Illinois Supreme Court determines Illinois Pension Code does not provide for annual increases to surviving spouses
--Just more of an example of how screwed up this state is in matter of taking care of its public servants and their families--
On March 19, 2009, the Illinois Supreme Court issued its written opinion in the case of Roselle Police Pension Board v. Village of Roselle, Ill.2d , 2009 WL 711335 (2009). In Roselle, the court considered whether the surviving spouse of a Village of Roselle police officer was entitled to receive annual “cost of living” increases on the pension awarded to her following the death of her husband, who had been granted a “line of duty” disability pension and at the time of his death was receiving annual benefit increases based on having attained the age of 60.
Originally, the Roselle Police Pension Board found that Bonnie Gurke, the widow of deceased former police officer Charles Gurke, was entitled to the annual three-percent benefit increases her husband had been receiving at the time of his death. The Village, which intervened in the Board’s proceedings, disagreed and filed a petition for administrative review in the circuit court of DuPage County. The circuit court reversed the Board’s decision to grant Mrs. Gurke the annual increases, and the appellate court later affirmed the circuit court’s decision.
The Illinois Supreme Court granted the Board’s petition for leave to appeal, considering the question of annual benefit increases for surviving spouses. At issue was the language of Section 3-114.1(d) of the Illinois Pension Code, which states that disabled police officers who have been receiving “line of duty” disability pensions “for a period which, when added to the officer’s total service credit in the Fund, equals at least 20 years, shall be eligible to receive an annual noncompounded increase in his or her pension under this Section, equal to 3% of the original pension.” (40 ILCS 5/3-114.1(d)) This language, however, does not address the transfer of such eligibility for annual increases to surviving spouses upon the death of the disabled officer.
The Board argued that the language of Section 3-112(a) of the Illinois Pension Code, generally entitling surviving spouses to the pension benefits the disabled officer received before his death, allows spouses to “step into the shoes” of the officer for the purpose of receiving annual benefit increases under Section 3-114(d). The Illinois Supreme Court rejected this argument, finding that no provision of Article 3 of the Code expressly authorizes the continuation of annual benefit increases to surviving spouses, noting the contrast between Article 3 and numerous other articles of the Code which expressly grant the continuation of such increases to spouses or other survivors. The Court found this contrast important in holding that the continuation of annual benefit increases was not authorized under Section 3-114(d).
The Roselle decision distinguishes the 2003 Second District Court of Appeals decision in Sola v. Roselle Police Pension Board, 342 Ill.App.3d 227 (2nd Dist. 2003), which affirmed the award of annual increases to a surviving spouse on procedural grounds not related to the substantive interpretation of Section 3-114(d).
While the Roselle case involved a disabled police officer and Article 3 of the Code, which applies exclusively to police pensions, the decision also holds implications for firefighter pension funds as well. Similar to Article 3, Article 4 of the Code, which applies to firefighter pensions, does not expressly provide for the continuation of annual “cost of living” increases to surviving spouses. Therefore, the Illinois Supreme Court’s rationale in Roselle would likely extend to surviving spouse benefits under Article 4 should a firefighter pension board’s denial of such increases ever become subject to a legal challenge.
(Article from the website of OBKC&G, Ltd)