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Roxana Community Unit School District v. Wrb Refining

August 10, 2012

ROXANA COMMUNITY UNIT SCHOOL DISTRICT
NO. 1; WOOD RIVER-HARTFORD SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 15; EAST ALTON-WOOD RIVER COMMUNITY HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 14;
THE VILLAGE OF ROXANA; ROXANA COMMUNITY PARK DISTRICT; SOUTH ROXANA FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT; AND WOOD RIVER TOWNSHIP HOSPITAL DISTRICT, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
WRB REFINING, LP, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT,
AND THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY; THE POLLUTION CONTROL BOARD; AND THE DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE,
DEFENDANTS.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Sangamon County No. 12MR224 Honorable John Schmidt, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cook

JUSTICE COOK delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Steigmann and McCullough concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 In March 2012, plaintiffs, several Madison County taxing districts, filed a complaint for injunctive and declaratory relief against defendants, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Illinois Pollution Control Board (PCB), the Illinois Department of Revenue (DOR), and WRB Refining, LP. In relevant part, plaintiffs alleged the PCB's proceedings regarding the certification of pollution control facilities (see 35 ILCS 200/11-5 to 11-30 (West 2010)) violated the notice and openness requirements of the Open Meetings Act (5 ILCS 120/1 to 7.5 (West 2010)) and the PCB's enabling statute and sought an injunction prohibiting the PCB from conducting further meetings in violation of those statutes. Later that month, plaintiffs filed a motion for preliminary injunction. In April 2012, citing section 3(c) of the Open Meetings Act (5 ILCS 120/3(c) (West 2010)), the trial court granted a preliminary injunction against any future meetings of the PCB insofar as they pertained to plaintiffs' appearances before the PCB and WRB Refining's applications for the treatment of several improvements to its real property as pollution control facilities.

¶ 2 WRB Refining appeals, arguing, in relevant part, that the trial court erred because its injunction was not warranted. WRB Refining asserts the injunction is deficient in two related respects: (1) it uniquely affects the PCB's meetings concerning WRB Refining's petitions while allowing the PCB to continue allegedly violating the Open Meetings Act in other proceedings and (2) it prohibits all such meetings regardless of whether they comply with the Open Meetings Act. For these reasons, WRB Refining argues the preliminary injunction unfairly prejudices WRB Refining and does not advance the Open Meetings Act's goal of ensuring that all meetings of public bodies are open to the public.

¶ 3 We agree in part with WRB Refining that the scope of the preliminary injunction should be altered. Accordingly, we modify the injunction entered by the trial court so it more closely comports with equity and the intent of the Open Meetings Act by removing its restriction that it applies only to these parties' business before the PCB.

¶ 4 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 5 Plaintiffs are local taxing districts in Madison County that derive revenue from property taxes collected within their boundaries-namely, Roxana Community Unit School District No. 1; Wood River-Hartford School District No. 15; East Alton-Wood River Community High School District No. 14; Village of Roxana; Roxana Community Park District; South Roxana Fire Protection District; and Wood River Township Hospital District.

¶ 6 Defendant WRB Refining operates the Wood River Refinery in Madison County. The refinery is among the largest in the United States and is a significant source of property taxes for plaintiffs. For most of them, WRB Refining represents plaintiffs' single largest property taxpayer. In 2006, WRB Refining announced plans to renovate its refinery. According to plaintiffs, approximately $3.6 billion in improvements were made during the renovations, which were completed in 2011.

¶ 7 Beginning in 2010, WRB Refining sought the preferential tax treatment of about $3 billion in improvements as pollution control facilities under section 11-5 of the Property Tax Code (35 ILCS 200/11-5 (West 2010)). Pollution control facilities are assessed by the DOR, not the county taxing authorities. 35 ILCS 200/11-20 (West 2010). Their valuation is based on the fair cash value of their economic productivity to their owners rather than the fair cash value of the facilities themselves. Compare 35 ILCS 200/11-5 (West 2010) (pertaining to valuation of pollution control facilities), with 35 ILCS 200/9-145 (West 2010) (pertaining to general valuation procedures). To obtain the certifications, WRB Refining submitted about 60 applications to the EPA, covering each improvement that it believed qualified as a pollution control facility. See 35 Ill. Adm. Code 125.202 (2012). WRB Refining's applications asserted that the economic productivity of these improvements was of little or no value to WRB Refining. The EPA was responsible for making a recommendation to the PCB whether to grant each certification. 35 Ill. Adm. Code 125.204 (2012). It made favorable recommendations on several of WRB Refining's applications.

¶ 8 Upon the EPA's action, the PCB was responsible for ultimately deciding whether to certify WRB Refining's improvements as pollution control facilities. 35 ILCS 200/11-20 (West 2010). Plaintiffs discovered that WRB Refining's applications were included on the agendas of some "closed deliberative meetings" of the PCB through the PCB's Web site. Plaintiffs feared that the favorable property-tax treatment of WRB Refining's improvements, were they certified as pollution control facilities and assessed based on the values indicated in WRB Refining's applications, would deprive plaintiffs of significant revenues. They petitioned to intervene in 28 specific PCB proceedings involving WRB Refining's applications. The PCB denied plaintiffs' petitions, as well as their motions to reconsider. (Plaintiffs' consolidated petitions for administrative review in these 28 proceedings are pending before this court in case Nos. 4-12-0174 through 4-12-0201.) The PCB granted several of WRB Refining's applications that the EPA recommended for certification.

¶ 9 In March 2012, plaintiffs filed their unverified complaint in the instant case. In relevant part, they alleged the PCB's proceedings violated the Open Meetings Act and the PCB's enabling statute, the Environmental Protection Act (415 ILCS 5/1 to 7.5 (West 2010)). Specifically, plaintiffs alleged the PCB conducted unauthorized closed meetings to deliberate plaintiffs' intervention motions and the merits of WRB Refining's applications, scheduled closed meetings more than three months in advance, adopted invalid rules, allowed only PCB members or staff to speak at public meetings, and occasionally carried over agenda items from one meeting to the next. Plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment stating the PCB's proceedings violated the Open Meetings Act and the Environmental Protection Act and an injunction barring future meetings of the PCB in violation of those statutes. (Other counts pertaining to a Freedom of Information Act (5 ILCS 140/1 to 11.5 (West 2010)) request that plaintiffs submitted to the EPA and various constitutional challenges are not at issue on appeal.) Later that month, plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction. The assertions in their motion pertaining to the alleged Open Meetings Act violations were unverified-that is, they were not supported by an accompanying affidavit.

¶ 10 On March 30, 2012, the trial court held a hearing on plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction. The hearing was transcribed by a private court reporter hired by the parties. In its oral pronouncement following arguments, the court granted a preliminary injunction enjoining the PCB from holding any further meetings concerning "these plaintiffs and these defendants until we can get a resolution after a full hearing on the merits of this case in the very near future." The court stated, "[T]he only way to [address the court's concerns regarding future harm] is to put a freeze on this, to stop this process from moving forward." The written order in the corresponding docket entry states that the court granted plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction pursuant to section 3(c) of the Open Meetings Act (5 ILCS 120/3(c) (West 2010)), barring future violations of that act. The court specified in its docket entry that its ruling applied only to the PCB's activities concerning the named plaintiffs and the named defendants. That is, the injunction prohibited the PCB from considering either plaintiffs' motions to intervene in its proceedings or WRB Refining's applications for pollution control facility certifications at any future meeting until the court ruled on the merits of plaintiffs' case.

ΒΆ 11 This interlocutory appeal by WRB Refining followed. The governmental defendants did not ...


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