See Below for full details. Complete this form if you’d like to participate.
2018 cases must be received by Saturday, January 13, 2019.
2019 cases accepted at any time.
To Cook County Property Taxpayers:
Each year, Illinois law permits Cook County property taxpayers to challenge taxes they paid during the previous year. Such cases are referred to as “rate” cases because they challenge the amounts levied by particular government entities (like Cook County and the township, city/village, and/or school districts listed on your property tax bills), which eventually get translated into a “rate,” i.e., the percentage applied to “equalized assessed value” (or “EAV”) to determine the amount of property taxes you pay each year. Please note that “rate” objections are separate and distinct from any challenge to the assessed value of your property. Although large commercial properties routinely object to both assessed value and property tax rates, smaller commercial and residential owners frequently challenge only the assessed value. Later this week, Sperling & Slater will be filing a “rate” case on behalf of a group of Cook County property taxpayers. The case will be filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County, County Division, will name Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas as a defendant, will be defended by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, and will eventually be consolidated with dozens of similar “rate” cases. We anticipate filing similar “rate” complaints each year. If you wish to be included in this years’ “rate” case (and thereafter in subsequent “rate” cases), please complete the above form by no later than January 13, 2018 (the statutory deadline), with the following information:
- your name;
- address(es) for the Cook County property you own and wish to include in the rate litigation described herein;
- if possible, the property index numbers (or “PINs”) for your property (although we can look this up for you if the PIN(s) are not readily at your fingertips); and
- your phone number.
And even if you don’t respond until after January 13, 2018, we will include you in subsequent “rate” cases.
If you choose to participate in this “rate” case, you will not be responsible for reimbursement of our expenses or for any attorneys’ fees unless and until the objections we assert on your behalf are successful and provide you with some monetary benefit. In that case, we will deduct your pro rata portion of litigation expenses plus a one-third (1/3) contingent fee from any refund we secure on your behalf and will send you a check for the balance of the refund. Although our hope and expectation is that any collective refund will exceed our out-of-pocket expenses, you will not be responsible for expenses even if the “rate” case is unsuccessful.
We cannot predict with certainty how much, if any, property taxes will be refunded to you as a result of a particular “rate” objection. What we can say is that refunds will be distributed pro rata (according to assessed value) to all property owners who join in one of the dozens of separate rate lawsuits that get filed each year, and that you have to join the litigation by January 13 of each year in order to eventually receive your share of any refund for property taxes you paid the previous year. Refunds to smaller residential owners (i.e, those with an assessed value of $50,000 or less) may be no more than a few hundred dollars; refunds to much larger commercial and residential owners (i.e., those with an assessed value of $1,000,000 or more) would be proportionally higher and could run in the thousands of dollars per year. Critically, no amounts will be refunded to taxpayers who do not join the litigation, and Illinois law specifically prohibits class actions in this area. (Lawyers refer to this type of case as a “mass action” because each plaintiff has to be in at the beginning of the case, with no opportunity to join later.)
It is important that you understand that Sperling & Slater will NOT be challenging the assessed value of your property, have not advised you (and will not advise you) concerning the assessed value of your property, and urge you to retain separate counsel (if you haven’t already) to regularly challenge the assessed value of your property. As noted, such challenges to the assessed value are part of a separate and distinct process from “rate” objections, which challenge the levies, rates, and taxes you have paid (or will pay in the future).
Although we will update you concerning the progress of the rate litigation as regularly as circumstances warrant (and will attempt to do so at least annually), this type of litigation is complex and there is a serious backlog of cases. We understand, for example, that challenges concerning the property taxes paid in 2011 are just beginning to be actively litigated, and that not all of the objections concerning property taxes paid in 2006 have been fully resolved. Thus, the process can take years (sometimes ten years or more) to fully resolve, particularly if there are any trials and appeals. We will, of course, endeavor to move the “rate” cases along as expeditiously as possible, but wanted you to be aware of this possibly prolonged time frame.
If you agree to the terms of our retention (including the additional terms set forth below) by providing the information requested in 1.-4. above, we look forward to working on your behalf.
