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05/19/94 CONNIE CUTINELLO ET AL. v. DOUGLAS L.

May 19, 1994

CONNIE CUTINELLO ET AL., APPELLEES,
v.
DOUGLAS L. WHITLEY, DIRECTOR OF REVENUE, ET AL. (COUNTY OF KANE ET AL., APPELLANTS).



Nickels, Freeman

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nickels

JUSTICE NICKELS delivered the opinion of the court:

Plaintiffs, as purchasers and retailers of motor fuel in Du Page, Kane, and McHenry Counties (Counties), brought a class action suit in the circuit court of Cook County challenging the constitutionality of the County Motor Fuel Tax Law (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 34, par. 5-1035.1). This statute allows the counties of Du Page, Kane, and McHenry to impose a tax on individuals who sell motor fuel at retail in the respective counties. The trial court found the statute unconstitutional and ordered that taxes collected by the Illinois Department of Revenue be placed in a special fund to be disbursed to plaintiffs. The Counties appealed directly to this court. (134 Ill. 2d R. 302(a).) We reverse.

I. Background

In 1989, the General Assembly passed Public Act 86-16. The Act addresses statewide transportationneeds and provides assistance to the different areas of the State. The County Motor Fuel Tax Law is part of this act. It provides, in pertinent part:

"The county board of the counties of Du Page, Kane and McHenry may, by an ordinance or resolution adopted by an affirmative vote of a majority of the members elected or appointed to the county board, impose a tax upon all persons engaged in the county in the business of selling motor fuel, as now or hereafter defined in the Motor Fuel Tax Law, at retail for the operation of motor vehicles upon public highways or for the operation of recreational watercraft upon waterways. * * * The tax may be imposed in half-cent increments, at a rate not exceeding 4 cents per gallon of motor fuel sold at retail within the county for the purpose of use and consumption and not for the purpose of resale. The proceeds from the tax shall be used by the county solely for the purpose of operating, constructing and improving public highways and waterways, and acquiring real property and right-of-ways for public highways and waterways within the county imposing the tax.

A tax imposed * * * shall be administered, collected and enforced by the Illinois Department of Revenue * * *." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 34, par. 5-1035.1.)

Pursuant to the authority granted by the statute, the county boards of Du Page, Kane and McHenry Counties approved ordinances imposing a fuel tax per gallon on motor fuel sold at retail. Under the statutory scheme, the Department of Revenue collects the tax and then distributes it to the Counties.

On March 8, 1992, plaintiffs initiated this class action proceeding. Their complaint, as amended, seeks injunctive relief against defendants, the Director of Revenue, the Comptroller of the State of Illinois, the Treasurer of the State of Illinois, Du Page County, as an intervening defendant, and the counties of Kane and McHenry. In count I, plaintiffs allege that the statute violates the special legislation and reasonable classification provisions of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. IV, § 13; Ill. Const. 1970, art. IX, § 2). Plaintiffs also allege in count I that the statute violates the equal protection provisions of the State and Federal Constitutions (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 2; U.S. Const., amend. XIV). In counts II and III, plaintiffs allege that the General Assembly violated the single-subject and three-readings requirements of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. IV, § 8(d)) when it enacted the statute. Plaintiffs requested a permanent injunction from the circuit court to enjoin future collection of the taxes. Plaintiffs further requested a preliminary injunction requiring that any taxes collected by the Department of Revenue be placed in a special fund.

On November 10, 1992, the trial court issued a "Memorandum of Decision." In the memorandum, the trial court found that the statute violates the special legislation provision. Because the trial court found the statute unconstitutional, it stated that the county ordinances passed pursuant to the statute were invalid. The trial court did not address the other constitutional challenges raised by plaintiffs. On November 20, based on the memorandum of decision, the trial court granted plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction. The trial court ordered that all proceeds collected by the Department of Revenue pursuant to the statute be placed in a special fund. The trial court also certified the action as a class action with the class to be composed of purchasers and sellers of motor fuel.

