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Golf Trust of America, L.P. v. Soat

January 18, 2005


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jo Daviess County. No. 00-TX-13. Honorable William A. Kelly, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McLAREN


Plaintiffs, Golf Trust of America, L.P., Eagle Ridge Land Development, LLC, and Eagle Ridge Lease Co., LLC (collectively, objectors), appeal from the order of the trial court entering judgment in favor of defendant, Carol A. Soat, treasurer and ex officio county collector of Jo Daviess County. We affirm.

Objectors own property commonly known as Eagle Ridge Inn and Resort in Jo Daviess County. Objectors paid all the extended real estate taxes on the subject property for 1999 but also filed an assessed valuation complaint for the year with the Jo Daviess County Board of Review, which reduced the assessed value from $6,000 per acre to $4,000 per acre. Objectors then filed a tax objection complaint in the trial court in November 2000 and subsequently sought to amend the complaint to include the 2000 and 2001 tax years, for which objectors also paid taxes and filed complaints. This proposed amendment was denied by the trial court. However, the trial court subsequently allowed objectors to proceed to trial on all three tax years. Following a bench trial, the trial court found in favor of Soat, and this appeal followed.

Objectors first contend that the trial court erred in its rulings regarding their request to admit facts, filed pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 216(a) (134 Ill. 2d R. 216(a)). Objectors served their request on the office of the State's Attorney of Jo Daviess County on May 13, 2002. The response was not delivered to objectors until June 15, 2002, 33 days later. According to Supreme Court Rule 216(c), matters of fact that are the subject of a request to admit are admitted if no response is served within 28 days. See 134 Ill. 2d R. 216(c). Objectors sought summary judgment and argued that all the facts contained in their request were admitted, as the response was not timely filed. The trial court allowed Soat's response to stand and later allowed amendment of the response. The court subsequently denied objectors' motion for summary judgment.

Objectors now argue that the trial court failed to enforce Supreme Court Rule 216(c) by allowing Soat to file her response late and subsequently amend her response. We disagree. Section 23--15(a) of the Property Tax Code (Code) provides that, once a tax objection complaint is filed, "[n]o appearance or answer by the county collector to the tax objection complaint, nor any further pleadings, need be filed." (Emphasis added.) 35 ILCS 200/23--15(a) (West 2002). Objectors argue that section 23--15(a) is irrelevant because a response to a request to admit is not a pleading.

A pleading is defined as, "A formal document in which a party to a legal proceeding (esp. a civil lawsuit) sets forth or responds to allegations, claims, denials, or defenses." Black's Law Dictionary 1191 (8th ed. 2004). The purpose of a pleading is to present, define, and narrow the issues and limit the proof needed at trial. People ex rel. Fahner v. Carriage Way West, Inc., 88 Ill. 2d 300, 307 (1981). A pleading produces an issue asserted by one side and denied by the other so that a trial may determine the actual truth. Fahner, 88 Ill. 2d at 307-08.

There can be no doubt but that objectors' request to admit and Soat's response were pleadings. A request to admit seeks to compel the opposing party to respond to the factual allegations made in the request-to either admit or deny the allegations. The purpose of a request to admit is to establish some of the material facts in the case without the necessity of formal proof at trial. Szczeblewski v. Gossett, 342 Ill. App. 3d 344, 349 (2003). Such a request is not designed to produce evidence but to limit the issues at trial and withdraw admitted facts from contention. Ellis v. American Family Mutual Insurance Co., 322 Ill. App. 3d 1006, 1010 (2001). Because a response to a request to admit is a pleading, Soat was not required, pursuant to section 23--15(a), to file a response. In the absence of a requirement that a response be filed, we cannot conclude that any response that was filed was untimely and would invoke the strictures of Supreme Court Rule 216(c). We find no error here.

Objectors next contend that the subject parcels were improperly reassessed in 1999. According to objectors, 1999 was not a general assessment year for the subject property and there was nothing to require a reassessment in a non-general-reassessment year.

In a county with fewer than 3 million inhabitants, an assessor may in any year revise and correct an assessment "as appears to be just." 35 ILCS 200/9--75 (West 2000). This court has previously held that an assessor does not have the authority to revise or correct; such an adjustment can be made only to cure an incorrect assessment from the quadrennial year or to reflect changes made to the property. See Albee v. Soat, 315 Ill. App. 3d 888, 891 (2000). Objectors argue that the 1998 assessment was correct; therefore, there was no valid basis for the 1999 reassessment, as there was nothing to be corrected. Objectors' brief cites mainly to the request to admit for "proof" of their allegation that the 1998 valuation of the subject parcels was correct and not in need of correction. However, we have already concluded that Soat was not required to respond to that pleading. Therefore, the late answer is not deemed an admission of that allegation. Furthermore, in her answer, Soat specifically denied that the 1998 assessed valuations were correct.

At trial, Nancy Miller, supervisor of assessments and chief county assessment officer of Jo Daviess County, testified that the general assessment year for the property in question was 1997. However, the Guilford Township assessor "was not doing any of his work," so the job of reassessing the Guilford Township properties fell to Miller and her staff. Miller published the assessments for 1997 but was unable to actually reassess all the properties, including those at issue here, until 1999. It was in 1999 that Miller discovered "a considerable amount" of improvements that had not been assessed before.

This testimony clearly shows that the 1999 reassessment was done to revise and correct the general reassessment that had not been completed by the township assessor. A trial court need not make any findings of fact, and the failure to make a specific finding is not grounds for reversal; instead, in reviewing a judgment, this court will assume that all issues and controverted facts were found in favor of the prevailing party. McMahon v. Chicago Mercantile Exchange, 221 Ill. App. 3d 935, 951 (1991). The question before us, then, is not whether the trial court made a specific finding, but whether its final determination is correct. McMahon, 221 Ill. App. 3d at 951. Here, the trial court's overruling of the tax objection, based upon Miller's testimony, is not against the manifest weight of the evidence; therefore, the 1999 reassessment was permissible pursuant to section 9--75 of the Code. We find no error here.

Objectors next contend that Soat failed to properly publish the list of assessments and that such failure "vitiates the tax resulting from the increase in assessed valuations." Section 12--10 of the Code (applicable to counties with fewer than 3 million inhabitants) requires that, in years other than years of general reassessment, the chief county reassessment officer must publish a list of property for which assessments have been added or changed since the preceding assessment. See 35 ILCS 200/12--10 (West 2000). For each property listed, the publication "shall include [among other things] *** the total amount of its assessment and how much of the assessment is attributable to the improvements on the property." 35 ILCS 200/12--25 (West 2000). Objectors argue that the publication of the assessments in this case failed to include the amounts attributable to improvements, thereby vitiating the tax.

In general, the statutory publication requirements of the Code are mandatory, not directory, and require strict compliance. See Andrews v. Foxworthy, 71 Ill. 2d 13, 19-23 (1978); People ex rel. Republican-Reporter Corp. v. Holmes, 98 Ill. App. 2d 11 ...

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