Justice DELORT delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.
¶ 1 Real estate taxes in Illinois are paid annually — not for the current year, but for
¶ 2 BACKGROUND
¶ 3 The facts are generally undisputed. The defendant, Teachers' Retirement System of the State of Illinois (TRS), an agency of the State of Illinois,
¶ 4 At closing, TRS issued a warranty deed to Lechner, asserting that it conveyed good title subject only to taxes which were not yet due and payable, and to some other exceptions not relevant here. The 2002 title insurance commitment stated that taxes for 2000 and "prior years" were "marked exempt on the [county] collector's warrant book," and that "[s]atisfactory evidence should be furnished to [the title insurer] showing that the subject land is entitled to said exemption." Lechner later obtained a mortgage on the property from codefendant BankFinancial.
¶ 5 Real estate owned by governmental bodies is not automatically exempt from property tax. Governmental bodies must demonstrate to the county board of review and the Illinois Department of Revenue (DOR) that their property is exempt because all property of the particular government is automatically exempt regardless of use, or the property is used for governmental purposes. 35 ILCS 200/16-70, 16-95(1), 16-115 (West 2010). Time delays in this process often force the governmental body to pay the taxes and seek a refund later when its exemption is finally approved, which is what occurred here.
¶ 6 In 1993, TRS had applied to the DOR for an exemption of the subject property
¶ 7 In 2005, the Cook County assessor issued certificates of error (see 35 ILCS 200/14-15 (West 2010)) reducing the taxes on the property for the three years in question to zero. In 2007, based on those certificates of error, the Cook County treasurer issued three tax refund checks to TRS, one for each of the tax years at issue, totaling $138,353.24.
¶ 8 In 2012, 10 years after buying the property, Lechner received a notice of sale and redemption rights, commonly known as a "Take Notice" form (see 35 ILCS 200/22-5 (West 2010)), stating the property had been sold for delinquent taxes to a tax buyer by the name of "AAA Funding, Inc." The notice stated that the owner had until July 9, 2012, to redeem the property from the sale by paying taxes, interest, penalties, and costs totaling over $277,000. The allegedly delinquent taxes were for 1992, 1995, and 1996, all years during which TRS had owned the property. Lechner's title insurer, codefendant Chicago Title Insurance Company (CTIC), paid AAA $70,000 for an assignment of its certificate of title.
¶ 9 In 2012, Lechner, CTIC, and BankFinancial
¶ 10 TRS moved to dismiss the amended complaint under section 2-619 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-619 (West 2010)). TRS's motion essentially contended that the taxes for the property were never delinquent at all. In doing so, TRS implied that the various county officials involved in the taxing process erroneously listed the property on the list of delinquent parcels subject to judicial sale through some sort of clerical error.
¶ 11 The trial court issued a written opinion granting the motion and dismissing the case with prejudice. The court found that TRS was not unjustly enriched to plaintiff's detriment because it had actually paid the real estate taxes at issue and that it rightfully kept the refund checks issued pursuant to the certificates of error. The trial court dismissed the remaining declaratory judgment count on the same basis, finding that "[a]s TRS has done nothing wrong, there is no basis on which to order TRS to pay anything to plaintiffs." This appeal followed.
¶ 12 ANALYSIS
¶ 13 TRS's motion to dismiss did not cite which subsection of section 2-619 it was based on, but the trial court found, as do we, that it is properly classified as being brought under section 2-619(9), which allows dismissal if "the claim asserted against defendant is barred by other affirmative matter." 735 ILCS 5/2-619(9) (West 2010). When ruling on a motion to dismiss under section 2-619, a court must accept all well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences from those facts in favor of the nonmoving party. Coghlan v. Beck, 2013 IL App (1st) 120891, ¶ 24, 368 Ill.Dec. 407, 984 N.E.2d 132. As a result, a motion to dismiss should not be granted unless it is clearly apparent that no set of facts can be proved that would entitle the plaintiff to recovery. Id. Section 2-619 motions present issues of law which we review de novo. DeLuna v. Burciaga, 223 Ill.2d 49, 306 Ill.Dec. 136, 857 N.E.2d 229 (2006).
¶ 14 Lechner suggests there are issues of fact precluding resolution of the case on a section 2-619 motion, and that the documents TRS submitted with the motion are irrelevant. The documents of which Lechner complains are all governmental records of which the court can take judicial notice. Ill. R. Evid. 803(8), (14) (eff. Apr. 26, 2012). Lechner does not dispute the authenticity of these documents and they are certainly relevant to the issues presented. As noted above, however, the record does not explain how the records of three different county officials point to completely different answers regarding whether the property was taxable. Lechner argues that the trial court's ruling deprived it of the chance to get to the bottom of that mystery and "ascertain the truth as to how the property was sold at auction."
¶ 15 It is indeed strange that county officials would still list the property on the delinquent tax roll and sell it for back taxes even after receiving a DOR exemption ruling, issuing certificates of error,
¶ 16 With those principles in mind, we turn to whether the court below properly dismissed the second amended complaint. Our supreme court has noted:
The trial court relied strongly on the certificate of error and the refund checks to find that the taxes had been paid. Like the court below, we believe the amended complaint should be dismissed, but employ a different analysis to reach that result.
¶ 17 Under the doctrine of unjust enrichment, a plaintiff must show that the defendant has "unjustly retained a benefit to the plaintiff's detriment, and that defendant's retention of the benefit violates the fundamental principles of justice, equity, and good conscience." HPI Health Care Services, Inc. v. Mt. Vernon Hospital, Inc., 131 Ill.2d 145, 160, 137 Ill.Dec. 19, 545 N.E.2d 672 (1989). Unjust enrichment is not an independent cause of action. Martis v. Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Co., 388 Ill.App.3d 1017, 1024, 329 Ill.Dec. 82, 905 N.E.2d 920 (2009). Rather, it is a remedy for "unlawful or improper conduct as defined by law, such as fraud, duress or undue influence" (internal quotation marks omitted) (Alliance Acceptance Co. v. Yale Insurance Agency, Inc., 271 Ill.App.3d 483, 492, 208 Ill.Dec. 49, 648 N.E.2d 971 (1995)), or, alternatively, it may be based on contracts which are implied in law (Perez v. Citicorp Mortgage, Inc., 301 Ill.App.3d 413, 425, 234 Ill.Dec. 657, 703 N.E.2d 518 (1998)). However, this theory is inapplicable when an express contract, oral or written, governs the parties' relationship. Id.
¶ 18 Even though there may be an issue of fact regarding whether the property was taxable, there is no dispute regarding: (1) the language of real the estate sale contract; and (2) the fact that the county refunded taxes to TRS which it had paid in the first instance. We find that unjust enrichment is not available as a remedy here because there was a written contract governing the payment of the taxes.
¶ 19 In the declaratory judgment count of the second amended complaint, Lechner seeks a determination that TRS is responsible to pay Lechner for all future expenses related to the allegedly delinquent property tax expenses. Because the contract absolves TRS of responsibility for these expenses, the declaratory judgment count falls along with the unjust enrichment count.
¶ 20 CONCLUSION
¶ 21 For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the order of the circuit court dismissing the second amended complaint.
¶ 22 Affirmed.
Justices HOFFMAN and CUNNINGHAM concurred in the judgment and opinion.