On January 22, 1993, plaintiffs filed a motion for a temporary restraining order to prevent the Counties from spending fuel tax proceeds disbursed to them by the Department of Revenue before the preliminary injunction issued. In addition, plaintiffs requested that the Counties be required to turn over all tax proceeds to the special fund. The Counties asserted that turnover was improper because plaintiffs' complaint sought onlyprospective relief. According to the Counties, plaintiffs sought turnover from the Department of Revenue for current taxes, not for back taxes from the Counties. Initially, the trial court ordered McHenry County to turn over all tax proceeds to the court-appointed trustee and restrained Kane and Du Page Counties from spending any unobligated funds. Before the trial court entered a final ruling on the matter, however, plaintiffs and Du Page County each filed motions for summary judgment.

The trial court entered summary judgment for plaintiffs on April 6, 1993. The trial court again found the statute unconstitutional and permanently enjoined defendants from collecting county motor fuel taxes. This injunction has been stayed pending appeal. The trial court denied plaintiffs' motion for turnover of funds previously collected by Du Page and Kane Counties and ordered that funds turned over by McHenry be returned to McHenry County.

On direct appeal, the Counties raise two issues:

(1) whether the trial court erred in finding the County Motor Fuel Tax Law unconstitutional; and

(2) whether the trial court erred in certifying consumers as members of the plaintiff class.

Plaintiffs have cross-appealed. Plaintiffs ask that the Counties turn over the proceeds disbursed to the Counties before the preliminary injunction issued. We find the County Motor Fuel Tax Law constitutional. Therefore, we do not address the remaining issues.

II. Special Legislation

Plaintiffs first challenge the statute as violative of the special legislation provision of the Illinois Constitution. We note that plaintiffs also challenge the statute on the basis of equal protection and reasonable classification in count I of their complaint. In their brief to this court, plaintiffs acknowledge that the approach used toevaluate a special legislation challenge is similar to the approach used to evaluate the other challenges alleged in count I. (See DeLuna v. St. Elizabeth's Hospital (1992), 147 Ill. 2d 57, 74-75, 167 Ill. Dec. 1009, 588 N.E.2d 1139.) Plaintiffs therefore address only the special legislation challenge, and we do likewise.

The special legislation proscription of the Illinois Constitution provides that "the General Assembly shall pass no special or local law when a general law is or can be made applicable." (Ill. Const. 1970, art. IV, § 13.) Special legislation confers a special benefit or exclusive privilege on a person or a group of persons to the exclusion of others similarly situated. ( Bridgewater v. Hotz (1972), 51 Ill. 2d 103, 109-10, 281 N.E.2d 317.) The special legislation provision does not, however, prohibit all classification. Its purpose is to prevent arbitrary legislative classifications. In re Belmont Fire Protection District (1986), 111 Ill. 2d 373, 379, 95 Ill. Dec. 521, 489 N.E.2d 1385.

It is well settled that review of a special legislation challenge is governed by the same standard that applies to review of equal protection challenges. ( Nevitt v. Langfelder (1993), 157 Ill. 2d 116, 125, 191 Ill. Dec. 36, 623 N.E.2d 281; DeLuna, 147 Ill. 2d at 75; Bilyk v. Chicago Transit Authority (1988), 125 Ill. 2d 230, 236, 125 Ill. Dec. 822, 531 N.E.2d 1; In re Belmont Fire Protection District, 111 Ill. 2d at 379.) The statute at issue does not affect a fundamental right or involve a suspect or quasi-suspect classification. Thus, the appropriate standard for review is the rational basis test. ( Nevitt, 157 Ill. 2d at 125.) Under this standard, a court must determine whether the classification at issue is rationally related to a legitimate State interest. ( Bilyk, 125 Ill. 2d at 236.) To be constitutional under this inquiry, there must be some rational basis for the classification. ( In re Belmont Fire Protection District, 111 Ill. 2d at 380.) Whether a rational basis exists for a classification presents a question of law, which we review de novo.

When evaluating a classification, a reviewing courtconsiders the broad discretion of the legislature to create statutory classifications for the general welfare. ( Bilyk, 125 Ill. 2d at 236.) Thus, classifications made by the legislature are presumed valid, and any reasonable doubts must be resolved in favor of upholding them. ( Bilyk, 125 Ill. 2d at 235.) Further, a statute will be upheld "if any set of facts can be reasonably conceived which justify distinguishing the class to which the law applies from the class to which the statute is inapplicable." ( Bilyk, 125 Ill. 2d at 236.) Our review in this ...


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