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John J. Moroney & Co. v. Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division

December 12, 2013

JOHN J. MORONEY AND COMPANY, Petitioner
v.
ILLINOIS PROPERTY TAX APPEAL BOARD, an Illinois Administrative Agency, THE COOK COUNTY BOARD OF REVIEW; SUMMIT SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 104; and ARGO COMMUNITY HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 217, Respondents.

Petition for Review of an Order of the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board. Docket Numbers: 05-26920.001-I-3 through 05-26920.002-I-3

Justices Lavin and Epstein concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

HOWSE, PRESIDING JUSTICE

¶ 1 In this appeal, John J. Moroney & Co. (Moroney) appeals the Property Tax Appeal Board's (PTAB) decision affirming the Cook County board of review's (board of review) finding that Moroney's property was not entitled to a property tax assessment reduction in 2005. Because Moroney requested an assessment reduction in excess of $300, 000 before the PTAB, direct administrative review is afforded in this court pursuant to section 16-195 of the Property Tax Code (35 ILCS 200/16-195 (West 2008)), and, therefore, we have jurisdiction to decide this appeal now before us.

¶ 2 On appeal, Moroney argues that the board of review has a policy of granting reductions for vacant property without requiring further evidence concerning market value and condition of the property. Moroney also claims that the PTAB abused its discretion by not allowing its witness to give an opinion that the Cook County assessor (assessor) and/or board of review has a policy of issuing assessments based on building vacancy without regard to the property's market value. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the PTAB's findings.

¶ 3 BACKGROUND

¶ 4 The property at issue here was owned by petitioner John J. Moroney & Co. and consists of two parcels of land totaling 133, 554 square feet located in Lyons Township in Cook County (collectively, the property). The property is improved with a one-story, 63, 840-square-foot masonry industrial building.

¶ 5 On March 15, 2005, Moroney vacated the property. The record indicates that Moroney moved to a different facility and placed the property at issue for sale. In November 2006, the property sold for $2.1 million.

¶ 6 In 2005, the assessor's office and board of review approved a tax assessment of $713, 627 for the property. Moroney subsequently filed a complaint seeking a reduction of the 2005 assessment based on vacancy, which the board of review denied. The board of review's stated reason for its "no change" finding was "failure to comply with the Cook County Board of Review rules and/or failure to provide evidence supporting a decrease."

¶ 7 It is undisputed that in the proceedings before the Cook County board of review, Moroney failed to comply with Rule 21 of the rules of the board of review. Rule 21 of the "Official Rules of the Board of Review of Cook County" states:

"if relief is being sought on the grounds of 'vacancy, ' the taxpayer shall file:
A. A Vacancy-Occupancy Affidavit: (Occupancy shall include all space actually occupied or for which rent is being paid or is payable, even though the space may be actually vacant) and
B. An affidavit setting forth the duration of, and reason for the vacancy, the attempts made to lease the vacant space with documents such as copies of listings and advertisements utilized in such efforts attached. If no such effort was made, the affidavit must set forth the reason no attempt to rent was made." Official Rules of the Board of Review of Cook County R. 21 (2004).

In the proceedings before PTAB, Moroney filed the second page of a vacancy affidavit which is not notarized. There is no affidavit in the record that comports with Rule 21 for the 2005 tax year.

¶ 8 Following the board of review's decision, Moroney initiated an appeal to the PTAB. Argo Community High School District No. 217 (District 217) and Summit School District No. 104 (District 104) requested to intervene in the appeal proceedings as taxing districts that have a revenue interest in the subject property, and the PTAB granted those requests.

¶ 9 While the appeal was pending, Moroney sought a reduction of its 2006 tax assessment based on vacancy. The assessor reduced Moroney's 2006 tax assessment from $713, 627 to $221, 912. This adjustment was calculated by using a lower assessment ratio of 36% and assessing the market value of the vacant property at its reduced value of $628, 773.

¶ 10 At the PTAB hearing on the 2005 assessment, the parties stipulated that the property at issue was vacant from April 2005 to December 2005. Following opening statements, Moroney called its first and only witness, Glenn Guttman. Respondents objected to Guttman testifying as an expert witness because no written report had been submitted prior to him testifying. Respondents further objected to Guttman giving any opinions regarding the policies or practice of the assessor or board of review because Guttman had never functioned in such a role. Ultimately, the hearing officer ruled that Guttman would be allowed to testify, but not as to the policies or procedures adhered to by the assessor or board of review in considering modifications to tax assessments. The hearing officer also indicated that Guttman was not testifying as an expert witness. Moroney never laid a foundation or offered Guttman as an expert witness at any time thereafter.

¶ 11 Guttman testified that he is a partner at a law firm who represents property-owning taxpayers. Over the course of his career, he has filed thousands of complaints with both the assessor and the board of review. In his experience, he has asked the assessor or board of review for relief based on a property's vacancy and he has received relief on that basis alone. In his opinion, it is common practice for the assessor and the board of review to grant relief based on a property's economic distress or obsolescence.

ΒΆ 12 In light of the hearing officer's ruling, Guttman's counsel interrupted Guttman's testimony to make the following offer of proof: "and I'll make an offer of proof that if [Guttman] was allowed to give an opinion, Mr. Guttman would be allowed to opine that this affidavit is, in his opinion, evidence that the Cook County assessor's ...


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