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Scott v. Morrison Community Hospital District

December 27, 2000

IN RE PETITION FOR THE DETACHMENT OF LAND FROM THE MORRISON COMMUNITY HOSPITAL HOSPITAL DISTRICT (MARVIN SCOTT ET AL.,
PETITIONERS-APPELLEES,
V.
MORRISON COMMUNITY HOSPITAL DISTRICT, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 14th Judicial Circuit, Whiteside County, Illinois, No. 1851 Honorable John L. Bell, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Slater

Petitioners filed a petition seeking detachment from respondent Morrison Community Hospital District pursuant to section 10 of the Hospital District Law. 70 ILCS 910/10 (West Supp. 1999). Respondent objected to the petition on various grounds. Following a hearing, the circuit court ruled that the petition was sufficient and it certified the detachment proposition to the proper election officials. That decision was appealed to this court on February 4, 2000, under No. 3--00--0094. During the pendency of that appeal, a majority of the voters of the territory seeking detachment voted in favor of detachment, 712 to 51. Thereafter, petitioners filed a motion to declare the territory detached. Respondent objected to petitioners' motion on the same grounds that it had objected to the petition to detach. On May 5, 2000, the circuit court overruled respondent's objections and declared the territory detached. Respondent appealed from that order on June 5, 2000, under No. 3--00--0449. Subsequently, on respondent's motion, the two appeals were consolidated by this court.

Facts

The Morrison Community Hospital District (the District) was established in 1952. The detached territory became part of the District in 1970 by means of annexation. The detached territory is located in Whiteside County and consists of a portion of Portland Township and all of Prophetstown Township, including the City of Prophetstown. The detached territory is not identical to the area annexed in 1970; it represents only a portion, or subset, of that area. The area annexed in 1970 constitutes more than 25% of the equalized assessed valuation of the District. The detached area contains less than 25% of that valuation. The basis for the detachment petition was an amendment to section 10 of the Hospital District Law which provides in part:

"[W]ithin 24 months after the effective date of this amendatory Act of the 91st General Assembly, the legal voters residing within a hospital district may file a petition for detachment from the hospital district where (i) the territory sought to be detached was added to the hospital district by way of annexation; and (ii) the equalized assessed valuation of the territory sought to be detached constitutes less than 25% of the equalized assessed valuation of the hospital district. The petition must be signed by not less than 5% of the legal voters of the territory sought to be detached. Detachment is not permissible if it would destroy the contiguity of the territory of the District. A hearing shall be held on the petition as nearly as possible as in the case of a formation petition. If upon the hearing, the court finds that the petition is sufficient, it shall certify the proposition to the proper election officials, who shall submit the question to the legal voters of the territory proposed to be detached at an election in accordance with the general election law." 70 ILCS 90/10 (West Supp. 1999) as amended by Pub. Act 91-449, §5, eff. Aug. 6, 1999.

On appeal, respondent contends that the amendment to section 10 set forth above violates the equal protection clauses of the Illinois and United States Constitutions, constitutes special or local legislation, and results in a denial of due process. Respondent also asserts that, even assuming the constitutionality of section 10, the territory sought to be detached in this case is ineligible to detach because it is not identical to the area that was annexed in 1970. Analysis

We first consider whether section 10, as amended, requires the detaching territory to be identical to the area that was added by way of annexation. The relevant provision states that a petition for detachment may be filed "where(i) the territory sought to be detached was added to the hospital district by way of annexation; and (ii) the equalized assessed valuation of the territory sought to be detached constitutes less than 25% of the equalized assessed valuation of the hospital district." Respondent maintains that "the territory" is ambiguous in that it may refer to the territory originally annexed or to some subset of that territory. We disagree.

Statutory language must be given its plain and ordinary meaning, and where that language is clear and unambiguous, a court must apply the statute without further aid of statutory construction. People v. Robinson, 172 Ill. 2d 452, 667 N.E.2d 1305 (1996). A court is not authorized to declare that the legislature did not mean what the plain language of the statute says. Henrich v. Libertyville High School, 186 Ill. 2d 381, 712 N.E.2d 298 (1998). The statutory language at issue here clearly requires that the detaching territory must have been added by annexation. There is no requirement that all previously annexed territory must be detached, or that the detaching territory must be identical to the previously annexed territory. Where the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous, a court must give it effect as written, without reading in exceptions, limitations or conditions that the legislature did not express. Davis v. Toshiba Machine Co., 186 Ill. 2d 181, 710 N.E.2d 399 (1999).

Respondent argues, however, that interpreting the statute as it is written could lead to absurd results. Respondent posits the existence of a hypothetical "freeloading large landowner" who could file a petition for detachment and receive his own personal election ballot, thereby assuring detachment. Respondent also points out that successive petitions for detachment could be filed by various subsets of the originally annexed territory, resulting in detachment of territory constituting more than 25% of the equalized assessed valuation of the hospital district.

While it is true that it is presumed that the legislature did not intend an absurdity or injustice (Henrich, 186 Ill. 2d 381, 712 N.E.2d 298), we see no absurdity in permitting a single landowner to detach. Whether one person owns 100 acres or 100 people own one acre each, detachment has the same effect on the hospital district's tax revenue. Moreover, the procedure outlined in section 10 for annexation to a hospital district would appear to allow a single landowner to annex. We see no reason why allowing the same landowner to detach would be "absurd".

With respect to respondent's argument that the filing of successive or multiple petitions could result in the detachment of territory comprising more than 25% of the assessed valuation of the District, we acknowledge such a possibility. However, the 25% limitation appears to have been intended to prevent destablization of the District's tax base by prohibiting a large area from detaching at one time. Therefore, multiple petitions which total more than 25% and which are decided in the same election would presumably be prohibited. On the other hand, successive petitions would not exceed the 25% limit merely because, when combined, they total more than 25% of the assessed valuation. Alternatively, it is possible that the 25% limitation was meant as an absolute cap, thereby prohibiting detachment of property constituting more than 25% of assessed valuation in the aggregate, regardless of the number or timing of the petitions.

While these questions concerning the effect of the 25% limitation on multiple or successive petitions are interesting, they are not at issue in this case. This court's role is to decide actual controversies, not hypothetical ones. The detaching territory in this case constituted less than 25% of the assessed valuation of the District. Despite respondent's claim that petitioners intend to file a petition to detach the remaining portion of the originally annexed territory in the future, the issues before this court are limited to the single petition contained in the record. See Winfield Fire Protection District v. City of Wheaton, 29 Ill. App. 3d 630, 332 N.E.2d 43 (1975) (court must consider existing facts and may not speculate as to effect of future detachments). We will not ignore the plain language of a statute based on conjecture, nor will we "depart from a statute's plain meaning so long as application of the statute's plain language to the circumstances presently before the court would not effect an absurd or unjust result." (Emphasis added.) People ex rel. Ryan v. McFalls, 313 Ill. App. 3d 223, 228, 728 N.E.2d 1152, 1155 (2000). Accordingly, we find that the territory detached in this case was eligible for detachment under section 10 notwithstanding that it was not identical to the area annexed in 1970.

We now consider the various constitutional challenges raised by respondent concerning section 10. Respondent asserts that the amendment to section 10 relied on for detachment in this case violates the equal protection clauses of the Illinois and United States Constitutions because only previously annexed territories are allowed to detach and because detachment must occur within a 24 month window of opportunity. Respondent also contends that the amendment ...


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