HEYDE v. PITTENGER (January 11, 2011)

Raymond Heyde owns residential property in Tazewell County, Illinois, just south of Peoria. In late 2003, Heyde received his 2004 tax assessment notice. He filed a complaint with the County Board of Review, asserting that the $207,000 assessment was too high (the proper assessment level is 33 1/3% of the property's fair cash value). The Board reduced the assessment to $140,000. He complained again after he received his 2005 notice, which increased the assessment to $149,000. The Board declined to reduce their assessment. The assessment went up again in 2006, to $153,000. Again, he complained and submitted a then-recent $435,000 property appraisal (which would result in a $145,000 assessment). The Board not only did not reduce the assessment, but increased it to $436,000 in a June 1, 2006 decision. Heyde continued to complain about his assessment each year -- the Board refused to budge. Heyde appealed the June 1 decision to the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board. Although the Appeal Board reduced the assessment, Heyde was still dissatisfied and has sought administrative review in state court. He also has additional appeals before the Appeal Board for subsequent years. In 2007, Heyde filed a § 1983 action against the members of the Board and the County Assessors. He alleged that the defendants deprived him of equal protection rights, conspired to deprive him of his equal protection rights and retaliated against him for exercising his lawful challenge rights. Judge Mihm (C.D. Ill.) concluded that the members of the Board had absolute immunity and dismissed the complaint as to them. He dismissed without prejudice as to the Assessors based on principles of comity on the grounds that Heyde had not exhausted state remedies. Heyde appeals.

In their opinion, Seventh Circuit Judges Cudahy, Rovner, and Evans affirmed. Addressing first case against the Board members, the Court noted that absolute immunity does apply to a quasi-judicial adjudicatory body when it acts in a capacity functionally equivalent to that of a judge or prosecutor. It does not, however, apply to administrative or ministerial acts. Relying on the Board’s statutory authority and the Court’s own precedent, the Court concluded that Board members were entitled to absolute immunity. They fit neatly within the factors identified by the Supreme Court in Butz. The Court turned to the claims against the Assessors. In McNary, the Supreme Court held that challenges to state tax systems must occur within the state’s courts, with final review in the Supreme Court. A § 1983 action is therefore not the proper vehicle. The Court rejected Heyde's argument that the Illinois system failed to meet the "plain, speedy and efficient" exception to the McNary rule. The Court recognized the delays inherent in the Illinois system but concluded (not for the first time) that they were not enough to avoid McNary.