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09/07/89 Beverly Bank, Trustee, Et v. the Board of Review of

September 7, 1989

BEVERLY BANK, TRUSTEE, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS

v.

THE BOARD OF REVIEW OF WILL COUNTY ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, THIRD DISTRICT

550 N.E.2d 567, 193 Ill. App. 3d 130, 140 Ill. Dec. 682 1989.IL.1388

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Will County; the Hon. Herman S. Haase, Judge, presiding.

APPELLATE Judges:

JUSTICE BARRY delivered the opinion of the court. HEIPLE, P.J., and SCOTT, J., concur.

DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE BARRY

This class action was brought in 1979 on behalf of the taxpayers of Will County who had paid taxes on the basis of allegedly illegal discriminatory increases in the assessed valuation of commercial and industrial real and personal property. Defendants are the County of Will and the Board of Review of Will County. Suit was originally filed in Federal court as a civil rights action under section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act (42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1976)) and later was transferred to the circuit court of Will County. In 1987 a settlement of this action was approved by the circuit court of Will County, and counsel for plaintiff filed a petition seeking $1.15 million in attorney fees and costs pursuant to section 1988 of the Civil Rights Act. The trial court substantially reduced the fees requested and awarded $433,462. Petitioners have appealed.

The findings of fact contained in the written order of the trial court set forth clearly the history of this action. Since that history is essential to a review of the fees awarded, we quote those findings of fact, as follows:

"1. Petitioners, after conducting a thorough and necessary factual and legal investigation into Will County's 1978 property tax assessments, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (No. 79 C 4718), a class action complaint on behalf of the owners of commercial, industrial and personal property located in Will County. The complaint alleged that the defendants had unlawfully increased the property tax assessments of the named class representatives and the members of the plaintiff class in violation of plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection.

2. While the complaint was pending in federal court, Petitioners drafted and filed a motion for class certification and a supporting memorandum. On September 14, 1981, by agreement of the parties, the District Court certified a class pursuant to Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The class included all taxpayers of Will County who paid real estate tax on industrial and/or commercial real estate and/or personal property tax for the tax levy year 1978.

3. In the federal court proceedings, defendants raised several arguments in summary judgment motions. Among others, petitioners had to research and respond to arguments that defendants were entitled to summary judgment because:

a. the Tax Injunction Act (28 U.S.C. Sec. 1341) barred this suit;

b. the doctrine of Burford abstention barred this suit;

c. the complaint did not state a cause of action.

4. In early 1982, this suit was transferred to this Court by stipulation after the United States Supreme Court's decision in Fair Assessment in Real Estate Ass'n. v. McNary, 454 U.S. 100 (1981).

5. Shortley [ sic ] thereafter, defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings. The trial court granted defendants' motion and petitioners prosecuted plaintiffs' appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court for the Third District. While the appeal was pending, defendants filed a motion to assess their costs and attorneys' fees against plaintiffs for having filed a frivolous complaint. The Court denied this motion. The Appellate Court reversed the dismissal of the complaint, holding that it stated a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 for denial of plaintiffs' right to equal protection of the laws. Beverly Bank, et al, v. Board of Review of Will County, et al., 117 Ill. App. 3d 656, 453 N.E.2d 96 (3d Dist. 1983). Petitioners then successfully opposed defendants' Petition for Leave to Appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court and defendants' Petition for a Writ of Certiorari to the United States Supreme Court. Board of Review of Will County, et al. v. Beverly Bank, et al, 466 U.S. 951 (1984).

6. Following the case's remand to this Court in 1984, petitioners drafted, obtained approval of, and sent out a Notice of Pendency of Class Action to the members of the class and had a similar notice published in the Joliet Herald. Petitioners responded to numerous inquiries from class members, correlated the opt-out requests and filed with this Court a report on all of these matters.

7. In this Court, defendants raised various defenses to the complaint which could possibly have been the basis for a judgment in defendants' favor. Among those defenses were arguments that:

a. at the time it applied its uniform formula to increase the assessments of commercial, industrial or personal property, the Board of Review also increased the assessments of a substantial block of residential parcels;

b. the Board of Review's increases in the assessments of commercial, industrial and personal property were not intended to eliminate the effect of the 1.13 tentative multiplier imposed by the DLGA;

c. the Board of Review believed that commercial, industrial and personal property was underassessed, thus the Board had a rational basis for ...


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