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Saipe v. Pub. Sch. Teach. Pen. & Ret. Fund

OPINION FILED MAY 27, 1986.

FLORENCE SAIPE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS' PENSION AND RETIREMENT FUND OF CHICAGO ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County: the Hon. James C. Murray, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE QUINLAN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

This is an appeal from a judgment of the circuit court of Cook County affirming a decision of the board of trustees of the public school teachers' pension and retirement fund of Chicago (the board) against the plaintiff, Florence Saipe. The board's decision denied Florence Saipe pension credit for her six months of service to the United States government in 1945 as a "clerk/stenographer," and for her five years of service from 1962-67 to the Chicago board of education as a "theme reader." In this appeal, Mrs. Saipe asks that the decision of the board be reversed, or in the alternative, that it be reversed and remanded for a full and fair hearing.

Mrs. Saipe was employed as a certified teacher by the Chicago board of education from 1967 until her retirement in 1985. She has received pension credit for that 18-year period, and service during that time period is not at issue in this case.

However, prior to her employment with the Chicago board of education, Mrs. Saipe was employed by the War Department from June through December 1945, as a "clerk/stenographer." During that time period, she was employed as a civilian and was not a member of the armed forces. Her responsibility was the preparation of instructional and educational materials which were used by others to teach air force personnel "jungle survival."

Subsequently, from 1962-67, Mrs. Saipe was employed by the Chicago board of education on an hourly basis as a "theme reader." Her primary responsibility in this position was to assist teachers by reading, analyzing and correcting students' essay papers.

In August of 1981, Mrs. Saipe applied to the board of trustees of the public school teachers' pension and retirement fund of Chicago for outside service credit toward her pension for her six months of service to the United States government as a "clerk/stenographer," and for her five years of service to the Chicago board of education as a "theme reader." On February 17, 1983, Mrs. Saipe appeared before the board to present her request for pension credit for this employment. Thereafter, on July 1, 1983, the board informed Mrs. Saipe that she was not entitled to pension credit for her services as a "clerk/stenographer" and "theme reader," and therefore, denied her requests.

The board contends that its reasons for denying Mrs. Saipe's requests were set forth in a one-page memorandum which is now part of the administrative record. The memorandum indicates that there were two principal reasons underlying the board's decision. First, section 17-106 of the public school teachers' pension and retirement fund of the Illinois Pension Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 108 1/2, par. 17-106) specifically excludes "persons employed on an hourly basis" from membership in the fund, and second, the services of "theme reader" and "clerk/stenographer" were not included within the types of services which are creditable under the fund, as set forth in sections 17-133, 17-134, and 17-135 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 108 1/2, pars. 17-133, 17-134, 17-135). Further, the minutes from the meeting of February 17, 1983, which are also included in the administrative record, indicate that the board's legal counsel had recommended that Mrs. Saipe's requests be denied because the Illinois Pension Code contained no provision allowing outside service credit for the type of work described by Mrs. Saipe. A copy of the minutes was sent to Mrs. Saipe and her attorneys.

On August 3, 1983, Mrs. Saipe filed a complaint in the circuit court of Cook County seeking judicial review of the board's decision under the Administrative Review Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 110, par. 3-101 et seq.). The trial court affirmed the board's ruling of March 21, 1985, holding that the board's construction of the Pension Code was correct. The judge also found that the plaintiff's contentions regarding the fairness and adequacy of the board's administrative hearing were irrelevant because the case was concerned solely with a question of law rather than fact. Mrs. Saipe has now appealed the circuit court ruling.

Under the Administrative Review Act, the circuit court has the power to review any final administrative decision and to consider all questions of law and fact presented by the entire record before the court. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 110, par. 3-110.) The Act also provides that the circuit court has the authority to "affirm or reverse the decision [of the administrative agency] in whole or in part." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 110, par. 3-111(a)(5).) It is well settled in Illinois that the decision of an administrative agency will only be reversed where it is legally erroneous (City of East Peoria v. Illinois Pollution Control Board (1983), 117 Ill. App.3d 673, 679, 452 N.E.2d 1378), or is factually against the manifest weight of the evidence (Ernzen v. Board of Trustees (1981), 96 Ill. App.3d 1143, 1147, 421 N.E.2d 1065).

The issue presented here, and as was presented in the trial court, is whether Mrs. Saipe should have been allowed pension credit for her employment as a "theme reader" and as a "clerk/stenographer" under the Pension Code. The facts are not in dispute. It is only their legal effect that is disputed. Hence, only a question of law is involved, and thus, the right concerning the power of the court to set aside a decision of an administrative agency when it was made against the manifest weight of the evidence has no application. (Kensington Steel Corp. v. Industrial Com. (1944), 385 Ill. 504, 509, 53 N.E.2d 395.) We must, therefore, determine whether the decisions of the board and the trial court were legally erroneous.

• 1 It is a well-settled principle of statutory construction that the intent and meaning of the legislature should be ascertained and given effect. (General Motors Corp. v. Industrial Com. (1975), 62 Ill.2d 106, 112, 338 N.E.2d 561.) The language of the statute itself, moreover, affords the best means of determining the intent of the legislature, and if the intent of the legislature can be ascertained from the language, then such intention will prevail without resorting to other aids of construction. (Illinois Power Co. v. Mahin (1978), 72 Ill.2d 189, 194, 381 N.E.2d 222.) In the absence of statutory definitions indicating a contrary legislative intention, courts must, of course, assume that the words contained in the statute have their ordinary and popularly understood meaning. People v. Dednam (1978), 55 Ill.2d 565, 568, 304 N.E.2d 627.

Another cardinal rule of statutory construction is that the intent and meaning of the statute are to be determined by giving meaning to the entire statute. Each provision should be construed in connection with every other provision so as to produce a harmonious whole. Huckaba v. Cox (1958), 14 Ill.2d 126, 131, 150 N.E.2d 832; Estep v. Department of Public Aid (1983), 115 Ill. App.3d 644, 647, 450 N.E.2d 1281.

It is in light of these well-settled principles of statutory construction that we now consider Mrs. Saipe's argument that the decisions of the board and the trial court were legally erroneous.

Mrs. Saipe's first claim for pension credit is for a period between June and December 1945 when she was employed by the War Department as a "clerk/stenographer." She contends that she is entitled to pension credit for this employment by reason of section 17-133 of the Pension Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 108 1/2, par. 17-133), which grants regularly certified teachers the right to obtain credit "[f]or service in the public schools of the several states or in schools operated by or under the auspices of the United States." Mrs. Saipe maintains that her service to the War Department helped to teach a valuable and necessary skill to United States military personnel which was in a "[school] operated by or under the auspices of the United States." She argues that ...


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