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People ex rel Graf v. Village of Lake Bluff

May 07, 2001

THE PEOPLE EX REL. N. DAVID GRAF, WILLIAM S. PRICE, RICHARD W. SURKAMER AND ELMER L. GOTTSCHALK, JR., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
THE VILLAGE OF LAKE BLUFF, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 99-MR-470 Honorable Charles F. Scott, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Grometer

This appeal arises from a quo warrantor action challenging the annexation of two areas of land in Lake County by defendant, the Village of Lake Bluff. Plaintiffs consist of two distinct groups (collectively plaintiffs): N. David Graf, William S. Price, and Richard W. Surkamer (the Village plaintiffs), who are residents of the Village of Lake Bluff (the Village), and Elmer L. Gottschalk, Jr., who resides in the second parcel annexed by the Village, which is known as the Sanctuary. This action comes to this court following the trial court's denial of plaintiffs' application for leave to file a complaint in quo warrantor. For the reasons that follow, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand the cause for further proceedings.

BACKGROUND

On November 24, 1980, the Village annexed a parcel of land, commonly referred to as the Triangle. This parcel consisted of a triangle-shaped area located west of the Village. As part of this annexation, the Village also annexed a railroad right-of-way running from the Triangle to the Village. The right-of-way ran parallel to the borders of the Village and the Triangle. The right-of-way was 1,000 feet long and 100 feet wide. The Village annexed a portion of this right-of-way such that 102 feet of the right-of-way overlapped the border of the Village. As part of the annexation process, Judge Strouse, of the circuit court of Lake County, issued an order dated November 7, 1980, approving the annexation. This order included findings that the petition for annexation conformed with the applicable statutory requirements (see Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 24, par. 7--1--4). This order was not appealed. The Triangle has remained undeveloped since the 1980 annexation.

In 1998, the Village sought to annex a parcel of land known as the Sanctuary. The Sanctuary bordered the western edge of the Triangle but was not otherwise contiguous with the Village. The Village board adopted an ordinance initiating this process on August 10, 1998. The Village's board of trustees consists of six trustees and a president. One of the trustees voting in favor of the ordinance was not physically present and participated by telephone. The ordinance passed by a four to two vote. The Village then sought the approval of the circuit court of Lake County. See 65 ILCS 5/7--1--4 (West 1998). The court found the annexation to comply with the statutory requirements and directed that the annexation be submitted by referendum to the electors residing in the Sanctuary. A majority of the electors voted in favor of the annexation.

On June 2, 1999, plaintiffs filed their application for leave to file a complaint in quo warrantor. Plaintiffs challenged both annexations, contending, inter alia, that the annexation of the Sanctuary cannot stand, for it is dependent upon the earlier, illegal annexation of the Triangle. The trial court denied plaintiffs' request for leave to file a complaint in quo warrantor. Two bases were articulated for this denial. First, the trial court found that all plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge these annexations. The trial court held that plaintiffs' status as residents and taxpayers was insufficient to confer standing upon them. Second, the court found that it was foreclosed from considering plaintiffs' challenge to the two annexations based on their allegations that the parcels annexed were not contiguous to the Village. According to the trial court, contiguity is a question of fact. Since both annexations were approved by trial courts, plaintiffs' current action amounts to an impermissible collateral attack upon the findings rendered in the earlier annexation proceedings. Plaintiffs also contended that the meeting of the board of trustees where the annexation of the Sanctuary was approved violated the Open Meetings Act (5 ILCS 120/1 et seq. (West 1998)); however, the trial court did not base its decision upon this ground.

STANDING

Plaintiffs contend that the trial court erred in finding that they lacked standing to bring a quo warrantor action. In reviewing a trial court's decision on a matter of standing, we apply the abuse of discretion standard. People ex rel. Vuagniaux v. City of Edwardsville, 284 Ill. App. 3d 407, 416 (1996). The defendant bears the burden of demonstrating that a plaintiff lacks standing to bring an action. Vuagniaux, 284 Ill. App. 3d at 416. In a quo warrantor action, a specific personal interest of the plaintiff must appear in the pleadings. People ex rel. Hanrahan v. Village of Wheeling, 42 Ill. App. 3d 825, 833 (1976). Conclusional pleading of such an interest is not sufficient. Hanrahan, 42 Ill. App. 3d at 833.

