Hoffmann v. Clark

Decision Date12 December 1977
Docket NumberNo. 49012,49012
Citation14 Ill.Dec. 269,69 Ill.2d 402,372 N.E.2d 74
Parties, 14 Ill.Dec. 269, 98 A.L.R.3d 886 Paul W. HOFFMANN et al., Appellees, v. James H. CLARK, County Treasurer, et al., Appellants.
CourtIllinois Supreme Court

William J. Scott, Atty. Gen., Chicago, and J. Michael Fitzsimmons, State's Atty., Wheaton (George W. Lindberg, Paul J. Bargiel, Bonny Sutker Barezky, and Patricia Rosen, Asst. Attys. Gen., and Robert D. McLaren and Malcolm F. Smith, Asst. State's Attys., of counsel), for appellants.

Donovan, Atten, Mountcastle, Roberts & Da Rosa, Wheaton (Joseph A. Donovan, Keith E. Roberts, and Lloyd E. Dyer, Jr., Wheaton, of counsel), for appellees.

RYAN, Justice.

Plaintiffs, Paul W. Hoffmann and other owners of real property in Du Page County, filed an amended complaint for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief in the circuit court of Du Page County against certain county and State officials in which they alleged the unconstitutionality of sections 20a-1 through 20a-3 of the Revenue Act of 1939 (Ill.Rev.Stat.1973, ch. 120, pars. 501a-1 through 501a-3). In brief, those sections provide that upon application of the owner, and subject to certain conditions specified therein, real estate used for farming or agricultural purposes which has been so used for the three preceding years shall be valued for purposes of taxation on the basis of its use for farming or agriculture rather than its fair cash value, which is the basis upon which real estate is normally assessed under section 20 (Ill.Rev.Stat.1973, ch. 120, par. 501). When such use changes, the person liable for taxes on that real estate must pay the difference between the taxes actually paid in each of the three preceding years and the amount which the taxes for each of those years would have been had the real estate been assessed at its fair cash value, together with five percent interest on such difference. The trial court held each of the sections in question to be unconstitutional, and defendants have appealed directly to this court pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 302(a)(1) (58 Ill.2d R. 302(a)(1)).

Plaintiffs' suit involved the application of sections 20a-1 through 20a-3 to various parcels of real estate in Du Page County for the years 1972, 1973 and 1974. The three sections in question were added in 1971 and provide as follows:

"Sec. 20a-1. In all counties with a population of more than 200,000, in addition to valuation pursuant to Section 20, upon the filing of an application under Section 20a-2 by the person liable for the taxes on that real property, real property which is used for farming or agricultural purposes and has been so used for the 3 years immediately preceding the year when the assessment is made shall be valued on the basis of its fair cash value, estimated at the price it would bring at a fair, voluntary sale for use by the buyer for farming or agricultural purposes, but at a level not higher than that permitted by Section 4 of Article IX of the Constitution of the State of Illinois.

Sec. 20a-2. The person liable for taxes on real property used for farming or agricultural purposes must file a verified application requesting the additional valuation provided for in Section 20a-1, with the county assessor of the county where the real property is located, by January 1 of each year for which that valuation is desired. * * * If the application shows the applicant is entitled to the valuation under Section 20a-1, the county assessor shall approve it; otherwise, he shall reject the application.

When such an application has been filed with and approved by the assessor, the assessor shall determine the valuation of the real property described in the application on the basis of each of Sections 20 (fair cash value) and 20a-1 (fair cash value for farming) and shall list those valuations separately. * * *

When the real property described in any application filed under this Section is no longer used for farming or agricultural purposes, the person liable for taxes on that real property must notify the county assessor, in writing, of that fact.

Sec. 20a-3. The valuation determined under Section 20a-1 shall be used for each year for which application is made and approved under Section 20a-2 and in which the real property is used for farming or agricultural purposes. When the real property is no longer used for such purposes, the person liable for taxes on that real property shall pay to the county treasurer, by the following September 1, the difference between the taxes paid in each of the 3 preceding years as based on a valuation under Section 20a-1 and what those taxes for each of those years would have been when based on the valuation under Section 20, determined in compliance with Section 4 of Article IX of the Constitution of the State of Illinois, together with 5% Interest. If this difference is not paid by the following September 1, the amount of that difference shall be considered as delinquent taxes for the purposes of this Act. " Ill.Rev.Stat.1973, ch. 120, pars. 501a-1, 501a-2, 501a-3.

