Appeal from the Appellate Court for the First District; heard
in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County,
the Hon. Anthony J. Scotillo, Judge, presiding.
JUSTICE MORAN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Rehearing denied May 31, 1985.
The plaintiffs in these cases (hereinafter referred to as Isenstein and Boley) filed class action suits in the circuit court of Cook County challenging the authority of defendants Thomas C. Hynes, county assessor, and Edward J. Rosewell, county treasurer and ex-officio county collector, to assess and collect rollback taxes on farmland for tax years 1977 and thereafter. Plaintiffs sought injunctive relief and a refund of all rollback taxes paid. The circuit court consolidated both causes and initially issued a preliminary injunction enjoining the county from distributing any rollback taxes collected for the tax years in question. The court also ordered these funds segregated and placed into an interest-bearing account.
Defendants filed an interlocutory appeal from that order pursuant to our Rule 307 (87 Ill.2d R. 307), on the basis that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to order injunctive relief. The appellate court affirmed the order of the circuit court (Isenstein v. Rosewell (1982), 108 Ill. App.3d 1082), and this court denied defendants' petition for leave to appeal.
On remand the parties, after stipulating to the relevant facts, filed cross-motions for summary judgment. After considering the briefs and arguments, the trial court entered summary judgment for the plaintiffs and ruled that plaintiffs, and each member of their class, were entitled to a refund of all rollback tax monies for 1977 and subsequent years, together with interest thereon. In addition, the court permanently enjoined defendant Rosewell from collecting rollback taxes for 1977 and subsequent tax years. These rulings were based on the circuit court's finding that sections 20a-1 through 20a-3 of the Revenue Act of 1939 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 120, pars. 501a-1 to 501a-3) were repealed by implication on August 16, 1977, the effective date of sections 20e and 20f (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 120, pars. 501e, 501f). According to the trial court, on that date section 20e became the exclusive provision governing the valuation of farmland. Since section 20e did not contain any rollback provision, the court concluded that rollback taxes for 1977 and subsequent years were unauthorized by law.
The defendants appealed the trial court's decision, and the appellate court affirmed. (Isenstein v. Rosewell (1984), 126 Ill. App.3d 211.) Although the trial court's decision was based on an implied repeal, the appellate court noted that on September 14, 1983, while this action was still pending in the trial court, sections 20a-1 through 20a-3 of the Act had been expressly repealed by the legislature. (Pub. Act 83-347, eff. Sept. 14, 1983.) As such, the appellate court held that the express repeal of these sections terminated any right the defendants had to assert a rollback tax. We granted the defendants' petition for leave to appeal (87 Ill.2d R. 315(a)).
The issues to be resolved are (1) whether plaintiffs are estopped from challenging the defendants' authority to assert a rollback tax; and, if not, (2) whether the defendants' attempts to assess and collect rollback taxes for 1977 and subsequent tax years were authorized by law.
The provisions of the Revenue Act of 1939, as amended (the Act) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 120, par. 482 et seq.), at issue here, relate to the assessment of farmland for tax purposes. Prior to 1971, farmland, like most other real estate, was assessed pursuant to section 20 of the Act on the basis of its fair cash value. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 120, par. 501.) By statute effective August 19, 1971, the legislature enacted sections 20a-1 through 20a-3. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 120, pars. 501a-1 to 501a-3.) These sections authorized an optional dual valuation of farmland which was intended to encourage the continued use of farm property for agricultural purposes. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 120, pars. 501a-1 to 501a-3.
Under section 20a-2, this dual valuation was available to qualifying real estate upon the filing of an application. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 120, pars. 501a-1, 501a-2.) Where requested and approved, farm property was valued pursuant to section 20a-1 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 120, par. 501a-1), on the basis of its use for farming, in addition to its valuation under section 20 of the Act. Although the taxpayer was only assessed on the lower of these two valuations, both valuations were recorded. The legislature further provided for a rollback tax in the event that the property ceased to be used for agricultural purposes. When this occurred, section 20a-3 allowed for the recapture of the difference between the taxes actually paid in each of the three preceding years and the amount of taxes which would have been paid had the real estate been assessed at its fair cash value under section 20. In addition, the taxpayer was charged 5% interest on the amount recaptured. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 120, par. 501a-3.) The purpose of this rollback provision was to discourage farmers from converting their property to a nonagricultural use.
In 1976, the dual method of valuing farm property was challenged on constitutional grounds. (See Hoffmann v. Clark (1977), 69 Ill.2d 402.) This court ultimately upheld the validity of sections 20a-1 through 20a-3. However, during the pendency of the Hoffmann appeal, the legislature adopted sections 20e and 20f, which provided for the valuation and assessment of farmland based, in part, on the productivity of the land. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 120, pars. 501e, 501f, enacted by Pub. Act 80-247, eff. Aug. 16, 1977.) It was subsequently determined, in O'Connor v. A&P Enterprises (1980), 81 Ill.2d 260, that this new farm valuation procedure was constitutional. The court also held that the assessment procedure prescribed by section 20e was to be automatically applied to farmland. 81 Ill.2d 260, 270.
In the instant case, the defendants, after the adoption of section 20e, advised plaintiffs that an election under section 20a-1 was necessary to preserve the farmland valuation of their properties. The record reveals that, in the Isenstein case, plaintiffs received a letter from the assessor's office complete with an enclosed application and were told that in order to protect their farm valuation they should promptly return the application for processing. Similarly, in the Boley case, plaintiffs claim that they made repeated attempts to have their farm property assessed under section 20e, but were told by defendants to file applications under section 20a-2. Accordingly, the plaintiffs filed applications for the years in question pursuant to section 20a-2, and paid taxes based on a section 20a-1 valuation. Thereafter, plaintiffs' properties were converted to nonagricultural uses. Consequently, in August of 1981, the defendants issued rollback tax bills in accordance with section 20a-3 of the Act. These bills stated that a penalty of 1% would be charged after October 1, 1981. Plaintiffs paid the rollback taxes and promptly filed their complaints in the circuit court. On September 21, 1981, the court entered an order deeming the payment of these rollback taxes to have been made under protest.
The defendants initially argue that plaintiffs have accepted the benefits of the dual-valuation method provided for in sections 20a-1 through 20a-3 of the Act and are, therefore, estopped from denying the collector's authority to assert a rollback tax thereunder. According to the defendants, the rollback tax is inextricably linked to the initial valuation. Since plaintiffs filed applications under section 20a-2 and paid taxes based on a section 20a-1 valuation, defendants submit that plaintiffs have received a benefit under a portion of the statute they now seek to attack. The general rule is that a person who accepts the benefits of a statute is estopped, thereafter, from challenging its validity unless a question of public policy or public morals is involved. (Hoffmann v. Clark (1977), 69 Ill.2d 402, 411; Edward P. Allison Co. v. Village of Dolton (1962), 24 Ill.2d 233, 236; Cochennet v. Ambrose (1961), 21 Ill.2d 520, 524.) However, where there is an involuntary acceptance of a statutory provision the above rule does not apply. Edward P. Allison Co. v. Village of Dolton (1962), 24 Ill.2d 233, 236.
In the present case the defendants, by their conduct, induced plaintiffs to file applications requesting the valuation provided for in section 20a-1. Indeed, the trial court made a specific finding that the clear implication of defendant Hynes' letter was that failure to apply for farm valuation pursuant to section 20a-1 would result in property assessments using the fair cash value standard of section 20 of the Act. Under these circumstances, plaintiffs' acceptance of the ...