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Swilley v. County of Cook

May 10, 2004

LUCIUS SWILLEY, UNITED LEGAL FOUNDATION, DO-FOR-SELF FOUNDATION, DENISE WHITE, MARIE FIELDS, YVONNE DENNARD, ELSIE SPALDING, GENEVA E. BELL, LESTER A. CHILDS, JR., SHIRLEY DYE, SANDRA LATTIN, TONY M. LAWSON, SELLICE REEVES, TERRANCE TURNER, AND BETTY VINCENT, ON BEHALF OF THE COOK COUNTY TAXING DISTRICTS NAMED HEREIN, ON THEIR OWN BEHALF AND ON BEHALF OF OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
THE COUNTY OF COOK, A BODY POLITIC AND CORPORATE; THE CITY OF CHICAGO, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION; AND MARIA PAPPAS, COOK COUNTY TREASURER AND COLLECTOR, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Nancy Arnold, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McNULTY

PUBLISHED

The plaintiffs, a group of taxpayers, contend that Cook County violated the Property Tax Code (Code) (35 ILCS 200/1-1 et seq. (West 2000)) by transferring to the City of Chicago, for no cash, properties the County acquired through no-cash bids in scavenger sales. The trial court held that the plaintiffs lacked standing to raise the claims stated in the complaint. Plaintiffs appeal. We affirm because we find that plaintiffs have not stated facts showing any violation of the Code.

In their four-count amended complaint, filed in April 2001, plaintiffs Lucius Swilley and 12 other named individuals allege that they are "taxpayers and members of African-American and other minority groups residing in the city of Chicago." Geneva Bell and seven other named individual plaintiffs allege that their property "has been taken or is [in] jeopardy of being taken pursuant to the unlawful no-cash bid program." The individual plaintiffs and two not-for-profit corporations, also plaintiffs, allege that the city asked the county to file no-cash bids for more than 5,000 properties offered for sale at the tax scavenger sales held in 1997 and 1999. The county acquired the properties and transferred them to the city for no monetary consideration. Plaintiffs allege that the transfer violated the Code. According to the complaint, the properties acquired by no-cash bids "are predominantly located in minority communities, and *** the delinquent taxpayers, occupants or persons interested therein are predominantly black, Hispanic and other disadvantaged minorities." The complaint further alleges that "the preponderance of contractors who provide services to and obtain compensation from the City for implementation of the no-cash bid program are white."

In count I plaintiffs seek to enjoin the county from the allegedly illegal practice of acquiring properties through no-cash bids and transferring them to the city for no cash. In count II Bell and other plaintiffs who own property request just compensation from the defendants for their properties if the city acquires them through the illegal program involving no-cash bids. All plaintiffs allege in count III that the illegal program for no-cash bids has disparate impact upon racial minorities, thereby violating regulations of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Finally, plaintiffs allege in count IV that the illegal program confers benefits on white contractors, and the benefits prove that the city and the county intend racial discrimination.

Defendants moved to dismiss counts III and IV as substantially insufficient and because plaintiffs lacked standing. Plaintiffs initially moved to dismiss counts III and IV voluntarily, but withdrew that motion when defendants opposed it. Plaintiffs explained in their response to the motion to dismiss:

"Counts 3 and 4, the race discrimination counts, rely on the same factual and legal allegations as counts 1 and 2, that defendants' actions violate the Tax Code, and allege further that defendants' scheme is racially discriminatory. Since the racial discrimination counts (3 and 4) derive from the alleged illegality of defendants' actions as the complaint is presently drawn, plaintiffs' ability to proceed with the discrimination counts depends on whether they have standing to proceed with the counts (1 and 2) charging statutory violations. Recognizing that fact, plaintiffs chose to dismiss voluntarily counts 3 and 4, the race discrimination counts, with the intention of re-filing them should there be a favorable resolution, at the trial or appellate level, of the threshold standing and statutory violation issues raised by counts 1 and 2."

Defendants also moved to dismiss the entire complaint because plaintiffs lacked standing. The court dismissed counts I, III and IV with prejudice, but gave plaintiffs leave to replead count II. Plaintiffs elected to stand on the complaint. The court then dismissed the complaint with prejudice.

Because the court dismissed the complaint on the pleadings, we review the judgment de novo. Malanowski v. Jabamoni, 293 Ill. App. 3d 720, 725-26 (1997). We must determine whether the allegations of the complaint, interpreted in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, suffice to establish a cause of action. Ward v. Mid-American Energy Co., 313 Ill. App. 3d 258, 260 (2000). Even if the trial court reasoned erroneously, this court may affirm the judgment on any basis supported by the record. Rome v. Commonwealth Edison Co., 81 Ill. App. 3d 776, 779 (1980). For purposes of this appeal we assume that plaintiffs have standing to raise the claim that the county violated the Code.

Plaintiffs base their complaint on the central claim that the county violates sections 21-90 and 21-260 of the Code (35 ILCS 200/ 21-90, 21-260 (West 2000)) by making no-cash bids for properties at the city's behest, and by transferring the properties so acquired to the city for no monetary consideration. Section 21-90 provides:

"When any property is delinquent, or is forfeited for each of 2 or more years, and is offered for sale under any of the provisions of this Code, the County Board of the County in which the property is located, in its discretion, may bid, or, in the case of forfeited property, may apply to purchase it, in the name of the County as trustee for all taxing districts having an interest in the property's taxes or special assessments for the nonpayment of which the property is sold. *** The County shall apply on the bid or purchase the unpaid taxes and special assessments due upon the property. No cash need be paid. The County shall take all steps necessary to acquire title to the property and may manage and operate the property. ***

The County may sell or assign the property so acquired, or the certificate of purchase to it, to any party, including taxing districts. The proceeds of that sale or assignment, less all costs of the county incurred in the acquisition and sale or assignment of the property, shall be distributed to the taxing districts in proportion to their respective interests therein." 35 ILCS 200/21-90 (West 2000).

Plaintiffs argue that the transfers to the city leave no money for distribution to other taxing districts, like the Chicago Board of Education and the Cook County Forest Preserve District, and those taxing districts needed to impose higher taxes on plaintiffs to compensate for the revenue lost. In their opening brief plaintiffs argue that under the statute the county, as trustee for the taxing districts, must obtain cash consideration sufficient to cover costs and allow for some distribution to the taxing districts.

The Code expressly gives the county the option of either selling or assigning the property, and the city, as a taxing district, is expressly made a possible assignee. If we construe the statute to require a sale, the provision for assignment appears to be superfluous. We must construe statutes, where possible, to make every term meaningful. Eads v. Heritage Enterprises, Inc., 204 Ill. 2d 92, 105 (2003). The statute does not mandate any sale. Weitzman v. Cook County, 133 Ill. App. 3d 1013, 1017 (1985). The statute requires only apportionment of amounts received, if the county receives any amount for the properties acquired by no-cash bids. Weitzman, 133 Ill. App. 3d at 1017. Section ...


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