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Bueker v. Madison County

Supreme Court of Illinois

December 1, 2016

SCOTT BUEKER et al., Appellants,
v.
MADISON COUNTY, ILLINOIS, et al. (RLI Insurance Company, Appellee).

          JUSTICE KILBRIDE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Freeman, Thomas, Garman, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          Chief Justice Karmeier took no part.

          OPINION

          KILBRIDE JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 The issue in this appeal is whether plaintiffs, as private citizens, are proper claimants on a statutorily mandated, public official bond issued by RLI Insurance Company (RLI), as surety, to the Madison County Treasurer and Collector under section 3-10003 of the Counties Code (55 ILCS 5/3-10003 (West 2014)) and section 19-40 of the Property Tax Code (35 ILCS 200/19-40 (West 2014)). The circuit court of Madison County granted RLI's motion to dismiss a portion of plaintiffs' class action complaint involving plaintiffs' claim against RLI, pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2014)). The circuit court determined that plaintiffs were not proper parties to seek redress directly against the public official bond, and the appellate court affirmed (2015 IL App (5th) 140473-U). We agree and hold that plaintiffs, as private citizens, are precluded from making claims on the statutorily mandated, public official bond at issue in this case. We therefore affirm the judgments of the appellate court and the circuit court of Madison County dismissing plaintiffs' claim against RLI.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 Plaintiffs brought this action in their own interest and on behalf of a purported class of similarly situated persons to recover damages resulting from an alleged scheme to inflate the interest rate delinquent property taxpayers in Madison County, Illinois, were compelled to pay to those who purchased delinquent taxpayer debt. The alleged conspiracy scheme was perpetrated by the former Madison County Treasurer and Collector, Fred Bathon, who purportedly agreed with certain defendants to manipulate the delinquent tax purchasing system. The result of this scheme was that taxpayers who were delinquent in paying their Madison County real estate taxes were required to pay the maximum allowable interest to the purchasers of their tax debt to discharge the liens and redeem their real estate properties. The purchasers of the tax debt, in turn, allegedly provided financial support to Bathon.

         ¶ 4 Plaintiffs brought suit against those involved in the scheme, as well as Madison County. Plaintiffs also brought suit directly against defendant, RLI, the entity acting as surety on Bathon's statutory public official bond required as the Madison County Treasurer and Collector. See 55 ILCS 5/3-10003 (West 2014) (stating the bond form requirements for the county treasurer); 35 ILCS 200/19-40 (West 2014) (stating the bond form requirements for the county collector). The bond named Bathon, the elected "County Treasurer/County Collector, " as the bonded principal and "Madison County Government" as the named obligee. The bond issued by RLI specifically stated:

"KNOW ALL MEN BY THESE PRESENTS:
That we, Fred Bathon, as Principal, and RLI Insurance Company, a corporation duly licensed to do business in the State of Illinois, as Surety, are held and firmly bound unto the Madison County Government in the penal sum of One Million Dollars ($1, 000, 000) to the payment of which sum, well and truly to be made, we jointly and severally bind ourselves and our legal representatives firmly by these presents."

         ¶ 5 RLI moved to dismiss plaintiffs' claim against it pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2014)). RLI argued that plaintiffs are not proper claimants under the terms of the public official bond or under the statutes that require its procurement. The circuit court granted RLI's motion to dismiss with prejudice and entered an order pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 304(a) (eff. Feb. 26, 2010), finding no just reason to delay enforcement or appeal. The appellate court affirmed. 2015 IL App (5th) 140473-U. This court allowed plaintiffs' petition for leave to appeal pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 315 (eff. Jan. 1, 2015).

         ¶ 6 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 7 Plaintiffs' claim against RLI was dismissed pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2014)). A section 2-615 motion to dismiss challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint based on defects apparent on its face. Marshall v. Burger King Corp., 222 Ill.2d 422, 429 (2006). Our review of an order granting or denying a section 2-615 motion to dismiss is de novo. Marshall, 222 Ill.2d at 429. "In reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint, we accept as true all well-pleaded facts and all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from those facts." Marshall, 222 Ill.2d at 429. The allegations of the complaint will be construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and a cause of action should not be dismissed "unless it is clearly apparent that no set of facts can be proved that would entitle the plaintiff to recovery." Marshall, 222 Ill.2d at 429.

         ¶ 8 Here, the circuit court dismissed plaintiffs' claim against RLI, holding that the plaintiffs were not proper claimants under the public official bond. As the appellate court aptly noted, the issue in this case is not whether RLI will ultimately be liable under the public official bond. Rather, the issue is whether plaintiffs have standing to pursue RLI directly under the bond.

         ¶ 9 Public official bonds are instruments "by which a public officer and a secondary obligor undertake to pay up to a fixed sum of money if the public officer does not faithfully discharge the duties of his or her office." Restatement (Third) of Suretyship and Guaranty § 71 cmt. c (1996). Illinois statutes require county treasurers and county collectors to execute public official bonds before taking office. 55 ILCS 5/3-10003 (West 2014); 35 ILCS 200/19-40 (West 2014). The statutory public official bond issued by ...


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