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Rare Lawsuit filed in Federal Court Challenging Property Tax Assessments

Property Tax Publications

Last week a lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois by a group of seven Cook County taxpayers challenging the time it has taken to adjudicate their claims in the Cook County Circuit Court. The lawsuit is brought, in part, under the Tax Injunction Act, a federal statute allowing a taxpayer to challenge a state or local tax in federal court when the remedy in state court does not provide for a ‘plain, speedy and efficient remedy.’ 

The taxpayers have been contesting their real estate assessments in the Cook County Circuit Court for more than ten years. For over a decade, they have been arguing in state court that their constitutional rights have been violated by an assessment process that departs from the requirements of the Cook County Classification Ordinance and the Illinois Constitution. Now, they are alleging in federal court that the Cook County Court has bogged down due in part to the County’s destruction of records and that only the federal courts can provide them with an appropriate remedy. You can review the complaint by clicking here.

It is highly unusual for a state court property tax dispute to migrate to federal court. Overwhelmingly the federal courts have declined jurisdiction of state and local tax matters. Only when the state court remedy denies the plaintiff a plain, speedy and efficient remedy will the federal courts consider a case. We expect that the County defendants will move to dismiss this lawsuit, and if they are successful, the case will continue in the Circuit Court.

The named defendants in this suit are Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas and outgoing Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios. The taxpayers are claiming total damages of more than $27.0 million. The properties involved are in Bridgeview, Calumet City, Niles, Northbrook, Rolling Meadows, and Rosemont.