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Terrill v. Oakbrook Hilton Suites and Garden Inn

April 21, 2003

CATHY TERRILL, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
OAKBROOK HILTON SUITES AND GARDEN INN, LLC, D/B/A HILTON SUITES AND GARDEN INN, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 01--L--529 Honorable Patrick J. Leston, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Byrne

PUBLISHED

Defendant, Oakbrook Hilton Suites and Garden Inn, appeals the denial of its motion to involuntarily dismiss with prejudice the complaint brought by plaintiff, Cathy Terrill. Defendant contends that the trial court erred in concluding that section 3(f) of the Hotel Operators' Occupation Tax Act (Act) (35 ILCS 145/3(f) (West 2000)) barred plaintiff from directly suing defendant.

The pleadings, affidavits, depositions, and exhibits establish the following undisputed facts. Plaintiff rented a room from defendant for the night of November 25, 1999. The sign-in form states that rates are "subject to applicable sales, occupancy or other taxes." On November 26, 1999, plaintiff received and paid the bill from defendant for renting the room.

The bill is the only document that defendant provided to plaintiff that purports to list all of the charges, including the telephone charge, that defendant asked plaintiff to agree to pay. The bill states that the contractually agreed-upon "Nightly Room Rate," excluding taxes and other variable incidental charges, such as telephone or room service charges, is $99. The bill designates a single tax line item entitled "Room Occupancy Taxes," which shows a total of $8.91. Plaintiff paid the full amount of the bill without an objection, including the $8.91 listed as taxes.

Defendant kept the $99 room rate, and from the $8.91 billed as "taxes," forwarded 6% of the room rate in tax liability to the state, 1% in tax liability to the City of Oakbrook Terrace (Oakbrook Terrace), and 2% to Oakbrook Terrace pursuant to an agreement between defendant and Oakbrook Terrace, in which defendant had agreed to pay 2% of its gross revenue as a service fee to Oakbrook Terrace in exchange for daily city police surveillance of the hotel.

The sign-in document that was presented to plaintiff on the night of November 25, 1999, does not state that the $99 rate (plus applicable taxes) is subject to a municipal security fee or any municipal service charges. The sign-in document contains no language wherein the customer expressly agrees to pay a security fee or any type of municipal service charge. Nor does it state or disclose that a security fee will later be included as part of the "Room Occupancy Tax" line item in the bill. Based on the standardized documents and information that defendant provided to her, at all relevant times plaintiff understood that she was agreeing to pay a $99 daily room rental charge, applicable taxes, and usage charges she incurred for itemized services such as telephone calls and room service. Room charges, taxes, and useage charges would be tabulated and agreed to by plaintiff when she paid a final truthful and accurate bill. Because it was concealed from her, plaintiff did not know that defendant was including a security fee, which was not a tax, in the tax line item in her bill, and therefore she could not protest or voluntarily pay such charge.

Plaintiff brought a class action suit against defendant for breach of contract and consumer fraud. Defendant filed, inter alia, a motion to dismiss the complaint under section 2--619(a)(9) of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2--619(a)(9) (West 2000)), arguing that section 3(f) of the Act and supreme court precedent barred plaintiff from directly suing defendant for the 2% charge.

The circuit court disagreed and denied defendant's motion. The court then certified the following question pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 308(a) (155 Ill. 2d R. 308(a)):

"Does 35 ILCS 145/3(f) bar a direct action by a consumer against a retailer when the retailer has collected a security fee under the guise of a hotel tax and remitted the security fee to Oakbrook Terrace for payment of security services, a non-tax obligation, and where the consumer did not request a refund prior to the time the payment was remitted to the hotel and to Oakbrook Terrace?"

Defendant timely filed an application for leave to appeal and we granted the application. Because this appeal concerns a question of law certified by the circuit court pursuant to Rule 308, because it presents a question of statutory interpretation, and because it arose in the context of an order denying a section 2--619 motion to dismiss, our review is de novo. See Weatherman v. Gary-Wheaton Bank of Fox Valley, N.A., 186 Ill. 2d 472, 480 (1999). Before we address the certified question, we must address a motion to supplement the record brought by plaintiff, which we ordered to be taken with the case. Plaintiff requests that we supplement the record with (1) a letter from plaintiff's counsel to the trial judge and (2) plaintiff's response to defendant's Rule 308 motion. Upon review of the motion, we deny the motion to supplement the record with the letter from plaintiff's counsel but allow the motion to supplement the record with plaintiff's response to defendant's Rule 308 motion. Accordingly, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

Turning now to the certified question on appeal, we begin our analysis by looking at the language of the applicable statute. Section 3(f) provides:

"If any hotel operator collects an amount (however designated) which purports to reimburse such operator for hotel operators' occupation tax liability measured by receipts which are not subject to hotel operators' occupation tax, or if any hotel operator, in collecting an amount (however designated) which purports to reimburse such operator for hotel operators' occupation tax liability measured by receipts which are subject to tax under this Act, collects more from the customer than the operators' hotel operators' occupation tax liability in the transaction is [sic], the customer shall have a legal right to claim a refund of such amount from such operator. However, if such amount is not refunded to the customer for any reason, the hotel operator is liable to pay such amount to the Department." 35 ILCS 145/3(f) (West 2000).

The legislature's intent in enacting a statute is best determined by the plain and ordinary meaning of the statutory language. In re Chicago Flood Litigation, 176 Ill. 2d 179, 193 (1997). When the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous, the court must give it effect without resorting to other aids of construction. Chicago Flood Litigation, 176 Ill. 2d at 193. Courts should read statutes so as to yield logical and meaningful results and to avoid constructions that render specific ...


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