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Blanchard v. Berrios

Supreme Court of Illinois

December 1, 2016

PATRICK M. BLANCHARD, Independent Inspector General of Cook County, Appellee,
v.
JOSEPH BERRIOS, Assessor of Cook County, Appellant.

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

          OPINION

          FREEMAN JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 A Cook County ordinance obligates county officers to cooperate with investigations conducted by the Office of the Independent Inspector General (Inspector General) and to comply with subpoenas issued by the Inspector General. At issue in this appeal is whether that ordinance is constitutional as applied to Joseph Berrios, in his official capacity as the assessor of Cook County (the Assessor). The circuit court of Cook County determined that the ordinance is constitutional as applied to the Assessor and entered summary judgment granting declaratory and other relief in favor of the Inspector General. The appellate court affirmed. 2015 IL App (1st) 142857. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgment of the appellate court.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 In 2007, the Cook County Board of Commissioners (Board) created the Inspector General's office and invested it with certain duties. Cook County Code of Ordinances § 2-281 et seq. (approved July 31, 2007) (hereinafter the IG Ordinance). The stated purpose of the Inspector General's office is to "detect, deter and prevent corruption, fraud, waste, mismanagement, unlawful political discrimination or misconduct in the operation of County government." Id. § 2-283. To accomplish this stated purpose, the Inspector General's office is charged with investigating such wrongdoing in the operations of county government, including those of "separately elected County officials." Id. § 2-284(2). In the course of its investigations, the Inspector General's office may request information from and conduct interviews under oath with county officials and may issue subpoenas requesting documents or testimony that are enforceable in the Circuit Court of Cook County. Id. §§ 2-284(4), 2-286.

         ¶ 4 All county departments, employees, and elected officials have a duty to cooperate with investigations initiated by the Inspector General's office pursuant to the IG Ordinance. Id. § 2-285(d). It is a violation of the IG Ordinance to interfere with, obstruct, or attempt to interfere with or obstruct an investigation conducted by the Inspector General. Id. § 2-291(a)(2).

         ¶ 5 If an investigation by the Inspector General's office results in information indicating wrongful conduct, the Inspector General is obligated to "prepare confidential reports and make recommendations for corrective action." Id. § 2-284(5). Yet the ordinance does not authorize the Inspector General to implement any such recommendations or otherwise interfere with the operations of county departments, including those of separately elected officials, nor does it confer prosecutorial power on the Inspector General. In the event the Inspector General determines or suspects that possible criminal conduct has occurred, he or she is authorized "[t]o notify the State's Attorney or other appropriate law enforcement authority *** and to promptly tender to such authorities any evidence or information which has been obtained." Id. § 2-284(6).

         ¶ 6 In 2015, the Inspector General initiated an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the grant of two homeowner's exemptions to an employee of the Assessor's office. See 35 ILCS 200/15-175 (West 2014). As part of the investigation, the Inspector General sent a written request to the Assessor's office seeking information and documents relating to the homeowner's exemptions granted by the Assessor's office. The Assessor refused to provide the requested information and advised the Inspector General that the documents could be obtained by submission of a request under Illinois's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (5 ILCS 140/1 et seq. (West 2014)).

         ¶ 7 Thereafter, the Inspector General served a subpoena on the Assessor's office, seeking the documents that were the subject of the written request as well as the personnel file of the employee who received the exemptions. The Assessor objected to the subpoena based on the assertion that the Inspector General lacked authority to issue subpoenas to elected county officers such as the Assessor. In addition, the Assessor stated that the information and documents sought by the subpoena could be provided only in response to a FOIA request. The Inspector General subsequently served a second subpoena upon the Assessor's office, which was identical to the first in all respects except for the date. The Assessor again objected on the ground that the Inspector General lacked authority to subpoena information from elected county officers.

         ¶ 8 The Inspector General then brought an action against the Assessor seeking a declaratory judgment that the Assessor is obligated to cooperate with the Inspector General's investigation and to comply with the subpoena issued during the course of that investigation. The Inspector General also sought an order directing the Assessor to comply with the previously issued subpoena.

         ¶ 9 The Assessor did not dispute the factual allegations set forth in the Inspector General's amended complaint, and both parties moved for summary judgment on the legal question of whether the IG Ordinance's imposition of the duty to cooperate with the Inspector General's investigation and comply with subpoenas issued as part of an investigation is constitutional as applied to the Assessor. Upon consideration of the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, the circuit court determined that the ordinance is constitutional as applied to the Assessor. Accordingly, the court entered summary judgment in favor of the Inspector General and ordered the Assessor to produce the materials subpoenaed by the Inspector General.

         ¶ 10 The appellate court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court, holding that the Board validly exercised its home rule authority when it enacted the IG Ordinance and granted the Inspector General the power to investigate suspected misconduct by elected county officers and to issue subpoenas to aid in such investigations. 2015 IL App (1st) 142857, ¶¶ 11-13, 15, 18. The appellate court also rejected the Assessor's arguments that the provisions of the IG Ordinance infringed on the authority of the State's Attorney to convene grand juries and prosecute crimes. Id. ¶ 16. The Assessor filed a petition for leave to appeal (Ill. S.Ct. R. 315 (eff. Jan. 1, 2015)), which we granted.

         ¶ 11 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 12 As noted above, the circuit court entered summary judgment in favor of the Inspector General. Summary judgment is appropriate where "the pleadings, depositions, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." 735 ILCS 5/2-1005(c) (West 2014). The circuit court's ruling was based on the conclusion that the IG Ordinance does not violate the bounds of the county's authority under the 1970 Constitution. Our review of this legal determination is de novo. Village of Chatham v. County of Sangamon, 216 Ill.2d 402, 410 (2005).

         ¶ 13 On appeal, the Assessor asserts that the Board exceeded its constitutional authority by enacting the IG Ordinance, which imposed a duty on elected county officials to cooperate with an investigation by the Inspector General and to comply with subpoenas issued as part of such an investigation. The Inspector General argues that the circuit and appellate courts correctly held that enactment of the IG Ordinance was a proper exercise of the Board's constitutional authority.

         ¶ 14 In assessing the validity of a local ordinance, courts apply the same standards that govern the construction of statutes. Napleton v. Village of Hinsdale, 229 Ill.2d 296, 306 (2008). Like statutes, local ordinances are presumed constitutional, and the burden of rebutting that presumption is on the party challenging the ordinance's validity to clearly demonstrate a constitutional violation. Id. A reviewing court will uphold the constitutionality of an ordinance when reasonably possible. Id. at 306-07.

         ¶ 15 In this case, the Assessor's challenge of the validity of the IG Ordinance implicates sections 4(c), 4(d), and 6(a) of article VII of the Illinois Constitution and requires us to determine the scope and interrelationship of those sections as they relate to the ordinance. Ill. Const. 1970, art. VII, §§ 4(c), (d), 6. These determinations present questions of constitutional interpretation.

         ¶ 16 The interpretation of constitutional provisions is governed by the same general principles that apply to statutes. Walker v. McGuire, 2015 IL 117138, ¶ 16. In construing a constitutional provision, our primary goal is to ascertain and give effect to the common understanding of the citizens who adopted it, and courts look first to the plain and generally understood meaning of the words used. Id. " 'Where the language of a constitutional provision is unambiguous, it will be given effect without resort to other aids for construction.' " Id. (quoting Kanerva v. Weems, 2014 IL 115811, ¶ 36). If doubt as to the meaning of a provision exists after the language has been considered, it is appropriate to consult the drafting history of the provision, including the debates of the delegates to the constitutional convention. Id. It is also "proper to consider constitutional language 'in ...


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