In 1973 section 20a-1 was amended, effective October 1, 1973, to apply to all counties rather than only those with populations of more than 200,000.

Plaintiffs' "Amended Complaint for Declaratory Judgment and Tax Injunction Relief" contained seven counts pertaining to various parcels of real estate which had been assessed at their value for farming purposes for 1972 and 1973 pursuant to approved applications by the respective owners. It was alleged that, in 1974, tax bills had been received indicating that additional taxes and interest thereon were due for 1972 and 1973 in accordance with the so-called "rollback" provisions of section 20a-3 as a consequence of alleged changes of use from agricultural or farming purposes. Plaintiffs prayed that sections 20a-1 through 20a-3 be held unconstitutional and void in that they violated the equal protection and due process clauses of the State and Federal constitutions and furthermore constituted a legislative classification of real estate for purposes of taxation in violation of section 4(b) of article IX of the Illinois Constitution of 1970. The trial court found the statute to be unconstitutional and ordered:

"1. That Chapter 120, Sections 501-a-1 through Sections 501-a-3 inclusive, Ill.Rev.Stat.1973 are ineffective, unconstitutional, void, and without force of law and that taxes assessed against the real property of the plaintiffs herein pursuant to said provisions are void and without force of law.

2. That the defendants herein and their successors are permanently restrained and enjoined from exercising any powers, rights, or duties respecting the enforcement of such provisions against the plaintiffs herein.

* * " th

The trial court did not specify the grounds on which it held the statute unconstitutional. Subsequent to the filing of defendants' notice of appeal, plaintiffs filed a petition in the circuit court requesting the court to clarify its prior judgment order so as to hold only the rollback provisions invalid. The trial court then entered what was apparently intended as a clarifying order, stating that its prior order "in no way bars the filing and processing of agricultural tax applications by the owners of real estate in Du Page County, Illinois pursuant to the provisions of Ill.Rev.Stat. C. 120, secs. 501-a-1 through 501-a-3." The supplemental order, entered subsequent to the filing of notice of appeal, was of no effect. City of Chicago v. Myers (1967), 37 Ill.2d 470, 227 N.E.2d 760.

Defendants argue that there was no jurisdiction in equity to contest the constitutionality of the statute, since the criteria for such actions as set forth in Illinois Bell Telephone Co. v. Allphin (1975), 60 Ill.2d 350, 326 N.E.2d 737, and Clarendon Associates v. Korzen (1973), 56 Ill.2d 101, 306 N.E.2d 299, were not met. They contend further that under the doctrines of waiver and estoppel plaintiffs should be barred from challenging the validity of a statute under which they voluntarily applied for and received benefits. With respect to the first contention, both Illinois Bell and Clarendon recognize that taxpayers may seek relief in equity where an act imposing a tax is attacked as unconstitutional in its entirety. Here, the gist of plaintiffs' suit is that the statute pursuant to which their real estate was taxed is unconstitutional and void, and we accordingly conclude that equity jurisdiction lies. Cf. La Salle National Bank v. County of Cook (1974), 57 Ill.2d 318, 312 N.E.2d 252.

The questions of waiver and estoppel are less easily resolved. It is apparent that plaintiffs have voluntarily elected to receive the benefits of the lower valuation for tax purposes on the basis of use of the property for farming or agriculture and are now attempting to avoid the burdens of the rollback provisions of that same statute. Defendants have cited several decisions of this court which applied the general rule that a person who voluntarily accepts the benefits of a statute will thereafter be precluded from challenging its validity unless questions of public policy or public morals are involved. (Edward P. Allison Co. v. Village of Dolton (1962), 24 Ill.2d 233, 236, 181 N.E.2d 151; Cochennet v. Ambrose (1961), 21 Ill.2d 520, 173 N.E.2d 454; Layton v. Layton (1954), 4 Ill.2d 241, 122 N.E.2d 531; Chicago & Eastern Illinois Ry. Co. v. Miller (1923), 309 Ill. 257, 140 N.E. 823.) In Arnett v. Kennedy (1974), 416 U.S. 134, 152-53, 94 S.Ct. 1633, 1643, 40 L.Ed.2d 15, 32, the United States Supreme Court cited various of its decisions in which it had "viewed skeptically the action of a litigant in challenging the constitutionality of portions of a statute under which it has simultaneously claimed benefits." We view plaintiffs' action in the same manner. However, application of the doctrines of waiver and estoppel in this case would preclude the determination of important questions of first impression affecting...

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