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07/09/87 the People Ex Rel. Harold v. the Board of Trustees of

July 9, 1987





510 N.E.2d 1283, 157 Ill. App. 3d 573, 110 Ill. Dec. 252 1987.IL.973

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County; the Hon. Robert D. McLaren, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE NASH delivered the opinion of the court. LINDBERG, P.J., and INGLIS, J., concur.


Plaintiff, Harold C. Wright, appeals from the judgment of the circuit court in favor of defendant, the Board of Trustees of the Teachers' Retirement System of the State of Illinois, in an action brought by plaintiff to prohibit defendant from terminating his pension. Defendant cross-appeals from the trial court's judgment dismissing its counterclaim. On appeal, plaintiff argues that a felony forfeiture provision of the Illinois Pension Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 108 1/2, par. 16-199) does not apply to him because he entered the system before its effective date. Defendant's cross-appeal seeks recovery of benefits paid to plaintiff after he pleaded guilty in Federal court to a felony related to his service as a teacher. Defendant argues that plaintiff was "convicted" when his guilty plea was accepted by the court and was not entitled to benefits after that date.

Plaintiff began teaching in the Illinois public school system in 1953, at which time he automatically became a member of the Teachers' Retirement System (the system). (See Ill. Ann. Stat., ch. 122, par. 591 (Smith-Hurd 1962 & Supp. 1987).) Plaintiff was a participant in the system through the 1955-56 school year, after which he left the system to teach in the Shelbyville, Indiana, School District. In October 1956, plaintiff applied for and received a refund of his contributions to the Illinois system.

Plaintiff returned to the Illinois system in 1962 when he began teaching in the Wheaton High School District. He was elected regional superintendent of schools for Du Page County in 1974, and served in that capacity until 1982, when he left the system again and went to work for the United States Department of Education. In October 1982, plaintiff applied to defendant to receive his benefits under the retirement system. He paid defendant $6,093.97 to re-establish his withdrawn service credit for the school years 1953-54 through 1955-56 and receive credit for the years spent in the Indiana school system. Plaintiff began receiving pension benefits from defendant in November 1982.

On May 3, 1985, plaintiff tendered his resignation to the Federal government and on July 15, 1985, he pleaded guilty in Federal district court to a felony charge which related to his service as regional superintendent of schools, a position covered by the system. The cause was continued until December 12, 1985, when a judgment of conviction was entered and sentence was imposed. In July 1985, defendant notified plaintiff that his retirement annuity and health insurance were terminated effective July 1, 1985, pursuant to section 16 -- 199 of the Illinois Pension Code, which provides as follows:

"None of the benefits provided for in this Article shall be paid to any person who is convicted of any felony related to or arising out of or in connection with his or her service as a teacher.

This Section shall not operate to impair any contract or vested right acquired prior to July 9, 1955 under any law or laws continued [ sic ] in this Article, nor to preclude the right to a refund.

All teachers entering service after July 9, 1955 shall be deemed to have consented to the provisions of this Section as a condition of membership." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 108 1/2, par. 16-199.

Plaintiff subsequently made demand on defendant to reinstate his annuity payments, but defendant refused. On October 28, 1985, plaintiff filed an application for leave to file a complaint in quo warrantor in the circuit court of Du Page County. The court granted leave to file the complaint, and the defendant filed its answer, affirmative defenses and counterclaim. The counterclaim alleged that defendant had already paid plaintiff more than the total of his refundable contributions and sought repayment of those funds, amounting to $5,662. The court issued a temporary injunction requiring defendant to resume payment of the pension. On July 22, 1986, the court granted defendant's motion for summary judgment, denied plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, and dismissed defendant's counterclaim with prejudice. The court found that plaintiff terminated his membership in the system in 1956 when he accepted his refund for the previous years and that his re-entry into the system in 1962 and repayment to the system in 1982 did not entitle him to reinstatement of any contract rights he had previously had in the system.

The trial court also found that section 16-199 is inherently ambiguous because it fails to define "future entrant" and the court adopted the definition of "future entrant" contained in the policemen's annuity act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 108 1/2, par. 5-111). Section 5-111 defines "future entrant," in relevant part, as "[a] former policeman of a city who reenters the police service on or after the effective date." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 108 1/2, par. 5-111(b).) Under this definition, the court ...

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