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In re Application of County Treasurer

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Second District

July 24, 2019

In re APPLICATION OF THE COUNTY TREASURER AND ex officio COUNTY COLLECTOR OF LAKE COUNTY ILLINOIS, for Judgment and Order of Sale Against Real Estate Returned Delinquent for the Nonpayment of General Taxes and Special Assessment for the Year 2014 and prior years Fina IP, LLC, Petitioner-Appellee, Lake County Treasurer, Respondent-Appellant

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. 18-TD-5 15-TX-1 Honorable Michael B. Betar, Judge, Presiding.

          HUTCHINSON JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Schostok and Spence concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          HUTCHINSON JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 Respondent, the Lake County Treasurer (Treasurer), appeals the trial court's order granting a sale in error to petitioner, Fina IP, LLC (Fina), pursuant to section 22-35 of the Property Tax Code (Code) (35 ILCS 200/22-35 (West 2016)). The Treasurer contends that section 22-35 does not allow a tax purchaser to petition for a sale in error on the basis of a lien from a special district for unpaid usage fees. Because section 22-35 does not include special district liens, we determine that the legislature did not intend to allow them as a basis to petition for a sale in error, and we reverse the trial court's decision.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 Because there is no record of the underlying proceedings, the following facts are derived from the limited common-law record and the parties' agreed statement of facts pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 323(d) (eff. July 1, 2017).

         ¶ 4 On November 14, 2015, the Lake County Collector conducted a tax sale on a single-family home located at 2022 Honore Avenue in North Chicago (the property). On November 16, 2015, Fina successfully purchased the property for the taxes, interest, penalties, and costs for 2014. Thereafter, Fina obtained, and has since held, the certificate of sale for the property.

         ¶ 5 On January 26, 2018, approximately five months before the end of the redemption period, Fina petitioned the trial court to direct the Lake County Clerk to issue Fina a tax deed to the property if the property were not redeemed. In the alternative, if the court found that Fina was not entitled to a tax deed for failing to comply with the Code, Fina requested a refund of the taxes it paid at the tax sale.

         ¶ 6 Fina provided notice of the tax sale, the redemption period, its petition for a tax deed, and future court dates to several interested individuals and entities, including the North Shore Water Reclamation District (District), formerly known as the North Shore Sanitary District. See 70 ILCS 2305/4 (West 2016) (providing the District's board of trustees with the authority to change the name of the District). The North Shore Water Reclamation District Act identifies the District as a "municipal corporation." Id. The District provides wastewater-treatment services to the property and the surrounding area and has deemed itself a "municipal body" on its website. The District received notice because it filed a lien on the property on December 16, 2014, now totaling $1143.95, for unpaid usage fees owed to it by the then-owner of the property. The owner did not redeem the back taxes during the redemption period.

         ¶ 7 On May 30, 2018, Fina petitioned the trial court to declare a sale in error, because of the District's lien, pursuant to section 22-35 of the Code. Section 22-35 of the Code reads in its entirety:

"Reimbursement of a county or municipality before issuance of tax deed. Except in any proceeding in which the tax purchaser is a county acting as a trustee for taxing districts as provided in Section 21-90, an order for the issuance of a tax deed under this Code shall not be entered affecting the title to or interest in any property in which a county, city, village or incorporated town has an interest under the police and welfare power by advancements made from public funds, until the purchaser or assignee makes reimbursement to the county, city, village or incorporated town of the money so advanced or the county, city, village, or town waives its lien on the property for the money so advanced. However, in lieu of reimbursement or waiver, the purchaser or his or her assignee may make application for and the court shall order that the tax purchase be set aside as a sale in error. A filing or appearance fee shall not be required of a county, city, village or incorporated town seeking to enforce its claim under this Section in a tax deed proceeding." 35 ILCS 200/22-35 (West 2016).

         In its petition, Fina requested that the court order the Lake County Clerk to refund the amount that Fina paid, plus interest. Attached to the petition was a copy of the "Notice of Lien" filed by the District, although it is neither identified in the petition as an exhibit nor labeled as such.

         ¶ 8 On July 9, 2018, the Treasurer, through the Lake County State's Attorney, filed a response to Fina's petition, arguing that a sale in error based on the District's lien was not available to Fina. Specifically, the Treasurer argued that the District is not the type of public entity that falls under the municipal-lien provision in section 22-35, because it is not "a county, city, village or incorporated town," and that Fina was therefore not entitled to a sale in error under section 22-35.

         ¶ 9 Fina was granted leave to reply to the Treasurer's response. In its reply, Fina argued that there is no significant difference between a municipal corporation, like the District, and "a county, city, village or incorporated town," because landowners do not have a choice in their public sewer providers. Fina also argued that a failure to grant its petition for a sale in error would create an absurdity unintended by the legislature, ...


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