Chevron Oil; namely, reliance on existing law. In Lemon, the court denied retroactive application to an earlier decision, involving the same parties, which held that a State program of contracting with church-affiliated schools to provide secular classes was unconstitutional. In denying retroactive application to its earlier holding, the court stressed the fact that State authorities had relied on a State statutory scheme which provided for the program.

In Lemon, the court said that it has recognized "that statutory or even judge-made rules of law are hard facts on which people must rely in making decisions and in shaping their conduct. This fact of legal life underpins our modern decisions recognizing a doctrine of non-retroactivity." 411 U.S. 192, 199; 36 L.Ed.2d 151, 160; 93 S.Ct. 1463, 1468.

This court, like the United States Supreme Court, has emphasized a party's reliance on existing law when deciding whether to apply a decision prospectively or retroactively. See e.g., Bassi v. Langloss (1961), 22 Ill.2d 190, and Molitor v. ...

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