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Griffith v. Pembroke Township

June 12, 2000

GLORIA B. GRIFFITH,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
V. PEMBROKE TOWNSHIP; SUPERVISOR ROSE COVINGTON; TRUSTEE LARRY GIBBS; TRUSTEE CURTIS BUTLER; TRUSTEE MELBA RANDOLPH; AND TRUSTEE GENOVA SINGLETON,
DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 21th Judicial Circuit Kankakee County, Illinois No. 99-LM-197 Honorable Susan S. Tungate Judge Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Lytton

Plaintiff Gloria B. Griffith, assessor of Pembroke Township (Township), sought a writ of mandamus in the circuit court requiring the Township to reimburse her for office related expenses. The circuit court ordered the Township to (1) reimburse Griffith for funds expended in connection with the assessor's office; (2) pay her attorney fees in an earlier action; (3) effect a salary increase; and (4) establish a petty cash fund. The Township appeals. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

I. FACTS

Griffith was appointed the Township assessor in February 1997. Since that time, she has maintained the assessor's office in her private home. She has not obtained office equipment or supplies through the Township. Rather, she has used her personal computer and purchased supplies from a non-Township affiliated retailer. Griffith submitted "expense reports" to the Township for reimbursement of these expenditures; the Township refused to reimburse her.

In June 1997, the Township asked Griffith to relocate the assessor's office to the town hall; Griffith refused to move the office from her home. The Township filed a mandamus action against Griffith, seeking an order that she relocate her office. The trial court dismissed the Township's suit.

Griffith subsequently filed the instant action, seeking reimbursement for office equipment, supplies, utility charges, postage and a personal driver. She also requested the establishment of a petty cash fund. After a bench trial, the court awarded Griffith "all unpaid expenses claimed, including tax thereon and late charges and any unpaid salary ***" with certain minor exceptions. In addition, the court ordered the Township to pay Griffith's attorney fees in the earlier action filed by the Township and to establish a $500 petty cash fund.

I. ANALYSIS

A. EQUIPMENT AND SUPPLIES

The Township argues that section 2-80 of the Property Tax Code (Code)(35 ILCS 200/2-80 (West 1996)), requires it to "provide" Griffith with an office, storage space, equipment and office supplies, but that it does not allow for "reimbursement" of these expenses.

Griffith responds that the term "provide" encompasses "reimbursement." Furthermore, the Township has no discretion over the administration of the assessor's office. Finally, the trial court heard evidence that the Township failed to provide her with an office, storage space and equipment.

A fundamental principle of statutory construction is to ascertain and give effect to the legislature's intent. Vrombaut v. Norcross Safety Products, L.L.C., 298 Ill. App.3d 560, 562, 699 N.E.2d 155, 156 (1998). Intent is best demonstrated by the language of the statute itself. Vrombaut, 298 Ill. App.3d at 562, 699 N.E.2d at 156. If the legislature's intent is clear from a statute's plain language, a court must confine its inquiry to a consideration of that language. Vrombaut, 298 Ill. App.3d at 562, 699 N.E.2d at 156. Questions of statutory construction are questions of law. Vrombaut, 298 Ill. App.3d at 562, 699 N.E.2d at 156.

Section 2-80 of the Code provides:

"Township and multi-township assessors *** shall be reimbursed for their reasonable travel, meal, lodging and registration expenses incurred in attendance at a school of instruction prescribed by the Department. The board of town trustees shall provide the office and storage space, equipment, office supplies *** and other items as are necessary for the efficient operation of the office." (Emphasis added.)

Pursuant to the plain language of section 2-80, the Township has a duty to reimburse Griffith for particular travel expenses. Section 2-80 does not allow for reimbursement of the expenditures claimed by Griffith in the instant action. Indeed, the legislature specifically stated that a township "shall provide the office and storage space, equipment, office supplies *** and other items as are necessary for the efficient operation of the [assessor's] office." 35 ILCS 200/2-80 (West 1996). If the Township failed to reasonably "provide" Griffith with the requirements of section 2-80, she could have sought judicial relief. The proper course of action for an assessor ...


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