On August 24, 2015 the Third District Appellate Court issued its Opinion in Hendricks v. Board of Trustees of the Police Pension Fund of the City of Galesburg. The Pension Board denied the plaintiff’s application for retirement pension benefits based on a finding that the plaintiff had been, or should have been, convicted of a service related felony. The trial court reversed the Pension Board’s decision. The Pension Board appealed. The appellate court affirmed the trial court.
The plaintiff pleaded guilty to 2 felonies (possession of cocaine and official misconduct) relating to his service as a police officer. The court sentenced the plaintiff to 30 months of TASC probation and 180 days in jail. However, the plaintiff’s conviction on the drug charge was not eligible for TASC probation. After the plaintiff completed his sentence and probation, pursuant to TASC, he filed a motion to vacate his convictions and to dismiss the criminal proceedings. Pursuant to agreement between the plaintiff and the state’s attorney, the court vacated the plaintiff’s convictions.
The Pension Board held a hearing on the plaintiff’s application. The plaintiff had notice but did not appear. The Pension Board found that the plaintiff was not eligible for TASC probation, that the sentencing order was void, and that the order vacating the plaintiff’s 1 felony conviction on the drug charge was also void. The Pension Board then denied the plaintiff’s application for retirement pension benefits finding that he was convicted of a service related felony.
The appellate court held that the de novo standard of review applied because the issue involved statutory interpretation. The appellate court rejected the Pension Board’s argument that the plaintiff forfeited his arguments because he failed to appear for his hearing. Rather, the appellate court held that the Pension Board discussed the issue thoroughly during the hearing and rendered a decision on the issue that forms the basis of the appeal.
The appellate court ultimately concluded that the plaintiff was not convicted for for purposes of the felony divestiture statute. The appellate court held that the plain language of the statute required that a person who “is convicted” is not entitled to a pension. However, because a court with proper authority had vacated the conviction, the plaintiff was no longer convicted and could receive his pension. The appellate court also held that the Pension Board lacked authority to challenge the sentencing order or order vacating the conviction in the criminal case. According to the appellate court, “the Board does not have the authority to judge the correctness of the trial court’s order.” The appellate court did not address the Pension Board’s public policy argument.
Chicago Tribune – Illinois Supreme Court To Quickly Hear Chicago Pension Appeal
On July 24, 2015 Cook County Circuit Court Judge Rita Novak issued a memorandum opinion and order holding that Public Act 98-0641 was unconstitutional. The law amended pension benefits for Chicago’s municipal and laborer pension funds. Illinois Supreme Court rule allows a direct appeal whenever a trial court determines that a federal or state law is invalid. In all likelihood, the Court will affirm Judge Novak’s decision.
On August 10, 2015 the Second District Appellate Court issued its Rule 23 Order in City of North Chicago v. Board of Trustees of the North Chicago Police Pension Fund. A police officer applied for a line of duty disability pension. The City intervened. The Pension Board then granted the police officer’s application for a line of duty disability pension. The City filed a complaint for administrative review. The trial court and the appellate court affirmed the Pension Board’s decision. Two of the Pension Board’s IME providers concluded the police officer was not disabled and one IME provider concluded the police officer was disabled. Two of the police officers treating physicians concluded the police officer was disabled.
The appellate court held that the Pension Board’s decision was not against the manifest weight of the evidence because the record contained evidence that supported the Pension Board’s decision. Three doctors concluded the police officer was disabled and that his disability resulted from the performance of an act of duty. The appellate court held that the City was essentially asking it to reweigh the evidence in contravention of the administrative review law. Furthermore, the appellate court rejected the City’s argument that the Pension Board had breached its fiduciary duty to the pension fund’s participants and beneficiaries.
On August 4, 2015 the Second District Appellate Court heard oral arguments in Krott v. Carol Stream Firefighters’ Pension Board. The Pension Board denied the plaintiff firefighters’ application for an occupational disease disability pension or a line of duty disability pension. The trial court affirmed and the plaintiff appealed. The issue is whether the plaintiff’s coronary artery disease resulted from or was incurred in the performance of an act of duty or from the cumulative effects of acts of duty. The record indicates that the plaintiff was overweight, smoked cigarettes, suffered from high blood pressure, suffered from high cholesterol, and had a family history of coronary artery disease. However, the plaintiff argued that notwithstanding these risk factors, the evidence supported a conclusion that the plaintiff’s fire service was a contributing cause to the development or progression of her coronary artery disease. The plaintiff argued that all the doctors in the case ultimately opined that the plaintiff’s fire service was a contributing factor and that the Pension Board’s decision was therefore against the manifest weight of the evidence.
On August 3, 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court granted the State’s motion in In re Pension Reform Litigation for an extension of time to file a writ of certiorari. The State therefore appears poised to appeal the Illinois Supreme Court’s opinion that the State pension reform law is unconstitutional. The State has until September 10, 2015 to file its writ of certiorari.
Crains Chicago Business – Supreme Court Gives Lisa Madigan More Time For Pension Appeal