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Appellate court disagreement about jurisdiction over pollution control certification dispute

December 12, 2012 by in General

WRB Refinery submitted 28 applications to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency seeking certification of some of its properties as pollution control facilities under the Property Tax Code. The effect of such a certification is that the state assesses the property at a lower rate than the local assessor, resulting in a substantial reduction of revenue to local taxing bodies.

After the agency recommended that the Illinois Pollution Control Board grant the certification, one such taxing body, the local school district, sought to intervene before the board to contest the certification. Both the agency and WRB objected, arguing that the district had no authority to intervene in pollution control certification proceedings. After the board denied intervention, the district filed a petition for review of the denial directly to the appellate court. The district asserted that the Environmental Protection Act grants jurisdiction for immediate appeal to the appellate court.

Two of three justices on the appellate panel disagreed with the district based upon their interpretation of the Environmental Protection Act and the Property Tax Code. The Environmental Protection Act provides that any person who filed a complaint on which a hearing was denied or any person adversely affected by a final determination of the board may appeal directly to the appellate court. The Property Tax Code provides that an “applicant or holder” aggrieved by the board’s refusal to issue a pollution control certificate may appeal the decision to the circuit court pursuant to the Administrative Review Law.

The two-justice majority held that the specific provisions of the Property Tax Code, not the more general Environmental Property Act provisions, govern jurisdiction. Under the Property Tax Code, only applicants have the right to seek judicial review. Accordingly, the court held that it had no jurisdiction over the district’s appeal and dismissed it.

Justice Appleton filed an extensive dissent, taking the position that the Environmental Protection Act vests jurisdiction in the appellate court. His analysis of the statutory language and purposes led to his conclusion that complaints such as those at issue in the case concern both the Property Tax Code and the Environmental Protection Act. As such, the jurisdictional provisions of both are equally applicable.

Moreover, Justice Appleton discerned no necessary conflict between the two statutes. He found that the general jurisdictional provisions of the Environmental Protection Act ordinarily control, but the Property Tax Code creates an exception for appeals by applicants and holders. Thus, under the dissent’s analysis, applicants and holders must seek judicial review in the circuit court (pursuant to the Property Tax Code), while others must appeal to the appellate court (pursuant to the Environmental Protection Act).

Board of Education of Roxana Community Unit School Dist. No. 1 v. Pollution Control Board, 2012 IL App (4th) 120174-U.

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