Adam P. Merrill
Sperling & Slater
55 West Monroe, Suite 3200
Chicago, IL 60603
Additional Terms of Retention Agreement
By sending an email (after receiving these proposed terms) that contains the information requested above, you are agreeing that your email constitutes a “writing signed” by you as a client and that the terms of this email (along with your email) constitute the terms of our retention, including with respect to the contingent fee provided for herein. In addition, you represent that you were the owner of record with respect to the property you identify and that you have previously paid at least some of the property taxes with respect to that property. Although we will annually assert rate objections with respect to the property you identify and you can terminate our retention at any time (see below), you agree to advise us if you sell any of the property you identify, do not pay any of the property taxes for the identified property in a given year, or if you otherwise cease to be responsible for paying Cook County property taxes with respect to that property.
- Contingent Fee and Expenses
As noted, we will not regularly charge you for attorney time expended or expenses incurred. Instead, we will represent you with respect to Cook County property tax objections pursuant to a contingent fee arrangement, and will be entitled to reimbursement of expenses and attorneys’ fees only if the objections we assert on your behalf are successful and lead to some payment, refund, reduction, abatement, or other quantifiable value, benefit, or relief. Specifically, by replying to this email and accepting our offer to represent you, you agree that Sperling & Slater shall (a) be reimbursed for any expenses it advances on your behalf, including your pro-rata portion of any collective expenses and (b) receive a contingent fee of one-third (1/3) of all moneys or value recovered or received, whether by settlement, arbitration award, judgment, or otherwise, as a result of our pursuit of objections concerning Cook County property taxes.
Please note that with respect to this type of litigation, we work with a coalition of law firms and a company that researches and prepares certain aspects of the objections we will file on your behalf. Your pro rata portion of any fees/expenses we pay up front for the objection research and/or to file the “rate” cases will be deducted from any recovery as described above. Moreover, we will be sharing some of the contingent fee described above with other lawyers and law firms who either referred you to us and/or that participate in the collective pursuit and/or management of the “rate” cases. In no event, however, will you be responsible for a total contingent fee that exceeds one-third of any gross recovery attributable to the property you identify.
Please note that we will pay any recovery with respect to your objections (net of advanced expenses and the 1/3 contingent fee) via check made out to the owner of record of your property and mailed to the property address (or the address you provide prior to the filing of any objections). If you no longer own the property at the time of the settlement (or if there is otherwise a question concerning who is entitled to your recovery), Sperling & Slater may, in its discretion, keep any recovery (net of advanced expenses and the 1/3 contingent fee) in an escrow account pending verification of who is entitled to the net recovery. You agree that we may employ any reasonable and fair process for determining to whom any net recovery should be paid, including through small claims court or binding arbitration, and that the reasonable fees and costs associated with such a process can be further deducted from the net refund.
As of the date we file any objection on your behalf and to the extent permitted by Illinois law, Sperling & Slater shall have an attorneys’ lien on any moneys or value recovered, received or payable by settlement, arbitration award, judgment, or otherwise pursuant to this agreement, and we may serve any documentation necessary to establish such a lien.
- Conflicts of Interest Disclosure and Waiver
As described herein, our representation of you pursuant to this retention agreement is limited to your objections to Cook County property taxes. Please note that Sperling & Slater represents (and has represented) hundreds of individuals and entities with respect to various corporate and litigation matters that are unrelated to your objections to Cook County property taxes. Moreover, as already noted, we will not only be challenging Cook County property taxes you paid, but will also be challenging Cook County property taxes paid by other clients.
Consistent with the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (“RPC”), we wanted to make sure you were aware of these potential conflicts and that we will not proceed with this representation unless you consent in writing in accordance with RPC 1.7(b). Notably, in cases where a law firm represents more than one client in a single matter, the rules governing lawyers’ professional responsibility and conflicts of interest require that we (1) explain the implications of a joint/collective representation and the advantages and risks involved, and (2) obtain the informed consent of each client participating in the joint/collective representation.
The primary advantage of joint/collective representation is an avoidance of duplication of legal work, which would lead to higher overall legal fees and expenses, along with the added fees and expenses that would come from retention of more than one firm. With respect to Cook County property tax objections, Sperling & Slater (and other law firms) would not pursue litigation on behalf of only one taxpayer because the recovery from such an objection would not justify the investment of attorney time and expenses that will be necessary to pursue any single objection. The primary disadvantage or risk is that at some point, your interests may diverge from the interests of other clients. To date, however, you have not identified any material divergence of interest, nor are we presently aware of any circumstance that would limit our ability to effectively represent you and other similarly situated clients. Please note that while collectively representing you and other clients, we cannot and will not advise you as to any matters upon which an actual conflict of interest develops.
