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In re Consolidated Objections to Tex Levies of School District No. 205 For the Years 1991-1996

August 18, 1999


Appeal from the Circuit Courts of Winnebago and Boone Counties. Winnebago County Docket Nos. 92--TX--90, 93--TX--97, 94--TX--115, 95--TX--182, 96--TX--189, 97--TX--156 Boone County Docket Nos. 95--TX--32, 96--TX--39, 97--TX--10 Honorable John W. Rapp, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McLAREN


This matter comes before the court as an interlocutory appeal pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 308 (155 Ill. 2d R. 308). Nine cases brought by the Tax Objectors (tax objectors) challenging the 1991-96 real estate taxes levied by the Rockford Board of Education District No. 205 (the district) under the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (the Act) (745 ILCS 10/1--101 et seq. (West 1996)) have been consolidated, and certified questions have been sent to this court. The trial court granted summary judgment on motions filed by the tax objectors and denied summary judgment to the district and intervenors. This court denied permissive interlocutory appeal, as did our supreme court. However, the supreme court entered a supervisory order vacating this court's denial of interlocutory appeal and directing this court to allow the appeal and to answer the certified questions on the merits.

The intervenors herein, the People Who Care (the PWC or intervenors), were plaintiffs in a school desegregation and educational discrimination class action for equitable relief brought against the district in federal district court in 1989. Prior to full adjudication on the merits, the PWC and the district entered into two interim agreements temporarily resolving certain contested motions by the PWC. The first interim order, entered in July 1989, modified a reorganization plan adopted by the district. The second interim order, entered in April 1991, required the district to undertake certain preliminary remedial activities for the PWC's benefit. The federal court at that time found that the district was authorized to use the Act to fund the required activities, and the district did levy taxes under the Act. Following a trial on the merits before a magistrate Judge, in which the court found that the district engaged in system-wide intentional segregation and discrimination, an order was entered on March 29, 1994, directing the district to eliminate all vestiges of discrimination against black and Hispanic students. The court awarded no money damages, only injunctive relief. Eventually, the magistrate Judge entered a "Comprehensive Remedial Order" requiring the district to implement and fund detailed, system-wide remedies, including student assignment remedies, education programs, and long-term capital improvements. Throughout this time, beginning with the first interim order, funds to implement remedial programs were raised by taxes levied and bonds issued under the Act.

Tax objectors filed tax objections beginning in 1991. The district intervened in the proceedings and had the cases removed to federal court, where the district court denied the 1991-93 tax objections on the merits. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed on the ground that the cases should not have been removed to federal court and remanded the cases to the state court. See In re Application of County Collector, 96 F.3d 890 (7th Cir. 1996). Tax objections for subsequent years were also sent back to the state court.

In the trial court, the proceedings were bifurcated into determining whether the tax levies were authorized under the Act and determining issues relating to procedural defenses and calculation of refunds. After briefing by the parties, the court, in two separate opinions, granted major issue summary judgment to the objectors, holding that the Act was improperly used to pay for remedial measures implemented under the second interim order and after the finding of liability. The PWC was granted leave to intervene when the district did not seek interlocutory review. The trial court then certified the following questions pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 308 (155 Ill. 2d R. 308):

"(a) Whether the Rockford School District (the 'District') was authorized by the Illinois Local Government Employees Tort Immunity Act ('the Tort Immunity Act') to levy taxes to fund remedies agreed to by the District and/or ordered by the Federal Court in People Who Care v. Rockford Board of Education 89 C 20168 ('the People Who Care case'):"

"(i) in a 1991 consent decree;"

"(ii) after the District was adjudicated guilty in 1994 and enjoined generally to provide a comprehensive remedy; and/or"

"(iii) after a Comprehensive Remedial Order was entered in 1996 and the District was expressly ordered by the Federal Court to use the Tort Immunity Act levy to fund the remedies (including FY 97 remedial programs and Certificates of Participation)?"

"(b) Whether the District was authorized by the Tort Immunity Act to levy taxes to pay the debt service on general obligation bonds issued to fund capital improvement remedies agreed to by the District or ordered by the Federal Court in the People Who Care case?"

"(c) Whether taxpayers are precluded from challenging any of the aforesaid taxes under principles of res judicata or collateral estoppel?"

On review, this court's examination in an interlocutory appeal is strictly limited to the questions certified by the trial court and, as with all questions of law, is a de novo review. ...

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