PAMINDER S. PARMAR, Appellee,
LISA MADIGAN, Attorney General, et al., Appellants.
JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.
Chief Justice Karmeier and Justices Freeman, Thomas,
Kilbride, Garman, and Burke concurred in the judgment and
1 Plaintiff, Paminder S. Parmar, individually and as executor
of the estate of Surinder K. Parmar, filed a complaint in the
circuit court of Du Page County against defendants, the
Attorney General and the Treasurer of the State of Illinois,
challenging the application and constitutionality of an
amendment to the Illinois Estate and Generation-Skipping
Transfer Tax Act (Estate Tax Act) (35 ILCS 405/1 et
seq. (West 2014)) and seeking a refund of all moneys
paid to the Treasurer pursuant to the Estate Tax Act. The
circuit court dismissed the complaint for lack of
jurisdiction, pursuant to the State Lawsuit Immunity Act (745
ILCS 5/0.01 et seq. (West 2014)). The appellate
court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. 2017 IL
App (2d) 160286.
2 We now reverse the judgment of the appellate court and
affirm the judgment of the circuit court.
4 On January 9, 2011, Dr. Surinder Parmar, a resident of Du
Page County, died, leaving an estate valued at more than $5
million. Her son, plaintiff here, was appointed executor of
the estate. At the time of Dr. Parmar's death, the estate
was not subject to taxation under the Estate Tax Act. Two
days after Dr. Parmar's death, however, the General
Assembly adopted a bill that revived the tax for the estates
of persons who, like Dr. Parmar, died after December 31,
2010. On January 13, 2011, the Governor signed the bill, and
the new law went into effect immediately. See Pub. Act
96-1496 (eff. Jan. 13, 2011).
5 In September 2012, plaintiff paid $400, 000 to the Illinois
Treasurer toward the estate's tax liability. The
following month, plaintiff filed the estate's Illinois
estate tax return and paid an additional sum of almost $160,
000 to the Treasurer for late filing and late payment
penalties, as well as interest. In April 2013, plaintiff
requested a waiver of penalties, which the Illinois Attorney
General granted in September 2013.
6 In July 2015, after a downward adjustment in the
estate's federal tax liability, plaintiff filed an
amended Illinois estate tax return. The "Certificate of
Discharge and Determination of Tax" issued by the
Attorney General on July 24, 2015, states that the
estate's tax liability, including interest and penalties,
had been paid and that the certificate was evidence of the
complete release of all estate property from lien imposed by
the Estate Tax Act and the discharge from personal liability
of the executor for the estate tax, penalties, and interest.
7 Shortly thereafter, plaintiff filed another amended return,
based on his belief that the amendment to the Estate Tax Act
did not apply to his mother's estate and no tax was due.
The disposition of this amended return is not evident in the
record, but on October 1, 2015, plaintiff filed a complaint
challenging the retroactivity and constitutionality of the
Estate Tax Act.
8 Plaintiff claimed that retroactive application of the
statutory amendment to the estates of persons who, like his
mother, died after December 31, 2010, but before January 13,
2011 (the effective date of the amendment), was contrary to
section 4 of the Statute on Statutes (5 ILCS 70/4 (West
2014)) and would violate the due process and takings clauses
of the Illinois and United States Constitutions, as well as
the ex post facto clause of the Illinois
Constitution. U.S. Const., amends. V, XIV; Ill. Const. 1970,
art. I, §§ 2, 15, 16. Plaintiff also claimed that
the amendment was adopted in violation of the three readings
clause of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art.
IV, § 8(d)) and that the vote on the amendment was
invalid because the General Assembly was given inaccurate
information about the estate tax scheme. Plaintiff requested
a declaration that the Estate Tax Act applies only to the
estates of persons who died on or after the effective date of
the amendment or that the Estate Tax Act is unconstitutional
for the reasons identified in his complaint. Plaintiff
expressly stated that he brought his declaratory judgment
action to "recover his payments" made pursuant to
the Estate Tax Act and requested a full refund of all moneys
he paid to the Treasurer, along with interest and "loss
of use." Finally, plaintiff sought certification of a
class of all similarly situated persons damaged by
application of the Estate Tax Act.
9 Defendants filed a combined motion to dismiss pursuant to
section 2-619.1 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735
ILCS 5/2-619.1 (West 2014)). Defendants first argued that the
complaint should be dismissed under section 2-619(a)(1) of
the Code (id. § 2-619(a)(1)) because the
circuit court lacked jurisdiction. Defendants maintained
that, because the complaint seeks a money judgment against
the State, it is barred under sovereign immunity principles
embodied in the State Lawsuit Immunity Act (745 ILCS 5/1
(West 2014)) and the complaint must be filed in the Illinois
Court of Claims. Defendants also argued that the complaint
should be dismissed under section 2-619(a)(9) of the Code
(735 ILCS 5/2-619(a)(9) (West 2014)) because the voluntary
payment doctrine bars recovery. Finally, defendants argued
that certain counts of the complaint should be dismissed
pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code (id. §
2-615) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be
10 In response, plaintiff argued that his suit was properly
brought in the circuit court because section 15 of the Estate
Tax Act (35 ILCS 405/15 (West 2014)) vests jurisdiction in
the circuit court to hear all tax disputes arising under the
Estate Tax Act. Plaintiff also argued that he was not seeking
payment from the State because his claim is not against the
General Revenue Fund. Rather, his claim is against the Estate
Tax Refund Fund, a special fund created under section 13 of
the Estate Tax Act (id. § 13(c)). Plaintiff
further argued that his complaint was not barred by the
voluntary payment doctrine because he made the tax payments
under "implied duress" created by the threat of
penalties imposed by the Estate Tax Act. Plaintiff also
defended the sufficiency of his constitutional claims.
