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Bettis v. Marsaglia

Supreme Court of Illinois

December 18, 2014

CAROLYN BETTIS, Appellant,
v.
CHARLES M. MARSAGLIA et al., Appellees

Page 352

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 353

Appellate court judgment reversed. Circuit court judgment reversed.

SYLLABUS

After an electoral board sustained objections to plaintiff's petition for a referendum on school bonds and plaintiff sought judicial review, the Election Code provision calling for service on the board was satisfied, and there was no lack of subject matter jurisdiction in the circuit court, where every board member was served individually, even though no relief could later be granted once the election was over--issue addressed in spite of mootness.

JUSTICE THOMAS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Chief Justice Garman and Justices Freeman, Kilbride, Karmeier, and Burke concurred in the judgment and opinion. Justice Theis dissented, with opinion.

OPINION

THOMAS, JUSTICE

Page 354

[¶1] Petitioner, Carolyn Bettis, filed a petition for judicial review of a decision of the Education Officers Electoral Board for North Mac Community Unit School District No. 34, Macoupin, Montgomery and Sangamon Counties (" School District" ) pursuant to section 10-10.1(a) of the Election Code (Code) (10 ILCS 5/10-10.1(a) (West 2012)). Objectors, Charles M. Marsaglia and Melissa M. O'Neal, filed a section 2-619(a)(1) (735 ILCS 5/2-619(a)(1) (West 2012)) motion to dismiss, arguing that the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because of petitioner's failure to comply with the procedural requirements of section 10-10.1(a). The circuit court of Macoupin County granted the motion to dismiss, and the appellate court affirmed (2013 IL App. (4th) 130145, 377 Ill.Dec. 428, 2 N.E.3d 344). We allowed petitioner's petition for leave to appeal, and we now reverse.

[¶2] BACKGROUND

[¶3] On November 28, 2012, the School District adopted a resolution declaring its intent to issue working cash bonds in the amount of $2,000,000. Petitioner Carolyn Bettis filed a petition with the School District, seeking to submit the proposition of issuing the bonds to the voters. The petition specified that the proposition should be submitted to voters at the " election to be held on the 9th day of April, 2013." Charles M. Marsaglia and Melissa O'Neal filed objections to the petition on seven separate bases, including that the petition sheets were neither numbered nor securely

Page 355

bound, as required by section 28-3 of the Election Code (10 ILCS 5/28-3 (West 2012)). Following a hearing, the electoral board sustained the objections that the petitions were neither numbered nor bound. The objectors then withdrew their remaining objections.

[¶4] Petitioner commenced an action for judicial review in the circuit court. The caption of the petition identified only objectors Marsaglia and O'Neal as opposing parties. Nevertheless, in addition to serving a copy of the petition for judicial review on objectors, petitioner served, by certified mail, all three members of the electoral board, counsel for the electoral board, counsel for the objectors, and the North Mac District Secretary. On February 5, 2013, the defendants moved to dismiss the petition, arguing that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction because petitioner had failed to name and join as parties the Education Officers Electoral Board and its members. The circuit court granted the motion and dismissed the complaint.

[¶5] The appellate court affirmed the dismissal. The court first noted that the appeal was moot because the election had already passed. However, the court found that the case qualified for review under the public interest exception to the mootness doctrine. 2013 IL App. (4th) 130145, ¶ ¶ 10-11. The court agreed with petitioner that section 10-10.1(a) of the Election Code clearly spells out the jurisdictional requirements for judicial review of an electoral board decision, and that naming necessary parties is not one of these requirements. Thus, petitioner's failure to name the electoral board as a party in her petition did not require the court to dismiss the petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Id. ¶ 18. Nevertheless, the appellate court agreed with defendants that, although petitioner served all three members of the electoral board, her failure to serve the electoral board as a separate legal entity required the dismissal of her petition. Id. ¶ 26. On this basis, the court upheld the circuit court's dismissal of the petition. Id. ¶ 27. We allowed petitioner's petition for leave to appeal. Ill. S.Ct. R. 315 (eff. July 1, 2013).

[¶6] ANALYSIS

[¶7] On appeal, petitioner argues that she complied with section 10-10.1(a)'s requirement that she serve the electoral board when she served every member of the board. She contends that duplicate service on the board as a separate legal entity is not necessary. By way of cross appeal, defendants argue that: (1) the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the petition failed to name the electoral board and did not contain any portion of the electoral board's written decision; and (2) the electoral board's decision must be affirmed because the complaint admits that the petition pages were not numbered and, according to two witnesses, were not bound.

[¶8] Before proceeding to the merits of the appeal, we must address defendant's argument that we should dismiss the appeal as moot. A case on appeal becomes moot where the issues presented in the trial court no longer exist because events subsequent to the filing of the appeal render it impossible for the reviewing court to grant the complaining party effectual relief. Jackson v. Board of Election Commissioners, 2012 IL 111928, ¶ 28, 975 N.E.2d 583, 363 Ill.Dec. 557 The conclusion of an election cycle generally renders an election contest moot. Id. ¶ 43. There is no question that all of the issues raised in this appeal are moot. Petitioner's petition sought to submit a proposition to voters at the April 9, 2013, election, and that date has long since passed.

Page 356

[¶9] Nevertheless, one exception to the mootness doctrine allows a court to resolve an otherwise moot issue if the issue involves a substantial public interest. Wisnasky-Bettorf v. Pierce, 2012 IL 111253, ¶ 12, 965 N.E.2d 1103, 358 Ill.Dec. 624. The criteria for invoking the public interest exception are that: (1) the question presented is of a public nature; (2) an authoritative resolution of the question is desirable for the purpose of guiding public officers; and (3) the question is likely to recur. Jackson, 2012 IL 111928, ¶ 44. When the public interest exception is invoked, the court must examine each of the issues to see which ones qualify for resolution under that exception. See In re Christopher K., 217 Ill.2d 348, 360-63, 841 N.E.2d 945, 299 Ill.Dec. 213 (2005).

[¶10] We hold that petitioner's issue and one of the two cross-appeal issues qualify for resolution under the public interest exception. One of defendants' cross-appeal issues is that the electoral board's decision may be affirmed on the basis that petitioner's petition pages were neither numbered nor securely bound. This is merely a case-specific, factual issue, for an election that has long since passed. Consequently, it does not meet the criteria of the public interest exception.

[¶11] By contrast, the other two issues--whether a party must serve both the election board as an entity and all of the members of the board, and whether a party must name the electoral board and attach the board's decision--meet all three criteria of the public interest exception. As we noted in Jackson, questions relating to election law are inherently a matter of public concern. Jackson, 2012 IL 111928, ¶ 44. Moreover, the fact that these issues have already arisen in several cases and generated conflicting answers, indicates that the issues will continue to arise until this court resolves the conflict.[1] For that reason, an authoritative decision from this court to guide the lower courts is desirable.

[¶12] Petitioner argues that the circuit court erred in dismissing her petition for judicial review. According to petitioner, she complied with the statutory requirement that she serve the electoral board when she served every member of the board. For two reasons, our review of this issue is de novo. Review of the granting of a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction is de novo. People v. Philip Morris, Inc., 198 Ill.2d 87, 94, 759 N.E.2d 906, 259 Ill.Dec. 845 (2001). Further, resolving this particular issue requires us to construe section 10-10.1(a), and issues of statutory construction are reviewed de ...


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