The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kilbride
Docket No. 91715-Agenda 24-January 2002.
In this case, we decide whether a trial court's finding that a parcel of land is contiguous to the annexing municipality in a proceeding initiated under section 7-1-2 of the Illinois Municipal Code (Code) (65 ILCS 5/7-1-2 (West 2000)) is subject to a collateral attack in a quo warrantor action.
The circuit court of Lake County denied plaintiffs' motion for leave to file a complaint in quo warrantor seeking to challenge the annexation of a parcel of land on the basis that it was not contiguous to the annexing village. The appellate court reversed, holding that the existence of contiguity was a jurisdictional condition precedent to the filing of a court-controlled annexation proceeding under section 7-1-2 of the Code and that contiguity could be raised collaterally in a quo warrantor proceeding. 321 Ill. App. 3d 897, 906. For the reasons that follow, we reverse the judgment of the appellate court.
On October 10, 1980, two owners of parcels of land in an 8.3-acre tract, commonly referred to as " the Triangle," filed a petition pursuant to section 7-1-2 of the Illinois Municipal Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 24, par. 7-1-2 (now codified at 65 ILCS 5/7-1-2 (West 2000))), seeking to annex the Triangle to the Village of Lake Bluff (Village). The petitioners alleged that they were a majority of the land owners in the Triangle and that the Triangle was contiguous to the Village. No objections were filed. After a hearing, the court found that the petition conformed to section 7-1-4 of the Code (65 ILCS 5/7-1-4 (West 2000)) and ordered that the question of annexation be submitted to the corporate authorities of the Village.
The annexation was completed by an ordinance adopted November 24, 1980. As part of this process, the Village also annexed a portion of railroad right-of-way 1,000 feet long and 100 feet wide abutting a portion of the Triangle and also abutting the border of the Village. No appeal was ever taken from the court order approving the annexation, nor did any party ever seek post-judgment relief.
In 1998, the Village annexed a different tract of land known as "the Sanctuary," again using the court procedures created by sections 7-1-2, 7-1-3, 7-1-4 and 7-1-7 of the Code (65 ILCS 5/7-1-2, 7-1-3, 7-1-4, 7-1-7 (West 2000)). The Village initiated the process by an ordinance adopted August 10, 1998, and filed with the circuit court in accordance with section 7-1-2. On September 2, 1998, the court conducted a hearing under section 7-1-4 and found: (1) the Sanctuary was contiguous to the Village; (2) the ordinance was lawfully adopted and in compliance with the requirements of section 7-1-2; and (3) there were no valid objections to the annexation. The court then directed the issue to be submitted to a referendum of the electors residing in the Sanctuary, pursuant to section 7-1-7. The annexation was approved by a majority of the electors and, under the terms of the court's order, the Sanctuary became a part of the Village. The Sanctuary abutted a portion of the Triangle, but did not touch any other boundary of the Village. No appeal was taken from the judgment approving the Sanctuary annexation, nor did any party request post-judgment relief in the trial court.
On June 2, 1999, plaintiffs filed their motion for leave to file a complaint in quo warrantor to challenge the annexations. Plaintiffs alleged that contiguity in the Triangle annexation existed neither in fact nor in law. Further, they claimed that the subsequent Sanctuary annexation was invalid because it was dependent on the Triangle's defective annexation. Therefore, the Sanctuary annexation also failed for want of contiguity and was void.
The trial court denied plaintiffs' motion, finding that it was an impermissible collateral attack on the final orders entered in two annexation proceedings. The court further found that none of the plaintiffs had standing to assert a challenge to the annexations because their pleadings did not describe a special interest or private right infringed by the annexations. Plaintiffs appealed.
The appellate court affirmed the trial court's order on the standing of plaintiffs Graf, Price and Surkamer, who resided in the Village. The court found that plaintiffs' allegation, concerning Village tax revenues being diverted to pay for government services to the Sanctuary property, was speculative and insufficient. 321 Ill. App. 3d at 901. Therefore, plaintiffs did not show the requisite interest in the case to establish standing. 321 Ill. App. 3d at 901. The court, however, partially reversed the trial court as to plaintiff Gottschalk, a Sanctuary resident, finding that Gottschalk's averments were sufficient to confer standing. 321 Ill. App. 3d at 902.
The appellate court further held that the existence of contiguity is a jurisdictional condition precedent to annexation, and its absence can be raised in a quo warrantor action. 321 Ill. App. 3d at 906. The appellate court believed the provisions of section 7-1-46 of the Code (65 ILCS 5/7-1-46 (West 2000)), imposing a one-year statute of limitations on annexation challenges, showed the legislature's intent that contiguity be a jurisdictional prerequisite. We granted leave to appeal to the Village. See 177 Ill. 2d R. 315.
Quo warrantor is an extraordinary remedy. It was originally a writ of right for the crown against one who claimed or usurped any office, franchise or liberty, to challenge the authority underlying that assertion of the right. People ex rel. Hansen v. Phelan, 158 Ill. 2d 445, 448 (1994). Quo warrantor proceedings are now codified (735 ILCS 5/18-101 et seq. (West 2000)) and may be brought by private parties under special circumstances. They may do so, however, only by leave of court. 735 ILCS 5/18-102 (West 2000). The decision to grant or deny a petition for leave to file a quo warrantor action is a matter within the trial court's sound discretion. Phelan, 158 Ill. 2d at 449. Where discretion has been vested in the trial court, only a clear abuse of discretion or an application of impermissible legal criteria justifies reversal. Boatmen's National Bank of Belleville v. Martin, 155 Ill. 2d 305, 314 (1993).