11 The circuit court agreed with defendants that it lacked
jurisdiction and dismissed the complaint without prejudice to
refile in the Illinois Court of Claims. The court expressly
ruled that section 15 of the Estate Tax Act "is not an
explicit waiver of sovereign immunity."
12 The appellate court reversed and remanded for further
proceedings. 2017 IL App (2d) 160286, ¶ 42. Relying
principally on Leetaru v. Board of Trustees of the
University of Illinois, 2015 IL 117485, the appellate
court held that the officer suit exception to sovereign
immunity applied and jurisdiction in the circuit court was
proper. 2017 IL App (2d) 160286, ¶ 27. The appellate
court also held that plaintiff's claims were not barred
by the voluntary payment doctrine. Id. ¶ 40.
The court agreed with plaintiff that the prospect of
penalties, interest, and personal liability under the Estate
Tax Act amounted to duress and, therefore, plaintiff's
payment of taxes was not voluntary. Id. ¶ 35.
Finally, the appellate court held that, because plaintiff
paid the taxes involuntarily, he was not required to seek
recovery under the State Officers and Employees Money
Disposition Act (Protest Moneys Act) (30 ILCS 230/1 et
seq. (West 2014)). 2017 IL App (2d) 160286, ¶ 40.
Because the appellate court concluded that the circuit court
erred in dismissing plaintiff's complaint on grounds of
sovereign immunity, the appellate court did not consider
whether the legislature waived immunity in section 15 of the
Estate Tax Act (35 ILCS 405/15 (West 2014)). 2017 IL App (2d)
160286, ¶ 29.
13 We allowed defendants' petition for leave to appeal
(Ill. S.Ct. R. 315 (eff. Mar. 15, 2016)) and allowed the
Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois to file an
amicus curiae brief in support of defendants (Ill.
S.Ct. R. 345 (eff. Sept. 20, 2010)).
15 Defendants urge this court to reverse the appellate court
and affirm the circuit court's dismissal of
plaintiff's complaint, arguing that the officer suit
exception to sovereign immunity does not apply in this case.
Defendants argue in the alternative that even if sovereign
immunity does not apply in this case, dismissal of
plaintiff's complaint was proper under the voluntary
payment doctrine because the mere threat of statutory
penalties for nonpayment of taxes does not constitute duress.
Defendants further argue that plaintiff had a simple and
complete statutory remedy under the Protest Moneys Act and
plaintiff's failure to follow this statutory procedure
bars his claim.
16 Plaintiff argues that the appellate court correctly
concluded that this case presents a "textbook instance
of the officer-suit exception" to sovereign immunity
(2017 IL App (2d) 160286, ¶ 27) but that, even if the
exception does not apply, the General Assembly waived
sovereign immunity in section 15 of the Estate Tax Act (35
ILCS 405/15 (West 2014)). Plaintiff also argues that neither
the Protest Moneys Act nor the voluntary payment doctrine
bars his complaint where his payment of estate taxes was made
under duress and without knowledge of the facts upon which to
frame a protest.
17 Because questions related to the circuit court's
subject-matter jurisdiction and the interpretation of a
statute both present issues of law, our review proceeds
de novo. J&J Ventures Gaming, LLC v. Wild,
Inc., 2016 IL 119870, ¶ 25; see also
Leetaru, 2015 IL 117485, ¶ 41 (circuit
court's grant of a motion to dismiss for lack of
jurisdiction under section 2-619(a)(1) is reviewed de
18 Sovereign Immunity and the Officer Suit Exception
19 Under the Illinois Constitution of 1870, the State of
Illinois enjoyed immunity from suits of any kind. See Ill.
Const. 1870, art. IV, § 26 ("The state of Illinois
shall never be made defendant in any court of law or
equity."); see also Coleman v. East Joliet Fire
Protection District, 2016 IL 117952, ¶¶ 24-28
(discussing the origins and development of the sovereign
immunity doctrine). With the adoption of the Illinois
Constitution of 1970, however, sovereign immunity was
abolished in this State "[e]xcept as the General
Assembly may provide by law." Ill. Const. 1970, art.
XIII, § 4. In accordance with this constitutional grant
of authority, the General Assembly adopted the State Lawsuit
Immunity Act, reinstituting the doctrine of sovereign
immunity. See Pub. Act 77-1776 (eff. Jan. 1, 1972);
Leetaru, 2015 IL 117485, ¶ 42. This statute
"Except as provided in the Illinois Public Labor
Relations Act, the Court of Claims Act, the State Officials
and Employees Ethics Act, and Section 1.5 of this Act, the
State of Illinois shall not be made a defendant or party in
any court." 745 ILCS 5/1 (West 2014).
20 The Court of Claims Act (705 ILCS 505/1 et seq.
(West 2014)) creates a forum for actions against the State.
Healy v. Vaupel, 133 Ill.2d 295, 307 (1990). With
some limited exceptions, the Illinois Court of Claims
"shall have exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine
*** [a]ll claims against the ...