Appeal from the Circuit Court of Franklin County. No. 00-L-61 Honorable E. Kyle Vantrease, Judge, presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kuehn
This case turns on one issue: Do the equitable claims of promissory and equitable estoppel allow for monetary damages? If not, and if the claims are therefore actually legal in nature, then the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (Tort Immunity Act) (745 ILCS 10/1-101 et seq. (West 1996)) applies to the facts of this case and a summary judgment was appropriate because the lawsuit was not brought within the relevant one-year statute of limitations for legal actions.
In 1989, an enterprise zone was legislatively created by Franklin County and Benton for the Rend Lake area of Franklin County. The two governmental entities entered into a joint agreement establishing a joint enterprise zone. In this zone, businesses could receive enterprise zone benefits from state and local entities for making property improvements that exceeded $10,000. The benefits to businesses included the following:
1. An exemption from sales tax on all materials used in the construction of improvements within the enterprise zone.
2. A 100% property tax abatement on the value of the improvements for the first five years.
3. 50% property tax abatement on the value of the improvements for years 6 through 10.
The terms of this enterprise zone set forth guidelines for the developer that, if followed, entitles the developer to the benefits of the enterprise zone. In an effort to encourage Rend Lake area development, Franklin County and Benton represented to the public that enterprise zone benefits were available for geographically qualifying development.
In 1996, the plaintiffs, ESM Development Corp. and Rend Lake Development Corp., became interested in Rend Lake area development. The plaintiffs planned a multiphased development around a golf course and around Rend Lake. Initially, the plaintiffs became operators and managers of the Rend Lake Golf Course. They built a hotel, Seasons at Rend Lake, right next to this golf course. This hotel was developed under the understanding that it, and thus the plaintiffs, qualified for enterprise zone benefits. During and following the completion of construction, the plaintiffs received the full enterprise zone benefits. The next phase of the development involved the construction of condominiums.
On the basis of past dealings with Benton and Franklin County, as well as the language of the relevant enterprise zone ordinances, the plaintiffs began their condominium development. They approached the zone administrator about the receipt of benefits and ultimately received oral assurances of the benefit's application to this project from Gale Dawson, who, at that time, dually served as zone administrator and Benton mayor. On February 18, 1998, the plaintiffs received a certificate of eligibility for a sales tax exemption for utilization in obtaining construction materials for this project. On February 17, 1998, Gale Dawson wrote to plaintiff ESM Development Corp. and indicated as follows:
"I have reviewed and approved the Enterprise Zone benefits available through the Benton/Franklin County Enterprise Zone for the Fairway Condominium at Rend Lake ***. These benefits are available to the Rend Lake Development Corporation and the individual owners of the 24 units completed in the first phase of your development. Also, benefits would include property tax abatement for the individual units."
The plaintiffs completed the development of the 24 condominium units. When attempting to sell the first two units, the plaintiffs discovered that neither they nor the ultimate unit purchasers were entitled to the promised tax abatements. This discovery occurred sometime in the fall of 1998. The tax abatements were unavailable because only half of the taxing bodies had passed resolutions agreeing to the tax abatement at issue. Without these resolutions, the ordinances establishing the enterprise zone tax abatements are ineffective.
Thereafter, the plaintiffs made a decision to divest their interest in these condominiums. They allege that their sale of the property was at a loss.
On August 10, 2000, the plaintiffs filed their multicount complaint in Franklin County circuit court. Because of constitutional issues raised, the defendants removed the case to federal court. On October 1, 2001, the federal court granted a summary judgment on the federal causes of action and remanded the remaining state law claims to Franklin County circuit court. The plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint in the state court, to which the defendants responded with motions to dismiss or for a summary judgment. On May 10, 2002, the circuit court granted a summary judgment in favor of defendants Gale Dawson, the City of Benton, and Franklin County and granted motions to dismiss with prejudice on behalf of defendants Juva Wynn (Franklin County treasurer) and David Dobill (Franklin County clerk).
It is from this order that the ...