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07/08/96 RONALD C. RODGERS v. DOUGLAS WHITLEY

July 8, 1996

RONALD C. RODGERS, JOAN W. LEVY, RUTH A. STUTTON, CARL ADRIANOPOLI, BERNARD FRADKIN, FRANK SCALETTA, LARRY DRAYFALL, BRIAN MOOBERRY, KIM KEARBY, BOB KOSSACK, WYNNE WEISS, ROBERT DORAN, KAREN DORAN, SUE LECKIE, KATHY BAXTER, CINDY ERIKSEN, AND ALEX TODD, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
DOUGLAS WHITLEY, AS DIRECTOR OF THE ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE, AND JAMES EDGAR, AS GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Alexander P. White, Judge Presiding.

Released for Publication August 29, 1996.

The Honorable Justice Buckley delivered the opinion of the court: Braden, J., concurs. Wolfson, J., specially concurs.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Buckley

The Honorable Justice BUCKLEY delivered the opinion of the court:

This appeal arises from the trial court's dismissal of plaintiffs' amended complaint challenging the constitutionality of certain provisions of the Property Tax Extension Limitation Act (the Act). S.H.A. 35 ILCS 200/18-185 et seq. (1996). Plaintiffs' appeal raises the following issues: (1) whether plaintiffs have standing to challenge the constitutionality of the Act, (2) whether an adequate remedy at law exists so as to preclude injunctive relief, and (3) whether plaintiffs' amended complaint states valid claims that the Act violates the special legislation clause of the Illinois Constitution, the uniformity of taxation clause of the Illinois Constitution, and the equal protection and due process clauses of the Illinois and United States Constitutions.

The original complaint was filed on January 29, 1992, by three residents of Cook County against Illinois Governor James Edgar, Illinois Department of Revenue Director Douglas L. Whitley, and various Cook County officials. The complaint sought a declaration that the Act was unconstitutional and a permanent injunction enjoining defendants from enforcing it. On August 18, 1992, the trial court dismissed the complaint for failure to join necessary parties, but plaintiffs were granted leave to file an amended complaint.

On October 16, 1992, plaintiffs filed an amended complaint. Plaintiffs in the amended complaint are 17 property owners and residents in the Illinois Counties of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will. Eleven of the plaintiffs are parents of children who attend school in school districts within the named counties. Some of the plaintiffs, including at least one from each county, are also employees of taxing bodies located in these counties. Defendants are Edgar, Whitley, and the clerks and treasurers of the six counties.

The amended complaint states that property taxes are imposed on behalf of and collected for local taxing districts, such as school districts, park districts, library districts, and fire protection districts. The Property Tax Extension Limitation Act was passed in 1991, with the stated intended purpose of redressing what the General Assembly found to be rapidly escalating property taxes and unpredictable fluctuations in tax extensions in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will Counties (the affected counties).

The amended complaint states that the Act limits property tax extension increases in non-home-rule taxing districts in DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will Counties (the Collar Counties) to "the lesser of 5% or the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index" during the year preceding the levy year. If a district is located in more than one county, this limitation only applies if the majority of the 1990 assessed value is located in one or more of the Collar Counties. In 1995, the Illinois legislature amended the Act so as to subject tax districts in Cook County to the same limitation as districts in the Collar Counties. The Act further provides that tax extensions for districts in Cook County are computed based upon the previous year's property values, which, according to the amended complaint, effectively reduces the tax rate for districts whose levies are near the statutory maximum. The Act provides for no property tax limitation for districts in any of the unaffected counties.

The amended complaint alleges:

"The [Act] has caused and will cause reduced property tax revenues and funding for desirable services furnished by taxing bodies located in Cook County and the collar Counties, including library districts and school districts where Plaintiffs reside, have children attending schools, and teach school. The [Act] has also caused and will cause reduced State aid to many such school districts and library districts, including all school districts where Plaintiffs' children attend school and where Plaintiffs teach school except [one]."

Count I of the amended complaint alleges that the Act violates article IV, section 13, of the Illinois Constitution (the special legislation clause), which provides:

"The General Assembly shall pass no special or local law when a general law is or can be made applicable. Whether a general law is or can be made applicable shall be a matter for judicial determination." Ill. Const. 1970, art. IV, § 13.

Count I alleges that the Act's use of county borders to classify the tax districts subject to the limitations described above is arbitrary and does not correlate with the Act's stated legislative purpose of providing tax relief to overburdened districts. Count I further states that many tax districts in the affected counties have experienced substantially lower levels of tax extension increases than many tax districts in the unaffected counties. For example, more than 60 of the tax districts that experienced over 50% growth in major tax extensions between 1985 and 1990 are located in unaffected counties, and 35% of the school districts that experienced more than 25% growth in such tax extensions during this period are located in unaffected counties. Furthermore, many school districts in the affected counties have experienced less than 25% growth in tax extensions over this period.

Count II of the amended complaint alleges that the Act violates article IX, section 4(a), of the Illinois Constitution (the uniformity of taxation clause), which provides that "taxes upon real property shall be levied uniformly by valuation ascertained as the General Assembly shall provide by law." Ill. Const. 1970, art. IX, § 4(a). Plaintiffs claim the Act violates this clause by directly limiting property tax extension increases in the affected counties, and by failing to provide any limitation in the unaffected counties.

Count III of the amended complaint alleges that the Act violates the due process and equal protection clauses in article I, section 2, of the Illinois Constitution and the fourteenth amendment of the United States Constitution, which guarantee that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law or be denied equal protection of the laws. Count III alleges that the classification of tax districts by county is arbitrary, and it repeats the statistical allegations made in count I comparing tax extension increases in various tax districts in the affected counties with those in certain districts in the unaffected counties.

All three counts state that an actual controversy regarding the constitutionality of the Act exists between plaintiffs and defendants, and implementation and enforcement of the Act will cause irreparable harm to plaintiffs, for which they have no adequate remedy at law. Therefore, each count seeks a declaratory judgment that the Act is ...


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