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12/04/96 COLUMBUS DISABATO v. BOARD TRUSTEES STATE

December 4, 1996

COLUMBUS DISABATO, DONALD JOHNSON, GERALD W. JACKSON, JOHN KUCERA, STANLEY SHANTER, GEORGE MARCHOUS, VERNON LOWE, WILLIAM KOUNTIS, RAYMOND WOOD, C. PANAGAKIS, LAWRENCE JOHNSON, RICHARD HANSEN, EDWARD FOLEY, JERRY HARDEN, WAYNE MISFELDT, JAMES THOMPSON, JAMES ESNER, CARMEN SARACCO, ROBERT CADWELL, ROBERT LEDEN, T. PLADIS AND FRANKLIN WALKER, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE STATE EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT SYSTEM OF ILLINOIS AND MICHAEL L. MORY, EXECUTIVE SECRETARY, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court, Cook County. The Honorable Edwin M. Berman, Judge Presiding.

Released for Publication January 29, 1997.

Justice Leavitt delivered the opinion of the Court. Zwick, P.j., and McNamara, J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leavitt

Justice Leavitt delivered the opinion of the Court:

The plaintiffs were Secretary of State investigators, appointed pursuant to section 2-115 of the Illinois Vehicle Code. 625 ILCS 5/2-115 (West 1994). As state employees, they were "members" of the State Employees' Retirement System (SERS) (see 40 ILCS 5/14-103.06 (West 1994), which provides retirement benefits to a wide variety of state employees under the larger aegis of the Illinois Pension Code. See 40 ILCS 5/1-101 to 5/18-101. The plaintiffs believe that the statutory scheme by which their retirement benefits are calculated is discriminatory, and they sought to have their benefits recalculated. They now seek administrative review of a decision by the defendant, the Board of Trustees of SERS (the Board), denying their claims.

In 1992, after all of the plaintiffs had retired, they sent letters to the Assistant Executive Secretary of SERS protesting the method by which their retirement benefits were calculated. As with all members of SERS, the plaintiffs' retirement benefits are calculated as a percentage of their "final average compensation." See 40 ILCS 5/14-109, 5/14-110. Section 14-103.12(a) of the Code defines final average compensation for most state employees, including the plaintiffs, as:

"the monthly compensation obtained by dividing the total compensation of an employee during the period of: (1) the 48 consecutive months of service within the last 120 months of service in which the total compensation was the highest, or (2) the total period of service, if less than 48 months, by the number of months of service in such period." 40 ILCS 5/14-103.12 (a).

The plaintiffs asked SERS to recalculate their retirement benefits pursuant to a 1989 amendment to section 14-103.12 which altered the basis for calculating the final average compensation of certain State police officers:

"Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (a), for the purpose of calculating retirement and survivor annuities of persons with at least 20 years of eligible creditable service as a State policeman, 'final average compensation' means the monthly rate of compensation received by the person on the last day of service as a State policeman, or the average monthly compensation received by the person for the last 48 months of service prior to retirement, whichever is greater." 40 ILCS 5/14-103.12(c).

The plaintiffs believed that they served the same functions as State policemen and should, therefore, receive similar benefits. They contended that to deny them the benefit of section 14-103.12(c) was arbitrary and discriminatory.

In November 1992, the Executive Committee of SERS (SERS Committee) denied the request for a recalculation. The SERS Committee's ruling denying the plaintiffs' claims notes, as to each plaintiff, that his claim is premised upon the ground that section 14-103.12 is "arbitrary and discriminatory." The ruling then states, as to each plaintiff, "This appeal is similar to the Russell Watier case, which is currently waiting to be heard in the circuit court." Russell Watier is not a plaintiff in this case. The record before us contains nothing indicating what occurred in that matter. In any event, the SERS Committee denied each plaintiff's claim "based upon the statutory provisions (section 14-103.12) governing the calculation of the final average compensation." In January 1993, the Board ratified the decision of the SERS Committee.

Subsequently, the plaintiffs filed complaints in the circuit court, later consolidated, seeking review of the Board's decision pursuant to the Administrative Review Law. 735 ILCS 5/3-101 et seq. (West 1992). They also sought a declaratory judgment that section 14-103.12(c) is unconstitutional because they believed the distinction between them and State police officers denied them their rights to equal protection of the laws under both Federal and State constitutional provisions; that section 14-103.12(c) constituted an unlawful grant of a special privilege to State police officers in violation of Article I, section 16 of the Illinois constitution; that section 14-103.12(c) constituted special legislation in violation of Article IV, section 13 of the Illinois Constitution; and that section 14-103.12(c) diminished or impaired their pension rights in violation of Article XIII, section 5 of the Illinois Constitution. The plaintiffs premised these constitutional claims upon the assertion that they perform the same job as the State police.

In support of their argument that there was no significant difference between Secretary of State investigators and State police officers, the plaintiffs relied upon the statutory provisions delineating the authorities and duties of each group. They also submitted several exhibits to illustrate the job duties of the investigators. After hearing argument, the judge issued an order concluding that the plaintiffs were "substantially different as a class from State police officers" and upheld both the Board's decision and the constitutionality of the statute.

In reviewing an administrative decision, "the findings and conclusions of the administrative agency on questions of fact shall be held to be prima facie true and correct." 735 ILCS 5/3-110. In this regard, "no new or additional evidence in support of or in opposition to any finding, order, determination, or decision of the administrative agency shall be heard by the court." 735 ILCS 5/3-110 (West 1994). We review questions of law de novo. Villegas v. Downers Grove Board of Fire and Police Commissioners, 266 Ill. App. 3d 202, 209, 639 N.E.2d 966, 203 Ill. Dec. 407 (1994), rev'd on other grounds, 167 Ill. 2d 108, 656 N.E.2d 1074, 212 Ill. Dec. 240 (1995). Regarding factual findings, our function is limited to ascertaining whether the findings and decision of the agency are supported by the manifest weight of the evidence. Davern v. Civil Service Comm'n, 47 Ill. 2d 469, 269 N.E.2d 713 (1970); Podmajersky v. Zoning Board of Appeals, 131 Ill. App. 3d 1072, 1075, 476 N.E.2d 1176, 87 Ill. Dec. 184 (1985); Taylor v. Police Board of the City of Chicago, 62 Ill. App. 3d 486, 491, 378 N.E.2d 1160, 19 Ill. Dec. 285 (1978). A decision is against the manifest ...


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