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The Illinois supreme court cleans up some legal pollution

November 30, 2013 by in General

This decision is the Illinois Supreme Court’s review of an appellate court decision that was covered in an earlier post. See Appellate court disagreement about jurisdiction over pollution control certification dispute (12/22/2012). A two-justice majority of the appellate court panel held that the specific provisions of the Property Tax Code, not more general Environmental Protection Act provisions, governed jurisdiction over review of an Illinois Pollution Control Board decision. A taxing district appealed the decision, but under the Property Tax Code, only applicants had the right to seek judicial review so that the appellate 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.

The supreme court affirmed the appellate court’s dismissal of the appeal for lack of jurisdiction, but on entirely different reasoning. In the process, the court overruled a couple of other longstanding appellate court decisions, thereby cleaning up some legal pollution on the topic of appellate jurisdiction.

The supreme court first held that the Property Tax Code would provide no basis for jurisdiction over the district’s appeal because that statute authorizes appeals only by applicants for, or holders of, pollution control facility certificates who are aggrieved by the Board’s decision. The district clearly did not fall within those categories and, in any event, such appeals must be brought in the circuit court.

Only the Environmental Protection Act would allow the district to take appeal of the Pollution Control Board directly to the appellate court. If the district did not have a right to appeal under that statute, then the appellate court would have no jurisdiction. The district argued that it was a party adversely affected by a Pollution Control Board decision – one of the categories of persons who may take appeal to the appellate court. However, the supreme court concluded that the district could not qualify as a matter of law because existing law provides that only an actual party of record to the Pollution Control Board proceeding is a “party” as the term is used in the Environmental Protection Act, and the district was not a party of record because it was denied leave to intervene (which the district challenged on appeal). There was a loose end, however, in the form of an earlier appellate court decision (Reed-Custer Community Unit School District No. 255-U v. Pollution Control Board, 232 Ill. App. 3d 571 (1992)) that used the Environmental Protection Act as a basis to exercise appellate jurisdiction over a taxing district’s appeal of a Pollution Control Board decision – exactly what the supreme court said in this case cannot be done. And so, the supreme court overruled that decision to the extant that it is inconsistent with the holding in this case.

The court then turned to the dissenting appellate justice’s position that the matter might fall within the provision of the Environmental Protection Act that permits an appeal by any person who filed a complaint upon which a hearing was denied. That contention, the supreme court stated, is “without merit” because the district did not file a “complaint,” but only a petition for leave to intervene. According to the supreme court, there “is no meaningful sense in which a petition to intervene can be considered a complaint.” That, unfortunately, left another loose end. A prior appellate court decision (Citizens Against the Randolph Landfill (CARL) v. Pollution Control Board, 178 Ill. App. 3d 686 (1988)) held the opposite but the supreme court overruled it as “untenable.”

Final score: 1 decision affirmed on other grounds, 2 decisions overruled.

Board of Education of Roxana Community School District No. 1 v. Pollution Control Board, 2013 IL 115473.

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