Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division
BARBARA R. MULRY, Plaintiff-Appellant,
JOSEPH BERRIOS, not Individually But in His Capacity as the Cook County Assessor; THE COOK COUNTY ASSESSOR'S OFFICE; and THE COOK COUNTY ASSESSOR'S OFFICE DEPARTMENT OF ERRONEOUS HOMESTEAD EXEMPTION ADMINISTRATIVE HEARINGS, Defendants-Appellees.
from the Circuit Court of Cook County, No. 14-COAC-000004;
the Hon. Sharon M. Sullivan, Judge, presiding.
White Boland Murnighan & Murray, LLC, of Chicago (Edmund
P. Boland and Michael J. Murray, of counsel), for appellant.
M. Alvarez, State's Attorney, of Chicago (Donald J.
Pechous, Elizabeth Novy, and Margarett S. Zilligen, Assistant
State's Attorneys, of counsel), for appellees.
JUSTICE McBRIDE delivered the judgment of the court, with
opinion. Presiding Justice Ellis and Justice Burke concurred
in the judgment and opinion.
1 In 2013, the General Assembly adopted the "Erroneous
homestead exemptions" section of the Property Tax Code
(Code) (35 ILCS 200/1-1 et seq. (West 2014)),
setting out procedures for the Cook County assessor's
office, once it has discovered that a property owner has been
erroneously granted a homestead exemption, to recoup unpaid
taxes and 10% annual interest and impose 50% penalties and
liens. See Pub. Act 98-93, § 5 (eff. July 16, 2013)
(adding 35 ILCS 200/9-275). A homestead is a property
taxpayer's primary residence and the legislature has
granted limited homestead exemptions from taxation to certain
groups, such as military veterans, senior citizens, and long
term occupants. See 35 ILCS 200/9-275(a) (West 2014). The
main question presented by Evergreen Park property owner
Barbara R. Mulry is whether the statute adopted in 2013
encompasses tax years 2010, 2011, and 2012. Mulry contends
the statute has been applied retroactively in violation of
the contract clause and due process guarantee of the state
and federal constitutions and that an administrative hearing
officer's decision in favor of tax assessment and 10%
interest is primarily based on computer records admitted into
evidence without adequate foundation.
2 In 2014, the Cook County assessor's office notified
taxpayer Mulry that she was not eligible to take homestead
exemptions for tax years 2010, 2011, and 2012 for 9135 South
Springfield Avenue, Evergreen Park, Illinois, 60805-1459. The
notice indicated Mulry was liable for unpaid taxes and annual
interest and that her property was subject to a lien. The
notice specified that Mulry owed $4188.60, consisting of
$1876.80 principal and $563.04 interest for tax year 2010,
$664.20 principal and $132.84 interest for tax year 2011, and
$865.20 principal and $86.52 interest for tax year 2012.
Mulry sought an administrative hearing to contest the
allegations of erroneous homestead exemptions, and the matter
proceeded to hearing on May 15, 2014.
3 At the hearing, Mulry objected to the admission into
evidence of computer printouts showing that she received a
homestead exemption for two different Illinois properties for
the three tax years at issue. After a brief continuance, the
assistant State's Attorney called Joseph Accardi, an
employee of the Cook County assessor's office, to
testify. Accardi testified that during the course of his
investigation into Mulry's exemptions, he printed records
from the assessor's database, that the printed records
proffered in the courtroom were kept in the normal course of
business at the Assessor's Office, and that he had
accessed them from the assessor's computer system by
logging in as an individual and then entering the PIN numbers
for both properties. Mulry objected to the sufficiency of
this foundation, but the hearing officer overruled the
objection. Accardi then testified that the documents showed
exemptions had been taken for both properties for the three
tax years at issue. Mulry waived cross-examination. The
assistant State's attorney moved to admit the documents
into evidence, and, over Mulry's objection, the hearing
officer admitted these documents, as well as others.
4 Mulry testified that she and her husband, Timothy P. Mulry,
have owned and resided for more than 30 years at 9139 South
Springfield Avenue, Evergreen Park, Illinois, 60805-1459,
which is next door to the property now at issue. Mulry
inherited the subject property, 9135 South Springfield
Avenue, from her widowed uncle, James Leo Brogan, who passed
away on September 23, 2001. She has never resided in her
uncle's former house and has rented it out more or less
continuously since her inheritance. Until she received the
assessor's notice in 2014, she was unaware her uncle had
a general homestead exemption in effect for his property.
Since her inheritance, she has not looked at any tax bills
and has merely signed checks that her husband has prepared to
pay the tax bills. Her husband has also prepared checks to
pay the taxes on their residence. Mulry tendered into
evidence documents substantiating her uncle's death and
her inheritance of the property title.
5 The assistant State's Attorney then argued the
proceedings established that Mulry took simultaneous
exemptions for the two properties and that the law entitled
her to an exemption only for her primary residence.
Mulry's attorney countered that the erroneous
homeowner's exemption statute was being improperly
applied. The hearing officer rejected Mulry's statutory
argument, found that the preponderance of the evidence was in
favor of the State of Illinois, and ruled that Mulry owed
6 Mulry sought review in the circuit court of Cook County,
and when those proceedings also concluded in the State's
favor, she sought this further review in the appellate court.
7 When a party appeals from the circuit court's decision
on a complaint for administrative review, we review the
decision of the administrative agency rather than the
decision of the circuit court. White v. Retirement Board
of Policemen's Annuity & Benefit Fund, 2014 IL
App (1st) 132315, ¶ 23, 18 N.E.3d 92. The Administrative
Review Law provides that our review of an administrative
agency decision shall extend to all questions of law and fact
presented by the record. 735 ILCS 5/3-110 (West 2014);
White, 2014 IL App (1st) 132315, ¶ 23, 18
8 Mulry first argues that the hearing officer's decision
is erroneous because it gives impermissible retroactive
application to the statute. She contends that the claimed tax
arrears for tax years 2010 through 2012 are all prior to
section 9-275's effective date of July 16, 2013 (Pub. Act
98-93, § 5 (eff. July 16, 2013)), and there is no
language in the statute indicating the General Assembly
intended for the law to apply to conduct occurring before its
enactment. Mulry contends her interpretation is supported by
the fact that the assessor's office did not implement
procedures for conducting section 9-275 hearings until
February 26, 2014. The State's Attorney responds that
Mulry misunderstands the significance of a statute's
effective date and that, under the analysis set forth in
numerous Illinois cases, it is permissible for the
legislation to be applied as it was written.
9 Mulry's argument is one of statutory interpretation,
which is a question of law we address de novo.
White, 2014 IL App (1st) 132315, ¶ 23, 18
N.E.3d 92; Branson v. Department of Revenue, 168
Ill.2d 247, 254, 659 N.E.2d 961, 965 (1995). The fundamental
rule of statutory construction is to determine and give
effect to the intent of the legislature. People ex rel.
Madigan v. Lincoln, Ltd., 383 Ill.App.3d 198, 205, 890
N.E.2d 975, 980 (2008). The language of a statute is the most
reliable indication of the legislature's objectives in
enacting the law. Lincoln, 383 Ill.App.3d at 205,
890 N.E.2d at 980-81. The language is to be given its plain
and ordinary meaning, all provisions of an enactment are to
be viewed as whole, and words and phrases are to be construed
in light of relevant provisions of the statute rather than in
isolation. Lincoln, 383 Ill.App.3d at 205, ...