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Peraica v. Riverside-Brookfield High School District No. 208

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division

October 31, 2013

ANTHONY PERAICA and TAXPAYERS UNITED OF AMERICA, Plaintiffs-Appellants and Cross-Appellees,
v.
RIVERSIDE-BROOKFIELD HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 208, Defendant-Appellee and Cross-Appellant.

Held [*]

Plaintiff’s second amended complaint alleging that defendant school district violated the Property Tax Code, the Election Code and several provisions of the United States Constitution and the Illinois Constitution by using public funds in electioneering in favor of an affirmative vote on a referendum for a tax increase was properly dismissed on the ground that plaintiffs did not allege any recognizable violation of their constitutional rights; furthermore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the school district’s request for attorney fees.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, No. 11-CH-15422; the Hon. LeRoy K. Martin, Jr., Judge, presiding.

Anthony J. Peraica, of Anthony J. Peraica & Associates, Ltd., of Chicago, appellant pro se.

J. Todd Faulkner, William R. Pokorny, and Scott R. Metcalf, all of Franczek Radelet P.C., of Chicago, for appellee.

JUSTICE EPSTEIN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Howse and Justice Lavin concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

EPSTEIN JUSTICE

¶ 1 Plaintiffs, Anthony Peraica and Taxpayers United of America, appeal the circuit court of Cook County's decision to dismiss, pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2010)), their second amended complaint against defendant Riverside-Brookfield High School District No. 208. Plaintiffs had alleged that defendant violated state laws, i.e., section 18-115 of the Property Tax Code (35 ILCS 200/18-115 (West 2010)) and section 9-25.1 of the Election Code (10 ILCS 5/9-25.1 (West 2010)), as well as "the 1st, 9th and 14th Amendment rights of the plaintiffs as guaranteed under the United States Constitution and under the parallel provisions of the Illinois Constitution of 1970 (Article I, §§ 2, 4, 5 and 24), " article III, section 3, of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. III, § 3), and the guarantees of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 (42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2000)). Defendant cross-appeals the circuit court's order denying its request for attorney fees pursuant to section 1988 of the Civil Rights Act (42 U.S.C. § 1988 (2000)). For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

¶ 2 BACKGROUND

¶ 3 For purposes of our review of the ruling on defendant's motion to dismiss, where the legal sufficiency of the complaint has been attacked, we accept as true the allegations in plaintiffs' second amended complaint. See Imperial Apparel, Ltd. v. Cosmo's Designer Direct, Inc., 227 Ill.2d 381, 384 (2008); River Park, Inc. v. City of Highland Park, 184 Ill.2d 290, 293 (1998). The relevant facts, however, are not in dispute.

¶ 4 Defendant placed a referendum on the ballot for the April 5, 2011 consolidated general election, apparently seeking voter approval to increase defendant's property tax limiting rate. The referendum was defeated. However, on April 26, 2011, plaintiffs filed a three-count verified petition for expedited declaratory, injunctive, and other relief against defendant and its members. Plaintiffs alleged, among other things, that defendant and its members proceeded with the referendum knowing that it was misleading and understated the amount of the property tax increase, and that they engaged in illegal electioneering to promote an affirmative vote on the referendum. After defendant and its members moved to dismiss plaintiffs' original complaint, plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed the named school board members. Plaintiffs subsequently filed a three-count first amended complaint against defendant on September 9, 2011, again seeking declaratory, injunctive, and other relief.

¶ 5 On October 19, 2011, defendant filed a motion to dismiss. On March 2, 2012, the trial court granted defendant's motion and dismissed counts I and II with prejudice. Count III, which alleged a violation of civil rights, was dismissed without prejudice.

¶ 6 On March 30, 2012, plaintiffs filed their second amended complaint, asserting a single claim seeking redress for violations of their constitutional rights. Among other things, plaintiffs alleged that defendant failed to "provide a fair and reasonable approximation of the property tax increase" in violation of the Property Tax Code. Plaintiffs also contended that defendant engaged in "election interference prohibited under the Election Code and in violation of the natural and civil rights of the plaintiffs by engaging in activities at public expense to promote an affirmative vote on the referendum." Plaintiffs alleged that these activities included, among other things, "producing and distributing leaflets in support of the referendum" and "electioneering activities calculated to discourage opposition to [the] referendum and to promote an affirmative vote thereon." In paragraph 12 of the second amended complaint, plaintiffs alleged that defendant violated section 9-25.1 of the Election Code (10 ILCS 5/9-25.1 (West 2010)) (entitled Election interference) by using public funds to support an affirmative vote on the referendum by:

"a. telling students to circulate 'volunteer' forms to other students during school hours, to sign-up students for pro-referendum literature blitzes and campaign activity;
b. allowing a pro-referendum group to use public resources such as tables, chairs, official publications and the like at school events on school grounds and inside the school building seeking support for the referendum from district residents;
c. hosting, on the school football field[, ] a student gathering and rally in support of an affirmative vote on the referendum;
d. providing student photos, taken by the district photographer, to a pro-referendum group for its use in pro-referendum flyers and other campaign literature;
e. producing a pro-referendum television spot for the school's cable television station RBTV urging an ...

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