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Minifee v. Doherty

September 13, 2002

MARCINE MINIFEE PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
LYNN Q. DOHERTY, DIRECTOR, THE DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT SECURITY; THE BOARD OF REVIEW; AND ITS MEMBERS INDIVIDUALLY, ROLLAND W. LEWIS, JOHN CASHMAN, STANLEY MUCHA, AND JON WALKER, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS
(ILLINOIS BELL TELEPHONE COMPANY, DEFENDANT.)



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 96 L 51406 Honorable ALEXANDER P. WHITE, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Gallagher

UNPUBLISHED

This is an appeal from a final order of the circuit court in an action for administrative review of the decision of defendant Board of Review of the Department of Employment Security (Board) concerning plaintiff Marcine Minifee's claim for unemployment benefits. The circuit court reversed the Board's decision and declared invalid the regulation that was relied upon by the Board. The court also awarded plaintiff's counsel attorney fees based upon the invalidation of the statute. We reverse.

Plaintiff worked for defendant Illinois Bell Telephone Co. (Bell) for 27 years. She accepted an early retirement package and stopped working for Bell on December 31, 1994. Bell offered plaintiff a retirement payment of $864.07 each month for the rest of her life or the option of a lump-sum payment of $153,297.08. The lump-sum payment was derived from the present value of the $864.07 per month and was determined using a calculation that took interest rates and mortality tables into consideration. Plaintiff decided to accept the lump-sum payment of $153,297.08, and she subsequently rolled this sum over into a retirement account. After leaving Bell, plaintiff worked for H.R. Management Services, Inc., for a few months. She left this job on June 23, 1995, and sought unemployment benefits.

The subsequent procedural history of this case, from the time of plaintiff's application for unemployment benefits in 1995 to the present time of this appeal in 2002, need not be described in detail, but suffice it to say that it involved a series of events including several administrative hearings and appeals, a decision by the Board, an administrative review action, a remandment by the circuit court, a supplemental decision by the Board, a second administrative review action, an affirmance by the circuit court, a motion to reconsider by plaintiff, a reversal by the circuit court, a motion to reconsider by the State defendants, a remandment to the Board, a supplemental decision by the Board, a return to the circuit court at which time Bell- with leave of court - filed a brief and finally the circuit court judgment of September 7, 2001, which is the subject of this appeal.

The issue presented is whether the department regulation found at 56 Ill. Adm. Code §2920.75(d) (2000) is valid. This was the rule that was relied upon by the Department of Employment Security in resolving plaintiff's unemployment benefit claim. The circuit court, in declaring the regulation invalid, determined that it was inconsistent with section 611(B) of the Unemployment Insurance Act (Act) (820 ILCS 405/611(B) (West 2000)). Because the trial court's decision declaring the rule invalid is a question of law, our review is de novo. Swavely v. Freeway Ford Truck Sales, Inc., 298 Ill. App. 3d 969, 976, 700 N.E.2d 181 (1998).

We shall first explain the general principles that apply to judicial review of an agency's rules and regulations. The statute that creates an administrative agency defines the authority of the agency to adopt rules and regulations. Board of Trustees of University of Illinois v. Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board., 274 Ill. App. 3d 145, 148, 653 N.E.2d 882, 884 (1995). When a regulation is promulgated by an agency pursuant to this grant of legislative power, a reviewing court should not substitute its judgment as to the content of the regulation, because the legislature has placed the power to create such regulations in the agency and not in the court. Monsanto Co. v. Pollution Control Board, 67 Ill. 2d 276, 290, 367 N.E.2d 684, 690 (1977). A rule or regulation that conflicts with the enabling statute is invalid. Board of Trustees, 274 Ill. App. 3d at 148, 653 N.E.2d at 884. Nevertheless, an administrative regulation carries the same presumption of validity as a statute. Board of Trustees, 274 Ill. App. 3d at 148, 653 N.E.2d at 884. Thus, the party challenging the validity of a regulation bears the burden of proving its invalidity. Board of Trustees, 274 Ill. App. 3d at 148, 653 N.E.2d at 884.

The Illinois Supreme Court has explained that, if it can reasonably be done, a reviewing court has a duty to affirm the validity of administrative regulations. Granite City Division of National Steel Co. v. Illinois Pollution Control Board, 155 Ill. 2d 149, 164-65, 613 N.E.2d 719, 726 (1993). Moreover, if a challenged rule or regulation's construction is doubtful, any doubts will be resolved in favor of its validity. Granite City ,155 Ill. 2d at 164-65, 613 N.E.2d at 726. In reviewing an agency's rules and regulations, it is well-settled that a court may not invalidate an agency's rule or regulation unless it is clearly arbitrary, unreasonable or capricious. American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees v. Department of Central Management Services, 288 Ill. App. 3d 701, 713, 681 N.E.2d 998, 1006 (1997); Shell Oil Co. v. Pollution Control Board, 37 Ill. App. 3d 264, 270-71, 346 N.E.2d 212 (1976). A reviewing court employs this standard of review because administrative agencies are inherently more qualified to decide technical problems and the mechanics of dealing with them. Department of Central Management Services, 288 Ill. App. 3d at 713, 681 N.E.2d at 1006. A court should hesitate to declare a regulation invalid because the courts lack the expertise possessed by administrative agencies. Department of Central Management Services, 288 Ill. App. 3d at 713, 681 N.E.2d at 1006.

The relevant statutory provisions are both sections 611(A)(1) and 611(B) of the Unemployment Insurance Act. 820 ILCS 405/611(A)(1),(B) (West 2000). Section 611(A)(1) states in relevant part:

"A. For the purposes of this Section 'disqualifying income' means:

1. The entire amount which an individual has received or will receive with respect to a week in the form of a retirement payment * * * ." 820 ILCS 405/611(A)(1)(West 2000).

Section 611(B) states in relevant part:

"B. Whenever an individual has received or will receive a retirement payment for a month, an amount shall be deemed to have been paid him for each day equal to one-thirtieth of such retirement payment. If the retirement payment is for a half-month, an amount shall be deemed to have been paid the individual for each day equal to one-fifteenth of such retirement payment. If the retirement payment is for any other period, an amount shall be deemed to have been paid the individual for each ...


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