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In re Application of the County Treasurer

August 2, 2002

IN RE APPLICATION OF THE COUNTY TREASURER AND EX OFFICIO COUNTY COLLECTOR OF COOK COUNTY, ILLINOIS, FOR ORDER AND JUDGMENT AND SALE OF LAND AND LOTS RETURNED DELINQUENT FOR THE NON-PAYMENT OF GENERAL REAL ESTATE TAXES FOR THE YEAR 1996 AND PRIOR YEARS
(JEROME SIRT, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
GB PROPERTY MANAGEMENT, INC., RESPONDENT-APPELLEE.)



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY. No. 99 CoTD 3702 HONORABLE ALFRED J. PAUL, JUDGE PRESIDING.

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

UNPUBLISHED

Petitioner Jerome Sirt appeals an order of the circuit court of Cook County declaring the court's prior order directing the issuance of a tax deed, and the resulting tax deed, void and of no legal effect. The trial court's order was entered upon the motion of respondent GB Property Management, Inc. (GB).

The record on appeal discloses the following facts. On September 21, 1999, TLC Acquisitions, Inc. (TLC) filed a petition for a tax deed regarding a parcel in Cook County, Illinois, with the permanent index number 16-21-308-009-0000. In the petition, TLC alleged that the parcel was sold by the Cook County treasurer at the annual tax sale held on January 10, 1997. TLC also alleged that it was issued a certificate of purchase and that the redemption period would expire on January 10, 2000.

On February 1, 2000, TLC applied for an order directing the county clerk to issue a tax deed. The record on appeal contains a notarized affidavit in support of TLC's application by Wendy A. Williams, who the record shows was TLC's attorney. The Williams affidavit listed R.A.M. Recovery as an occupant or an entity in actual possession of the property. The Williams affidavit listed GB, among others, as a party with an interest in the property. The Williams affidavit also listed GB as a party that could not be located upon diligent inquiry and, thus, was served by publication and certified mail to the last known address.

On July 24, 2000, Sirt moved to be substituted as the petitioner, alleging that he was the assignee of all title and interest in the certificate of purchase. Although Sirt does not identify an order or entry in the record granting this motion, the transcript of proceedings shows that the trial court granted this motion on August 8, 2000. At the August 8, 2000, hearing, Louis Bergmann, a supervisor of the due diligence department for TLC, testified that the street address of the parcel at issue was 1941 S. 54th Avenue, in Cicero, Illinois. Bergmann also testified that the lot was used to store towed automobiles. According to Bergmann, a sign indicated that the name of the business was R.A.M. Recovery. Bergmann stated that he asked a R.A.M. Recovery employee who managed the property; the employee replied that the property was managed by GB. During the same hearing, Sirt's attorney asserted that GB had no interest of record in the property. The trial court entered an order on September 6, 2000, directing the issuance of a tax deed to Sirt.

On October 6, 2000, respondent GB filed a motion to vacate, for rehearing or other relief. GB alleged that it was the "manager and rent collector" when the trial court entered the order directing the issuance of a tax deed. GB asserted in part that the tax deed was void because it was not recorded within one year from the expiration of the redemption date. GB alleged that extensions of the redemption period were filed with the county clerk on a number of occasions, including July 13, 1998. GB attached a "Notice of Extension of Period of Redemption," received by the county clerk on July 13, 1998, with an extended expiration date of October 30, 1998, to the motion. GB alleged that the next such notice was received by the county clerk on December 7, 1998, and attached said notice to the motion also. GB also alleged that no notice for the period between October 30, 1998, and December 7, 1998, was tendered to the court at the prove-up hearing on the petition. GB further alleged that no such extension was on record with the county clerk. Thus, GB argued that the extended redemption period expired on October 30, 1998, and that the tax deed was void because Sirt failed to petition to obtain the tax deed within the times specified in the Property Tax Code (Code) (35 ILCS 200/1-1 (West 1998).

On March 6, 2001, Sirt answered GB's motion. Sirt denied that GB had authority to manage or collect rent on the property, but admitted that the extended redemption period expired on October 30, 1998. Sirt asserted that GB lacked standing to challenge the issuance of the tax deed because it had no real interest in the action. Sirt attached a number of documents to its answer, including correspondence with R.A.M. Recovery regarding liability insurance, certificates of insurance showing R.A.M. Recovery as the insured and GB as the certificate holder, and copies of numerous checks drafted by R.A.M. Recovery to the order of GB.

On June 20, 2001, following a hearing on the matter, the trial court entered an order declaring its September 6, 2000, order, directing the issuance of a tax deed, void and of no legal effect. The order also declared that the tax deed issued to Sirt for the property was also void and of no legal effect. The trial court found no just reason to delay enforcement or appeal of the order.

On July 19, 2001, Sirt filed a motion for reconsideration. Sirt sought to have the June 20, 2001, order vacated or, in the alternative, a ruling that Sirt was entitled to the amount necessary to redeem the property or a refund of the purchase price under the Property Tax Code. The trial court denied the motion to reconsider on August 8, 2001; Sirt now appeals.

I.

On appeal, Sirt renews his argument that GB lacked standing to file a motion to vacate the order for a tax deed. The essence of the standing inquiry is not the subject matter per se, but whether a litigant, either in an individual or representative capacity, is entitled to have the court decide the merits of a particular dispute or issue. See In re Estate of Wellman, 174 Ill. 2d 335, 345, 673 N.E.2d 272, 276 (1996). Standing in Illinois requires only some injury in fact to a legally cognizable interest. Greer v. Illinois Housing Development Authority, 122 Ill. 2d 462, 492, 524 N.E.2d 561, 574-75 (1988).

In this case, the order appealed from does not simply vacate the trial court's prior order, but declares that the prior order, and the tax deed issued pursuant to that order, are void. Courts have a duty to vacate and expunge void orders from court records and thus may sua sponte declare an order void. E.g., Twardowski v. Holiday Hospitality Franchising, Inc., 321 Ill. App. 3d 509, 511, 748 N.E.2d 222, 226 (2001). The issue of whether GB had standing, or the right to redeem the property, is beside the point. *fn1 The transcript of proceedings for August 8, 2001, shows that the ...


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