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01/15/98 JAMES ROBERT MACDONALD v. BOARD TRUSTEES

January 15, 1998

JAMES ROBERT MACDONALD, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE PARK RIDGE POLICE PENSION FUND; NORMAN PATER, IN HIS CAPACITY AS PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE PARK RIDGE POLICE PENSION FUND; DUANE MELLEMA, IN HIS CAPACITY AS SECRETARY OF THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE PARK RIDGE POLICE PENSION FUND; ROBERT KRISTIE, IN HIS CAPACITY AS VICE PRESIDENT OF THE PARK RIDGE POLICE PENSION FUND; CARL F. BRAUWEILER, IN HIS CAPACITY AS TRUSTEE OF PARK RIDGE POLICE PENSION FUND; AND JOHN BARRETT, IN HIS CAPACITY AS TRUSTEE OF THE PARK RIDGE POLICE PENSION FUND, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY. HONORABLE LESTER FOREMAN, JUDGE PRESIDING.

The Honorable Justice South delivered the opinion of the court. Cerda, P.j., and McNAMARA, J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: South

The Honorable Justice SOUTH delivered the opinion of the court:

Plaintiff's father was a retired police officer who received a retirement pension from defendants, The Board of Trustees of the Park Ridge Police Pension Fund (the Board). After plaintiff's father died, plaintiff applied to the Board for a survivor's disability pension, claiming that at the time of plaintiff's father's death, plaintiff was a dependent of his father due to a physical and/or mental disability. The Board held hearings on plaintiff's application, after which plaintiff's application was denied. Plaintiff appealed to the circuit court, which reversed the Board's decision and awarded plaintiff a survivor's disability pension. The Board appeals that decision.

Plaintiff is a child of retired Park Ridge police Lieutenant James P. MacDonald, deceased as of December 16, 1991. At the time of his death, retired Lieutenant MacDonald was fully vested in the Park Ridge police pension fund and was receiving retirement benefits in the amount of approximately $925 per month. The spouse of retired Lieutenant MacDonald, Margaret Lucille MacDonald, predeceased him on September 25, 1989.

Plaintiff made application for survivor's benefits by filing a petition with the Board on May 21, 1996, pursuant to sections 3-112(a) and (b) of the Illinois Pension Code (40 ILCS 5/3-112(a), (b) (West 1996)). He alleged that he was qualified as a survivor within the meaning of the statute to receive the retirement benefits of his deceased father in that he was a dependent of his father due to a physical disability.

By agreement of the parties, arrangements were made for the plaintiff to be examined by Michael Grear, M.D., a physician chosen by defendant, and Bernard Stevens, M.D., a physician chosen by plaintiff. Both doctors conducted a review of medical records and performed a physical examination of plaintiff.

A hearing on plaintiff's application for survivor's benefits was held on October 11, 1996, before a quorum of the Board. Both Dr. Grear and Dr. Stevens provided testimony at the hearing.

On November 22, 1996, the Board rendered a written administrative decision entitled "Finding and Decision," which denied plaintiff's application for survivor's benefits. The basis for the denial was that "the applicant has not proven to the satisfaction of this Board by a preponderance of the evidence that he is dependent to a degree that he is entitled to dependent survivor benefits under the terms of either (a) or (b) of 40 ILCS 5/3-112."

Plaintiff filed his complaint under the Administrative Review Law (735 ILCS 5/3-101 et seq. (West 1996)) within 35 days of receipt of the final decision of the Board and a summons was issued and served within said 35-day period. The court reversed the decision of the Board denying plaintiff statutory survivor's benefits and ordered that such benefits be retroactive to the death of plaintiff's father.

The Board has timely filed the instant appeal and asks this court to reverse the judgment of the circuit court and to affirm its decision. Plaintiff asks this court to affirm the judgment of the circuit court reversing the finding and decision of the Board.

The Board argues that the medical testimony regarding plaintiff's disability was conflicting and, as was its right, it chose to credit that medical testimony which indicated that plaintiff was not disabled. Plaintiff asserts that he has met his burden of proving not only that he was disabled but that he was a dependent of his father because of said disability at the time of his father's death.

The findings and conclusions of the administrative agency on questions of fact are held to be prima facie true and correct, and such findings will be upheld on review unless they are against the manifest weight of the evidence. Antonelli v. Board of Trustees of the Hillside Police Pension Board, 287 Ill. App. 3d 348, 353, 678 N.E.2d 773, 776, 222 Ill. Dec. 901 (1997); Village of Winfield v. Illinois State Labor Relations Board, 176 Ill. 2d 54, 678 N.E.2d 1041, 223 Ill. Dec. 33 (1997). In order to determine whether findings and conclusions of an administrative agency are against the manifest weight of the evidence, the court must conclude that all reasonable and unbiased persons, acting within the limits prescribed by the law and drawing all inferences in support of the finding, would agree that the finding is erroneous and that the opposite conclusion is clearly evident. Jagielnik v. Board of Trustees of Police Pension Fund, 271 Ill. App. 3d 869, 875, 649 N.E.2d 527, 530, 208 Ill. Dec. 471 (1995). An administrative decision is not contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence merely because an opposite conclusion is reasonable or because the reviewing court might have ruled differently. Antonelli, 287 Ill. App. 3d at 353, 678 N.E.2d at 776.

A finding on a question of law by an administrative agency is not binding on a reviewing court. City of Freeport v. Illinois State Labor Relations Board, 135 Ill. 2d 499, 507, 554 N.E.2d 155, 159-60, 143 Ill. Dec. 220 (1990). Statutory interpretation is a question of law and an agency's interpretation is relevant, but it is not binding on the courts. Branson v. Department of Revenue, 168 Ill. 2d 247, 254, 659 N.E.2d 961, 965, 213 Ill. Dec. 615 (1995). In interpreting a statute, the court's objective is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature, and the most reliable indicator of legislative intent is the language of the statute. Boaden v. Department of Law Enforcement, 171 Ill. 2d 230, 237, 664 N.E.2d 61, 65, 215 Ill. Dec. 664, 215 Ill. Dec. 679 (1996). Statutory language must be given its plain and ordinary meaning. Boaden, 171 Ill. 2d at 237, 664 N.E.2d at 65. Statutory language that is clear must be interpreted according to its terms, without aids of construction. Branson, 168 Ill. 2d at 254, 659 N.E.2d at 965. The construction of a statute is an issue of law that is reviewed de novo on appeal. Boaden, 171 Ill. 2d at 237, 664 N.E.2d at 65. The decision of an administrative agency will be reversed if it is legally erroneous. Jagielnik, 271 Ill. App. 3d at 875, 649 N.E.2d at 531. Reviewing courts may not rubber-stamp administrative decisions that ...


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