In order to contest an annexation in quo warrantor, a plaintiff must assert a special interest. People ex rel. First National Bank v. City of North Chicago, 158 Ill. App. 3d 85, 98 (1987). The interest alleged to be invaded must be a private right of the plaintiff, rather than an injury common to the public. First National Bank, 158 Ill. App. 3d at 98. It must be a personal interest; however, the fact that members of the community share a like interest does not defeat standing. People ex rel. Nelson v. Village of Long Grove, 169 Ill. App. 3d 866, 871 (1988). Furthermore, the challenged action must have a direct, substantial, and adverse effect upon the interest asserted. People ex rel. Durst v. Village of Germantown Hills, 51 Ill. App. 3d 969, 971 (1977). Mere status as a resident has been held an insufficient basis to challenge an annexation (People v. Wood, 411 Ill. 514, 521 (1952)), as has the bare allegation of one's status as a taxpayer (People ex rel. Vanderhyden v. Village of Elwood, 5 Ill. App. 3d 590, 592-93 (1972)).

However, where one can show a direct, substantial, and adverse impact upon one's taxes as a result of the challenged action, standing exists. Vanderhyden, 5 Ill. App. 3d at 593. Individuals' interest in the taxes collected from them personally is distinct, in many ways, from the public's general interest in the enforcement of the law. People ex rel. McCarthy v. Firek, 5 Ill. 2d 317, 324 (1955). This interest is both personal and substantial, and it is not diminished simply because other taxpayers share a similar interest. People ex rel. Hamer v. Board of Education of School District No. 113, County of Lake, 132 Ill. App. 2d 46, 49 (1971); People ex rel. McCarthy, 5 Ill. 2d at 324; cf. People ex rel. Henderson v. City of Bloomington, 38 Ill. App. 2d 9, 12 (1962) ("Furthermore, it may be properly observed that all members of the general public do not pay school taxes. Those upon whom such taxes fall certainly do have a personal interest in the amount they are to pay"). Plaintiffs must show a high probability or certainty that their taxes will increase. Hamer, 132 Ill. App. 2d at 48-49. Thus, the mere fact that one is a taxpayer is insufficient to confer standing; however, where a demonstrable adverse tax effect exists, standing does as well. Hanrahan, 42 Ill. App. 3d at 833-34.

Applying the foregoing principles to the Village plaintiffs, it becomes clear that they lack standing to bring this challenge. In their petition for leave to file a quo warrantor complaint, these plaintiffs allege that the annexation of the Sanctuary will cause tax revenue generated from sales tax paid by three automobile dealerships to be diverted to provide municipal government for the Sanctuary. These revenues, according to these plaintiffs, would have been used either to provide them services or to reduce or prevent future tax increases. These speculative allegations are insufficient. First, plaintiffs have not alleged that the Sanctuary consists of tax-exempt property or that the tax revenue generated from this parcel will be insufficient to offset the cost of providing governmental services. In People ex rel. Kirby v. City of Effingham, 43 Ill. App. 3d 360, 361-62 (1976), an argument was advanced similar to that asserted here. However, in Kirby, the annexed land was to be used for a school and was exempt from taxes. Plaintiffs have not established that the Sanctuary will burden them in the same manner that the property annexed in Kirby burdened the plaintiffs in that case. Second, with respect to sales tax revenues being used for future property tax relief, plaintiffs have not pleaded anything beyond mere conclusions to indicate either that property taxes would increase or that sales tax revenues would be used to ameliorate such an increase if it, in fact, occurred. Third, to the extent plaintiffs' allegations can be read as asserting a diminution of services, plaintiffs have not pleaded anything regarding any specific service that has been diminished as a result of the annexation of the Sanctuary.

The Village plaintiffs also allege that they were denied their personal right to vote on the annexation of the Sanctuary and claim this as an alternative basis for standing. However, the procedure set forth in the Illinois Municipal Code (the Code), the statute governing this annexation, provides no such right to these plaintiffs. 65 ILCS 5/7--1--1 et seq. (West 1998). We do not read plaintiffs' attack upon the annexation as a challenge to the constitutionality of the annexation statute itself. Therefore, this argument is without merit.

Regarding Gottschalk, the plaintiff residing in the Sanctuary, we reach a different result. Some of the bases for standing asserted by Gottschalk are speculative. For example, he asserts that he is now subject to the taxing discretion of another governmental body as well as the regulations and ordinances of the Village. These allegations demonstrate no adverse or substantial detriment in themselves. In the absence of some showing that the application of the ordinances or the exercise of the discretion complained of has some tangible effect on a personal interest of Gottschalk, these allegations are insufficient to confer standing. Gottschalk has, however, alleged more. Specifically, he complains that, as a result of the annexation, he must now purchase vehicle stickers from the Village, that he has been assessed with Village property taxes, and that he must now pay for a garbage collection service regardless of whether he chooses to use it. These allegations flow directly from the annexation, are adverse in that they result in an increased financial burden, and, unlike being subjected to the Village's ordinances and taxing discretion, are things of substance.

Thus, we conclude that Gottschalk has standing to bring a quo warrantor action, while the ...


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