Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 1:07-cv-01182-Michael M. Mihm, Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Evans, Circuit Judge.
ARGUED SEPTEMBER 16, 2010.
Before CUDAHY, ROVNER, and EVANS,Circuit Judges.
Raymond Heyde, the trustee of an entity called the Raymond R.S. Heyde Revocable Trust, holds title to residential property located in Tazewell County, Illinois. Heyde brought suit against five members of the Tazewell County Board of Review ("BOR"): Gary Pittenger, Lloyd Orrick, Joe Varda, Rob Paulin and Robert Kieser; as well as Kristal Deininger, acting Supervisor of Assessments, Jim Unsicker, temporary acting Supervisor of Assessments, and Richard Brehmer, Deer Creek Township Assessor ("the Assessors"). Heyde asserts that by setting his property's assessment at levels grossly disproportionate to its fair market value, the BOR and the Assessors deprived him of his equal protection rights, conspired to violate his equal protection rights, and retaliated against him for previously exercising his right to challenge assessments-all in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He sought, among other things, damages against the defendants.
The district judge granted the BOR's Rule 12(b)(6) motion, finding they had absolute immunity. The judge later dismissed the case without prejudice against the remaining Assessors. Citing principles of comity, he found that the case was premature because Heyde had not exhausted his available state remedies. The judge also denied Heyde's motion for reconsideration. Heyde now appeals.
Some might think that Tazewell County, Illinois, is an unlikely spot for a nasty dispute like the one in this case. The county, which is just south of Peoria, describes itself on its website as a "central Illinois community which combines city assets with the serene beauty and quiet countryside of rural living." But looks can be deceiving as Mr. Heyde's decision to go to war in federal court with eight of his fellow county residents is anything but serene and quiet.
In Tazewell County, the Township Assessor makes the initial assessment value of each property. According to Illinois law, the assessor shall assess "the property at 33a% of its fair cash value." 35 ILCS 200/9-155. If a resident is dissatisfied with an assessment, he is entitled to file a complaint with the BOR. "[T]he board of review upon application of any taxpayer or upon its own motion may revise the entire assessment of any taxpayer or any part of the assessment as appears to it to be just." 35 ILCS 200/16-30. The BOR may not increase the assessment without giving the taxpayer notice and an opportunity to be heard. 35 ILCS 200/16-25, -30, -55. The BOR has the power to "summon any assessor, deputy, or other person to appear before it to be examined under oath concerning the method by which any evaluation has been ascertained." 35 ILCS 200/16-10.
If, after the BOR has rendered its decision, the property owner remains dissatisfied, he may appeal the decision to the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board ("PTAB"). 35 ILCS 200/16-160. A hearing before the PTAB "shall be granted if any party to the appeal so requests." 35 ILCS 200/16-170. The PTAB may request the production of any material documents and issue subpoenas. Id, 35 ILCS 200/16-175. All PTAB decisions are subject to review by the state circuit courts, pursuant to Administrative Review Law and may be further ap-pealed through the state court system. 35 ILCS 200/16-195.
In the fall of 2003, Heyde received his 2004 notice of assessment. The BOR assessed his property at $207,270. Heyde filed a complaint with the BOR, challenging the assessment as exceeding 33a% of the property's fair market value. The BOR granted relief and decreased the assessment to $140,000.
In August 2004, Heyde received a notice which increased the assessment for 2005 to $149,850. Heyde again filed a complaint with the BOR. This time, the BOR declined to reduce the assessment.*fn1
In January 2005, Heyde hired an independent appraiser, who appraised his property at a fair market value of $435,000, which would result in an assessment of $145,000. In September 2005, Heyde received his 2006 notice of assessment. This time the assessment was set at $153,776. Yet again, Heyde filed a challenge with the BOR, submitting the independent appraiser's estimate as well as measurements of the house. In its June 1, 2006 decision, however, the BOR declined to reduce the assessment. Instead, the assessment was increased, very significantly, to $436,276. The huge jump in assessed value was apparently based on the belief that the house was much bigger than it was originally thought to be. The house on the property, which sits behind a locked gate and cannot be seen from any public way, was thought to include over 10,000 square feet of living space.
Following the BOR's June 1 decision, Richard Brehmer, the Tazewell County Assessor, reported the property's assessment at $458,860. Jim Unsicker, the acting Supervisor of Assessment for the county, mailed the 2007 notice of assessment to Heyde. In May 2007, Heyde again filed a complaint with the BOR. But the BOR af-firmed the $458,860 assessment.
For the subsequent tax years until 2009, the BOR refused to lower the assessment on Heyde's property. Heyde continued to file complaints with the BOR. The roadblock to resolving the dispute seems to be that Heyde, for several years, declined to allow anyone from the county onto his property to do an inspection. The BOR continued to affirm the assessment.
On July 5, 2006, before filing this action with the district court, Heyde appealed the BOR's June 1, 2006 decision to the PTAB. A PTAB hearing officer heard the case on May 4, 2009. By this time, Heyde had allowed the BOR onto his property and both Heyde and the BOR ...