We first address the Village's argument that the appellate court erred in holding that plaintiff Gottschalk had standing to bring a quo warrantor action. Gottschalk alleged that, as a result of the annexation, he must: (1) purchase vehicle stickers from the Village; (2) pay Village property taxes; and (3) pay for garbage- collection service regardless of whether he chooses to use it. The appellate court held that these allegations are sufficient to assert the kind of special interest necessary to maintain an action in quo warrantor. 321 Ill. App. 3d at 902.
The Village argues here that Gottschalk's allegations do not describe a substantial adverse impact and that any new costs are outweighed by the benefits and services provided to residents of the Village. We disagree.
The Village cites no authority applying a balancing test of adverse impact versus new benefits and services. Nonetheless, it argues that a balancing test is consistent with the reasoning in People ex rel. Durst v. Village of Germantown Hills, 51 Ill. App. 3d 969 (1977). There, a township asserted standing to challenge an annexation because it would lose motor fuel tax revenues as a result of the reduction in the total number of miles under its jurisdiction. The court observed that although annexation results in a township's loss of road jurisdiction, it also eliminates its responsibility for road maintenance. Durst, 51 Ill. App. 3d at 971.
In the case before us, the only new benefit described in the record is garbage collection, a service unwanted by Gottschalk. Gottschalk's payments for garbage service, mandatory vehicle stickers, and Village property taxes significantly impact his private interests and are not outweighed by any benefits or services described in the Village's pleading. Thus, Durst is inapplicable here. Moreover, we agree with the appellate court that the increased financial burdens to Gottschalk resulting from the assessment of Village property taxes and the requirement that he purchase vehicle stickers from the Village are substantial. 321 Ill. App. 3d at 902.
In holding that taxpayers could challenge in quo warrantor the right of a drainage district to continue to levy taxes, this court observed:
"Moreover, the interest of a citizen in the taxes to be collected from him is obviously distinct, for many purposes, from a general public interest in the enforcement of the law. It is a personal and substantial interest, and it does not become the less so because other citizens have a similar interest." People ex rel. McCarthy v. Firek, 5 Ill. 2d 317, 324 (1955).
Therefore, we believe that Gottschalk has sufficiently alleged a special interest to confer standing to bring an action in quo warrantor. The appellate court's reasoning on that issue was correct and needs no further explication here.
B. The Contiguity Challenge
In denying plaintiffs' motion for leave to file a quo warrantor action in this case, the trial court construed section 7-1-2 of the Code and determined that the jurisdictional prerequisites to the filing of a court-approved annexation proceeding were set out in that section. Contiguity is not mentioned in that section and, thus, is not a jurisdictional prerequisite. Section 7-1-4 of the Code requires the trial court to find that contiguity exists between the municipality and the parcel to be annexed. 65 ILCS 5/7-1-4 (West 2000). Since that issue is a question of fact that the court in the annexation proceeding was empowered to decide, the trial court denied plaintiffs' motion, finding that a collateral attack on a final order is not authorized under such circumstances.
The appellate court reached a contrary conclusion, finding that according to the plain language of section 7-1-4, the legislature intended contiguity to be a jurisdictional prerequisite to an annexation. 321 Ill. App. 3d at 904-06. In its analysis, the court did not refer to section 7-1-2 of the Code, nor did it cite any case where the use of quo warrantor was approved as a means of challenging a court-ordered annexation due to a lack of contiguity. Since we must construe the subject statutes to determine whether the trial court applied the correct legal criteria in the exercise of its discretion, a question of law is presented, and our review is de novo. In re Estate of Andernovics, 197 Ill. 2d 500, 507 (2001).
Gottschalk argues, and the appellate court held, that the existence of contiguity is a jurisdictional condition precedent to annexation because section 7-1-4 of the Code requires the trial court to determine whether the petition or ordinance filed under section 7-1-2 is valid or invalid. The use of those terms, the appellate court reasoned, suggests that a petition not meeting the requirements of section 7-1-4 is without any legal force or effect and that an action based upon a petition that fails to meet those statutory requirements is void ab initio. 321 Ill. App. 3d at 904.
Section 7-1-4 requires the court to dismiss the petition or ordinance if it finds that: (1) the annexation petition is not signed by the requisite number of electors or property owners of record; (2) the described property is not contiguous to the annexing municipality; (3) the description is materially defective; or (4) the petition or ordinance is otherwise invalid. 65 ILCS 5/7-1-4 (West 2000). The appellate court observed that the signature requirement has been held to be a jurisdictional condition precedent and that the contiguity requirement appears in the same sentence of the statute as the signature requirement. Thus, nothing warrants interpreting contiguity as a factual matter and signatures as a jurisdictional matter. According to the appellate court, the inclusion of both requirements in the same portion of the statute is a manifestation of the legislature's intention that both serve the same function. 321 Ill. App. 3d at 903-05, citing People ex rel. Jordan Co. v. Village of Forest View, 21 Ill. 2d 384, 390 (1961); People ex rel. Brzica v. Village of Lake Barrington, 268 Ill. App. 3d 420, 423 (1994).
The Village argues that the conditions precedent to the exercise of the court's jurisdiction are established not in section 7-1-4 of the Code, but in section ...