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In re Petition of the Village of Hanover Park

April 06, 2000

IN RE PETITION OF THE VILLAGE OF HANOVER PARK, TO DISCONNECT THE TERRITORY OF THE HANOVER PARK FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT, F/K/A THE ONTARIOVILLE FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT, WHICH ) LIES WITHIN THE VILLAGE OF HANOVER PARK CORPORATE LIMITS
(THE VILLAGE OF HANOVER PARK, PETITIONER-APPELLEE, V. THE HANOVER PARK FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT, OBJECTOR, AND JOHN MCGUIRE, CLIFFORD BAERLIN, AND MARK HUDSON, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR CAPACITIES AS MEMBERS OF THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE HANOVER PARK FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT, OBJECTORS-APPELLANTS).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 99--MC--1 Honorable Bonnie M. Wheaton, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McLAREN

Objectors John McGuire, Clifford Baerlin, and Mark Hudson (objectors) appeal from the trial court's orders denying the objectors' motion to dismiss and granting the petition of the Village of Hanover Park. We affirm.

The Village of Hanover Park (the village) is located in both Cook and Du Page counties. Fire protection and emergency medical services for the village had been provided by the Hanover Park Fire Protection District (the district), formerly known as the Ontarioville Fire Protection District, since 1956. The district also included areas outside of the village boundaries.

On February 5, 1999, the village filed a petition to disconnect all of the territory lying within its corporate boundaries from the district and provide its own fire and emergency services. The district and three of its trustees, John McGuire, Clifford Baerlin, and Mark Hudson, filed an objection to the petition and a motion to dismiss the petition. On April 20 the trial court denied the objectors' motion to dismiss. The village filed a motion to dismiss the objection, which was also denied. After a full hearing, the court found that the petition should be granted and ordered the territory to be disconnected from the district. This appeal followed.

The petition to disconnect was brought pursuant to section 21 of the Fire Protection District Act (the Act), which provides in part:

"The territory of a fire protection district within the limits of any city, village or incorporated town may be disconnected from the district in the manner hereinafter provided; (1) if more than 50% of the total territory of the fire protection district is within the limits of the same city, village or incorporated town filing the petition for disconnection; (2) if such municipality, prior to the filing of a petition to disconnect, assumes by ordinance all the bonded indebtedness and other debts of the fire protection district; and, (3) if such municipality, prior to the filing of such petition, assumes by ordinance the obligation of providing fire protection service to the remaining territory of the fire protection district equivalent to the service being rendered by such district." 70 ILCS 705/21 (1998).

The objectors first contend that this section of the Act is unconstitutional special legislation. We disagree.

Article 4, section 13, of the Illinois Constitution of 1970 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.

While this section prohibits the General Assembly from conferring a special benefit or exclusive privilege on a person or group to the exclusion of others similarly situated, it does not prohibit all classifications. In re Petition of the Village of Vernon Hills, 168 Ill 2d 117, 122 (1995). Only arbitrary legislative classifications are prohibited. Vernon Hills, 168 Ill. 2d at 122. If any set of facts can reasonably be conceived that justifies the distinction of the class to which the statute applies from the class to which the statute is inapplicable, then the General Assembly may constitutionally classify persons and objects for the purpose of legislative regulation or control and may enact laws applicable only to the persons or objects. Vernon Hills, 168 Ill. 2d at 122. Classifications based on population or territorial differences are not, as a matter of law, unconstitutional. Vernon Hills, 168 Ill. 2d at 122.

The General Assembly's classifications are presumed to be valid, and all doubts are to be resolved in favor of upholding them. Vernon Hills, 168 Ill. 2d at 122-23. The party attacking the validity of the classification bears the burden of establishing the arbitrariness of the classification. Vernon Hills, 168 Ill. 2d at 123.

As the statute before us does not affect a fundamental right or involve a suspect or quasi-suspect classification, the appropriate standard of review is the rational basis test. See Vernon Hills, 168 Ill. 2d at 123. Under this standard, we must determine whether the statutory classification is rationally related to a legitimate state interest. Vernon Hills, 168 Ill. 2d at 123. A classification based on population or territorial differences will survive a special legislation challenge only (1) where founded upon a rational difference in situation or condition existing in the persons or objects upon which the classification rests, and (2) where there is a rational and proper basis for the classification in view of the objects and purposes to be accomplished. Vernon Hills, 168 Ill. 2d at 123.

The objectors posit three theories under which section 21 of the Act is special legislation. The objectors first argue that section 21 does not apply equally to all fire protection districts or municipalities. Section 21 clearly classifies fire protection districts containing a municipality whose corporate boundaries contain over 50% of the districts' territory differently from districts that do not contain such a municipality. However, it is the objectors' burden to show that this classification is arbitrary (see Vernon Hills, 168 Il. 2d at 123), and this the objectors have failed to do. The objectors rely on two cases in which parts of the Act were found to be special legislation and, therefore, unconstitutional. In In re Belmont Fire Protection District, 111 Ill. 2d 373 (1986), our supreme court found unconstitutional a section of the Act that allowed municipalities within counties having a population of between 600,000 and 1 million to disconnect from one fire protection district and transfer to another district that was already providing service to part of that municipality. At the time, only Du Page County fit within that population classification. Our supreme court found no rational reason why a municipality served by multiple fire protection districts in a county with a population between 600,000 and 1 million was any different from a municipality served by multiple districts in a county of less than 600,000 or more than 1 million. See Belmont, 111 Ill. 2d at 382.

The danger sought to be eliminated, i.e., multiple fire protection districts serving one municipality, existed in other counties as well, regardless of the population of the county in which it was located. Belmont, 111 Ill. 2d at 382. Similarly, in Vernon Hills, the section of the Act in question allowed non-home-rule-municipalities receiving services from multiple fire protection districts to disconnect territory from one district and transfer it to another district that provided services to the area comprising more than 80% of the municipality's assessed valuation; however, this only applied in counties having a population of between 500,000 and 750,000, which, at the time, only included Lake County. Again, our supreme court found that there was no rational difference of situation or condition that existed among non-home-rule-municipalities served by multiple fire protection districts based on the population of the ...


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