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Illinois Supreme Court Remands Carle Foundation Charitable Tax Exemption Case

Illinois Supreme Court Remands Carle Foundation Charitable Tax Exemption Case for Lack of Jurisdiction.
 
The Carle Foundation v. Cunningham Township, 2017 IL 120427 (March 23, 2017)
 
The Carle Foundation (Carle) is the owner of four parcels of land in Urbana that, prior to 2004, had been granted a tax exemption. The properties are used for the operation of Carle Foundation Hospital. In 2004, the Cunningham Township (Township) assessor terminated Carle’s exemption for the hospital parcels. Carle filed a multi-count action in the circuit court to seeking to establish that the parcels were tax exempt from real estate taxation for tax years 2004 through 2011. The circuit court granted Carle summary judgment on II of Carle’s complaint, finding the parcels qualified for the exemption under section 15-65 (a) of the Property Tax Code. In addition, the circuit court found that pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 304(a) there was no reason to delay enforcement of or an appeal from its decision. The appellate court reversed the circuit court’s judgment on constitutional grounds. Both parties appealed.
 
The Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether appellate jurisdiction existed in this case based on Rule 304(a), which provides that:
 
If multiple parties or multiple claims for relief are involved in an action, an appeal may be taken from a final judgment as to one or more but fewer that all of the parties or claims only if the trial court has made an express written finding that there is no just reason for delaying either enforcement or appeal or both.
 
The Supreme Court noted that where an order disposes only of certain issues relating to the same basic claim, such a ruling is not subject to review under Rule 304(a). It looked to whether the circuit court’s order granting Carle’s motion for summary judgment on certain counts disposed of a “claim” that was separate from and unrelated to Carle’s exemption claim, or whether it merely resolved one “issue” that was part of or ancillary to those claims. The Supreme Court concluded that the circuit court’s order granting Carle’s motion for summary judgment disposed not of a “claim” but an “issue” relating to a claim. Accordingly, that order was not appealable under Rule 304(a), and the appellate court lacked jurisdiction to review it.
 
The Supreme Court also addressed whether it should address the merits of the appeal, despite the lack of Rule 304(a) jurisdiction, as both Carle and the Township argued it should. The Supreme Court declined to do so, holding that neither Rule 304(a) nor the declaratory judgment statute was intended to facilitate piecemeal litigation.
 
The Supreme Court vacated the appellate court’s decision and remanded the case to the circuit court.