Petition for Leave to Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jackson County. Hon. Everett D. Kimmel, Trial Judge. Case Numbers: AC5-95-0706, TR94MR57.
Chief Justice Freeman delivered the opinion of the court. Justice Harrison, dissenting.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Freeman
CHIEF JUSTICE FREEMAN delivered the opinion of the court:
Donnie Robbins petitioned the Carbondale Police Pension Fund for a disability pension pursuant to article III of the Illinois Pension Code. 40 ILCS 5/3-101 et seq. (West 1992). The fund's board of trustees (Board) denied Robbins a line-of-duty disability pension, but granted him a nonduty disability pension.
On administrative review, the circuit court of Jackson County confirmed the Board's decision. However, the appellate court reversed and entered judgment in favor of Robbins for a line-of-duty disability pension. 283 Ill. App. 3d 823, 219 Ill. Dec. 289, 670 N.E.2d 1177. We allowed the Board's petition for leave to appeal (155 Ill. 2d R. 315(a)) and now reverse the appellate court.
The appellate court detailed the evidence in this case. 283 Ill. App. 3d at 824-26. Therefore, we will repeat only those facts necessary for our disposition of this appeal. Briefly, in 1970, Robbins began working for the Carbondale police department. From 1970 to 1979, he worked as a patrol officer. From 1979 to 1988, he worked as an evidence custodian. In 1988, at age 42, Robbins was reassigned to patrol duty.
After his reassignment to patrol duty, Robbins' performance caused him stress. The several stressful aspects of Robbins' job generally stemmed from: (1) his supervisor's criticism of the timeliness and quality of his reports, and (2) his anxiety that his fellow patrol officers were younger and better trained. The record also contains evidence that, on January 1, 1990, Robbins was particularly stressed while responding to a domestic violence call. During that incident, Robbins witnessed a man commit suicide by shooting himself in the face with a shotgun.
Robbins continued working patrol duty until April 1992, when he injured his hand. In October 1992, he returned to patrol duty. Two weeks later, the Carbondale chief of police put Robbins on administrative leave pending a psychological examination. Dr. Eric Ostrov opined that Robbins was not mentally fit for duty. At the end of November 1992, the police chief suspended Robbins from duty.
In December 1992, Robbins petitioned the Carbondale Police Pension Fund for a nonduty disability pension, which amounted to 50% of the salary attached to his rank on the force on the date of his suspension. See 40 ILCS 5/3-114.2 (West 1992). In January 1994, Robbins amended his petition to add a claim for a line-of-duty disability pension, which amounted to 65% of the salary attached to his rank on the date of his suspension. See 40 ILCS 5/3-114.1 (West 1992).
In March 1994, Robbins testified before the Board and submitted three psychological evaluations. The Board subsequently received the evidence deposition of Dr. Ostrov. On September 22, 1994, the Board denied Robbins a line-of-duty disability pension, but granted him a nonduty disability pension.
Robbins filed a complaint in the circuit court of Jackson County seeking administrative review of the Board's denial of a line-of-duty pension. The circuit court confirmed the Board's decision. However, the appellate court reversed the circuit court and the Board. The appellate court entered judgment in favor of Robbins for a line-of-duty disability pension. The Board appeals.
We explain at the outset our standard of review. Article III of the Pension Code provides that judicial review of the Board's decisions be in accordance with the Administrative Review Law (735 ILCS 5/3-101 et seq. (West 1994)). 40 ILCS 5/3-148 (West 1994). The Administrative Review Law provides that our review extends to all questions of law and fact presented by the entire record. The statute limits our review to the record before us; we may not hear new or additional evidence. The statute also mandates that 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 (West 1994).
On administrative review, a court's function is to ascertain whether the findings and decision of the agency are against the manifest weight of the evidence. An administrative agency decision is against the manifest weight of the evidence only if the opposite conclusion is clearly evident. The mere fact that an opposite conclusion is reasonable or that the reviewing court might have ruled differently will not justify reversal of the administrative findings. If the record contains evidence that supports the agency's decision, it should be upheld. Abrahamson v. Illinois Department of Professional Regulation, 153 Ill. 2d 76, 88, 180 Ill. Dec. 34, 606 N.E.2d 1111 (1992).
In this case, the appellate court stated that it was not deciding whether the Board's decision was against the manifest weight of the evidence, but rather, whether the Board and the circuit court properly applied the law to the facts. 283 Ill. App. 3d at 827. The rule that an administrative agency's findings of fact should not be disturbed unless they are against the manifest weight of the evidence does not apply where the question involved is one of law, such as the proper interpretation of a statute. Rather, in such a case, the Board's finding is not binding on the court. Envirite Corp. v. Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, 158 Ill. 2d 210, 214, 198 Ill. Dec. 424, 632 N.E.2d 1035 (1994); DiFoggio v. Retirement Board of the County Employees Annuity & Benefit Fund, 156 Ill. 2d 377, 380-81, 189 Ill. Dec. 753, 620 N.E.2d 1070 (1993).
Section 3-114.1 of the Pension Code provides for a line-of-duty disability pension as follows:
"Disability pension--Line of Duty. If a police officer as the result of sickness, accident or injury incurred in or resulting from the performance of an act of duty, is found to be physically or mentally disabled for service in the police department, so as to render necessary his or her suspension or retirement from the police service, the police officer shall be entitled to a disability retirement pension of 65% of the salary attached to the rank on the police force held by the officer at the date of suspension of duty or retirement. A police officer shall be considered 'on duty', while on any assignment approved by the chief of the police department of the municipality he or she serves, whether the assignment is within or outside the municipality." 40 ILCS 5/3-114.l (West 1994).
In contrast, Pension Code section 3-114.2 provides for a nonduty pension. Under this section, a nonduty pension shall be granted to "a police officer who becomes disabled as a result of any cause other than the performance of an act of duty, and who is found to be physically or mentally disabled so as to render necessary his or her suspension or retirement from police service in the police department." A nonduty disability pension amounts to "50% of the salary attached to ...