To be clear, we do not presently believe this representation would be adverse to anyone we represent in the “same or a substantially related matter.” See RPC 1.9(a). Nor do we believe that this representation, if undertaken, would involve the use of any “information” we learned as counsel with respect to other matters in a way that is not permitted by the RPC. See RPC 1.9(c). Finally, we believe that we will be able to “provide competent and diligent representation” to you (and other similarly situated clients) with respect to rate objections and other clients with respect to unrelated matters, that this representation is not prohibited by law, and that this representation will not involve the assertion of “a claim by one client against another client represented by the lawyer in the same litigation or other proceeding.” See RPC Rule 1.7(b).
Nonetheless, to minimize the potential for future conflicts, you agree to notify us promptly of any material conflict of interest of which you become aware. And we will promptly advise you if we determine a conflict has developed or is developing. Moreover, if your interests subsequently diverge from the interests of any of our other clients during the course of our representation, further disclosure and waiver of the conflict, or our withdrawal from representing you or one or more of our other clients, could be necessary. Specifically, to the extent we become aware of any circumstance that would limit our ability to effectively represent you with respect to your objections to Cook County property taxes and represent any other Sperling & Slater client with respect to another matter or other clients with respect to objections to Cook County property taxes (or such a conflict subsequently arises), we may, after disclosure, terminate our representation of you, while continuing to represent other clients with respect to other matters and/or with respect to rate objections, provided our termination of your representation and continuing representation of other clients is otherwise consistent with our ethical obligations.
By executing this retention agreement, you confirm that you have been fully informed as to the nature of the potential conflicts that may arise as a result of our representation of other clients in other matters and as a result of our collective representation of Cook County property taxpayers; you have been provided a reasonable opportunity to seek the advice of independent counsel of your choice regarding these potential conflicts and waiver thereof; you waive any actual or potential conflict of interest created by our collective representation and consent to such collective representation; and you understand that a conflict may arise in the future that may require an additional disclosure and waiver by you, or, alternatively, withdrawal by Sperling & Slater of its representation of you.
- Termination of this Agreement
This agreement and our representation of you pursuant to this agreement may be terminated by us or by you at any time for any reason upon written notice. Specifically, with respect to our right to terminate, we may terminate this agreement and its representation of you for any reason, including, without limitation, our determination that pursuing objections concerning the Cook County property taxes that are the subject of this agreement will not result in a sufficient recovery to warrant the burden and expense of pursuing such objections. In this regard, we may determine in our sole discretion to terminate this agreement and our representation of you without filing certain objections/lawsuits with respect to certain tax years, or at any stage of any filed proceeding, including before mediation, arbitration, or trial; and, if the claims proceed to mediation, arbitration hearing, or trial, we may terminate this agreement without taking an appeal. In the event of termination by you (and if any objections concerning Cook County property taxes that are the subject of this agreement have not been resolved), any contingent fee compensation for objections later resolved shall be determined on a quantum meruit basis taking into account our contribution to the formulation, pursuit, and resolution of the objections and the terms of this agreement, including whether and to what extent we have advanced expenses.
- Choice of Law, Modifications to this Agreement, and Dispute Resolution
This agreement shall be construed, interpreted and enforced in accordance with the laws of the State of Illinois. The parties agree that any disputes arising under this agreement shall be brought exclusively in the state or federal courts located in Chicago, Illinois. In any litigation by which one party either seeks to enforce their rights under this agreement or seeks a declaration of any rights or obligations under this agreement, the prevailing party shall be awarded its reasonable attorneys’ fees and expenses.
This agreement may be modified with respect to “rate” cases not yet filed by subsequent email to you that includes the proposed changes to the agreement, which modifications shall become part of the agreement if you do not object to them in writing within 30 days’ thereafter.
In the event of ambiguity or unanticipated circumstances, this agreement is intended to be fair to all parties.