Cook County is facing a class action complaint accusing it of being too slow - or outright refusing - to issue property tax refunds owed to taxpayers who had won a break on their taxable value from the county's appeal board.
In a complaint filed Oct. 11 in Cook County Circuit Court, Winnetka resident John Mengel said Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas has “continuously refused to pay refunds from the next funds collected after final orders from the Property Tax Appeal Board, which would have resulted in tax refunds for taxpayers.”
Mengel said he contested the 2001 assessed valuation of his home through the firm of Thompson Coburn LLP, a matter resolved in his favor on Aug. 26, 2003, knocking almost $30,000 off his valuation, from $129,351 to $99,460. He said Pappas got word of that decision within 10 days, and should have paid him $5,100, plus interest, from her protest fund, but alleged that account “has not been funded since 1997.”
With the protest fund exhausted, Mengel continued, Pappas is supposed to issue refunds from the next round of money collected. Taxpayers can’t know when the money is available, he continued, or how many other property owners are awaiting their own refunds, putting the onus on the treasurer to automatically issue refunds.
Mengel, who paid his $22,073 tax bill on time, demanded his money via a refund application filed Oct. 23, 2015. He said he received an email telling him he’d missed his deadline to apply for the refund and offering no further steps. He said refund application processes are not permitted under the county’s property tax code for people who paid unauthorized assessments, and further that Pappas’ office used a seven-year limitation standard, which should have applied only to reviving court ordered judgments, not disbursement of refunds.
The class includes hundreds of individual members, according to Mengel’s complaint, which seeks a court order and declaratory relief. The complaint alleges unjust enrichment, violations of the equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment, as well as violations of the Illinois state constitution. In addition to class certification, Mengel seeks compensatory and punitive damages.
He also wants the court to determine if Pappas failed to issue refunds for reasons beyond the availability of funds; whether she concealed if refunds were due and set to “expire;” and if Mengel and class members suffered economic damages.
Class members, Mengel said, like him have “an immediate, absolute and unconditional right of possession in the refund payment as determined by the PTAB decision,” and Pappas’ refusal to pay “constitutes an unlawful, unauthorized and wrongful control” of the property owners’ money.
Mengel said mandamus compels Pappas to issue the refunds to those owed them prior to Jan. 1, 2006, as well as interest of 5 percent per year each property owner did not collect the money they were owed. He further said he believed the county treasurer would continue to refuse to issue the refunds without a court order compelling her to do so.
Representing Mengel in the matter, and serving as putative class attorneys, are the firms of Steven B. Pearlman & Associates and Edelman, Combs, Latturner & Goodwin LLC, both of Chicago.