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Cirignani v. Municipal Employees' Officers'

November 22, 2000

JEAN CIRIGNANI, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
THE MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES', OFFICERS', AND OFFICIALS' ANNUITY AND BENEFIT FUND OF CHICAGO; PETER BREJNAK, PHOEBE S. SELDEN, BARBARA A. LUMPKIN, AND JOSEPH M. MALETESTA, AS TRUSTEES; AND JOHN K. GIBSON, AS PRESIDENT, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cerda

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County

Honorable Dorothy C. Kinnaird, Judge Presiding

Plaintiff, Jean Cirignani, appeals from the determination that she is not eligible to receive a widow's annuity from defendant Municipal Employees', Officers', and Officials' Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago (the Fund) after the death of her husband, who was an employee of the City of Chicago (the City). Plaintiff was convicted of a felony in connection with her being a ghost payroller for the City. Plaintiff contends that a statute that disqualifies persons from receiving annuity benefits if they have been convicted of a felony in connection with their municipal employment does not disqualify her from a widow's annuity based on her deceased husband's employment with the City of Chicago. We find that she is entitled to a widow's annuity.

FACTS

By statute, there is established a Municipal Employees', Officers', and Officials' Annuity and Benefit Fund for cities of more than 500,000 inhabitants. 40 ILCS 5/8-101 (West 1998). A widow of an employee of the City of Chicago under this statute is entitled to a widow's annuity. 40 ILCS 5/8-140 through 8-150.1 (West 1998). A male employee is required to contribute 1½% of his salary toward a widow's annuity. 40 ILCS 5/8-182 (West 1998). The annuity is funded in part by a real property tax. 40 ILCS 5/8-173(a) (West 1998).

Plaintiff was disqualified from her own pension from the City of Chicago due to her conviction of a felony arising out of her employment with the City. She had received a salary and benefits for 12 years as a full-time employee of the Chicago city council's committee on traffic control and safety although she performed no work. Plaintiff's husband, Vincent Cirignani, had also been employed by the City of Chicago. Out of Vincent's salary a deduction was taken for his pension; an additional deduction was taken for the purpose of providing a widow's annuity. The City made an additional contribution toward the annuity.

While married to plaintiff and after retirement, Vincent died. Plaintiff was paid a widow's annuity for some time; she received a notice on July 6, 1999, that there would be a hearing to determine whether her payments should be terminated based on her felony conviction, pursuant to statute. 40 ILCS 5/8--251 (West 1998). On January 20, 2000, the Fund determined that plaintiff was not entitled to receive a widow's annuity.

Plaintiff filed a complaint for administrative review with the circuit court of Cook County. The trial court affirmed, and plaintiff appealed.

ANALYSIS

The felony-conviction statute at issue provides in relevant part that "[n]one of the benefits provided for in this Article shall be paid to any person who is convicted of any felony relating to or arising out of or in connection with his service as a municipal employee." 40 ILCS 5/8-251 (West 1998). This is similar to language used in numerous other felony-conviction statutes governing other public employees. See 40 ILCS 5/2-156, 5/3-147, 5/4-138, 5/5-227, 5/6-221, 5/7-219, 5/9-235, 5/11-230, 5/12-191, 5/13-807, 5/14-149 (West 1998).

Plaintiff contends that she is entitled to the widow's annuity because another statute, concerning which widows are entitled to an annuity from this fund, does not provide that the widows who have been convicted of felonies in connection with municipal employment are ineligible for annuities. Defendant contends that the plain meaning of section 8-251 is that no person convicted of this kind of felony can receive benefits and that section 8-251 simply adds an additional ground for a widow to be ineligible for pension benefits.

The widow-eligibility statute provides: "The following widows or former wives of employees have no right to annuity from the fund:

(a) The widow, married subsequent to the effective date, of an employee who dies in service if she was not

married to him before he attained age 65; (b) The widow, married subsequent to the effective date, of an employee who withdraws from service whether or not he enters upon annuity, and who dies while out of service, if she was not his ...


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