Heyl Royster



Appellate Victory for Coles County


The firm recently received a ruling in favor of client Coles County in a published decision from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. In the underlying case, the plaintiffs filed a class-action complaint against Coles County in the U.S. District Court claiming that it had imposed a disproportionate tax (as compared to other similar properties in the County) on commercial and industrial parcels in Mattoon Township in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

The district court dismissed plaintiffs’ complaint based on the comity doctrine, which bars plaintiffs from asserting state tax claims in federal court as long as they have access to state remedies that are plain, adequate, and complete. Plaintiffs argued that they would be unable to obtain the injunctive relief they sought in state court. In affirming the dismissal, the Court of Appeals stated, “However, as Coles County points out, it would obliterate the doctrine if taxpayers could avoid the doctrine’s effect simply by alleging a claim for injunctive relief.” The court noted that equitable relief would be unavailable in any case because plaintiffs had an adequate remedy at law. The court concluded that “this is the exact type of case that the comity doctrine was meant to address.” Plaintiffs' remedy lied in the state’s existing tax appeal process, and then, if dissatisfied with result of said appeal, to appeal assessment to the Property Tax Appeal Board or to circuit court.

Craig Unrath and Jessica Sarff were attorneys of record for Coles County in the 7th Circuit. Keith Fruehling and Brian Smith were attorneys of record in the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. The case is Perry v. Coles County, No. 17-3615 (C.D. Ill. Oct. 11, 2018).