SUPREME COURT OF ILLINOIS
519 N.E.2d 459, 119 Ill. 2d 419, 116 Ill. Dec. 567 1988.IL.68
Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Second District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County, the Hon. Lawrence D. Inglis, Judge, presiding.
JUSTICE CUNNINGHAM delivered the opinion of the court.
DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE CUNNINGHAM
The Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board (Appeal Board) ordered a reduction in the 1981 real estate tax assessment of the Great America Theme Park, an amusement park which is located in Gurnee and which was owned in 1981 through 1983 by the Marriott Corporation (Marriott). Pursuant to section 3-103 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 110, par. 3-103), the Lake County board of review (board of review) sought administrative review of the Appeal Board decision. The circuit court (in a decision in which the interested taxing districts were granted leave to intervene) reversed the Appeal Board's reduction, finding that the 1981 assessment values of the board of review had been correct. The appellate court, in Lake County Board of Review v. Property Tax Appeal Board (1986), 140 Ill. App. 3d 1042, reversed the circuit court, finding that the Appeal Board had correctly ordered a reduction in the assessed value. The appellate court remanded the matter to the circuit court with directions to reinstate the decision of the Appeal Board and to grant other consistent, appropriate relief.
Marriott filed a motion for entry of judgment consistent with the appellate court's mandate, praying that the circuit court order the Lake County collector (collector) to issue a refund check. On April 7, 1986, the circuit court entered an order relating to Marriott's motion, the interpretation of which order the parties dispute, but which indisputably included an entry of judgment in favor of Marriott and against the collector, and also included a recitation of the "correct amount of the refund." On May 16, 1986, the collector notified Marriott that he had "complied" with the April 7 order by offsetting the amount of the refund against additional taxes due on the property as a result of a May 7, 1986, Appeal Board decision increasing the assessed value of the property for 1982 and 1983.
Marriott then filed a motion to enforce the April 7, 1986, order, contending that the collector's actions did not comply with that order. The circuit court denied the motion, finding that the collector's actions were a reasonable means of refunding the 1981 funds and simultaneously collecting the 1982 and 1983 funds. The appellate court upheld the circuit court's decision. (152 Ill. App. 3d 1093.) Pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 315 (107 Ill. 2d R. 315), we granted Marriott's petition for leave to appeal.
On appeal, Marriott contends that in utilizing the collection procedure outlined above the collector unlawfully deviated from statutorily specified refund and collection procedures. Marriott relies in part upon section 111.4 of the Revenue Act of 1939 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 120, par. 592.4), which states that "refunds" shall be given if the Appeal Board determines that taxes have been extended and paid upon an unauthorized assessment. Marriott argues that the term "refund," though not statutorily defined, does not encompass a tax "offset" such as was utilized herein. The board of review responds that the term "refund," if given a broad construction, fairly encompasses the "offsetting" procedure which the collector used in this case.
Section 111.4 of the Revenue Act of 1939 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 120, par. 592.4) provides in pertinent part that "any taxes extended upon such unauthorized assessment or part thereof shall be abated, or, if already paid, shall be refunded with interest as provided in Section 194." Section 194 in turn provides that "[r]efunds . . . shall be made by the collector in accordance with the final orders of the Property Tax Appeal Board or the court . . .." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 120, par. 675.) Nowhere in section 111.4, section 194, or any other provision of the Revenue Act is the term "refund" defined. Accordingly, that term must be given its ordinary and popularly understood meaning. (Niven v. Siqueira (1985), 109 Ill. 2d 357, 366.) Moreover, the term must be given its full meaning, not the narrowest meaning of which it is susceptible. Mahon v. Nudelman (1941), 377 Ill. 331, 355.
The Town of Warren, an intervenor herein, citing Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary 991 (9th ed. 1983), states that to "refund" is popularly understood to mean "to return [money] in restitution, repayment or balancing of accounts." The Town of Warren argues that what the collector did in offsetting a refund due for 1981 against additional taxes due for 1982 and 1983, was simply a "balancing of accounts." This, the Town of Warren and the board of review argue, was one of alternative potential means of "refunding" the amount of the overpayment. They further contend that by utilizing the instant procedure the collector contemporaneously fulfilled both his duty to issue the 1981 refund and his duty to collect the additional 1982-83 taxes.
Marriott notes that the definition of "refund" quoted by the Town of Warren is the second definition listed in the cited dictionary, the first being "to give or put back [money]." Marriott also notes that the relevant definition of "refund" appearing in Black's Law Dictionary 1152 (5th ed. 1979) is "to repay or restore; to return money in restitution or repayment."
The verb "refund" undoubtedly is most commonly used in reference to the issuance of either a check or cash. However, we agree with the Town of Warren and the board of review that the term, unless construed very narrowly, fairly encompasses the offsetting of the county's accrued obligation to pay Marriott the amount of Marriott's 1981 overpayment against Marriott's accrued obligation to pay additional taxes for 1982 and 1983 on the identical property. In this regard, the parties dispute at length whether the respective obligations of Marriott and the county had accrued at the time of the setoff. Marriott argues that at the time of the setoff the county's obligation to issue a refund was current but that, since Marriott's additional tax obligation was not yet delinquent, Marriott's obligation was still a future liability. Marriott argues that the offsetting of a current entitlement to a refund against a future tax liability can hardly be deemed the issuance of a refund. The board of review responds that Marriott's obligation, though not yet delinquent, had in fact accrued at the time of the setoff. Alternatively, the board of review argues that both the refund entitlement and the additional 1982-83 tax liability were unaccrued at the time of the setoff but that they were both to accrue contemporaneously during June 1986. In this regard the board of review argues that during June 1986 the full tax bill for the increased 1982-83 assessment would have been required to be paid. Pointing to section 194 of the Revenue Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 120, par. 675) (which provides in part for the payment of tax refunds out of a "protest fund"), the Town of Warren and the board of review argue that since at the time of the circuit court's refund order the protest fund from previous years' taxes was depleted, the county was not required to pay the refund until June 1986, when the protest fund would be replenished.
We are convinced that both the obligation of the county and the obligation of Marriott had accrued at the time of the setoff, although as of that date neither party was obligated to immediately submit payment to the other party, and although the respective payments might not otherwise have been made contemporaneously. Both obligations had been finally determined. The county's obligation had been finally determined by the circuit court order directing a refund, and Marriott's obligation had been finally determined by the Appeal Board. (See section 111.4 of the Revenue Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 120, par. 592.4), stating that decisions of the Appeal Board shall be binding upon an ...