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Wilson v. State Employees' Retirement System of Illinois

December 20, 2002

STEVEN WILSON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
STATE EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT SYSTEM OF ILLINOIS AND EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE OF THE STATE EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT SYSTEM OF ILLINOIS, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County Honorable Stephen A. Schiller, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice O'mara Frossard

UNPUBLISHED

Defendants the State Employees' Retirement System of Illinois (SERS) and the Executive Committee of SERS appeal from an order of the circuit court on administrative review which reversed a decision by the Board of Trustees of SERS (Board) finding that SERS overpaid plaintiff Steven Wilson occupational disability benefits. Defendants contend on appeal that the Board was the administrative agency which rendered the final decision that SERS overpaid plaintiff and that plaintiff's failure to name the Board as a defendant in his complaint for administrative review required the circuit court to dismiss his complaint. Defendants alternatively contend that the Board's decision that SERS overpaid occupational disability benefits to plaintiff was not against the manifest weight of the evidence and was consistent with sound public policy. We hold that the circuit court was required to dismiss plaintiff's complaint for administrative review based on his failure to name the Board, and accordingly, we vacate the circuit court's order reversing the Board's decision, remand the case, and direct the circuit court to dismiss plaintiff's complaint.

Plaintiff, a correctional officer with the Illinois Department of Corrections (Department), claimed that he fell and was injured in February 1997 while working at one of the Department's correctional facilities. He applied for workers' compensation benefits from the Department, which denied his claim on the ground that his injury was not work-related. Plaintiff contested the Department's denial by filing a claim with the Industrial Commission. In January 1998, while his claim with the Industrial Commission was pending, plaintiff applied for temporary disability benefits from SERS. In February 1998, SERS approved his application, and plaintiff received temporary disability benefits for approximately seven months.

In March 1999, plaintiff and the Department settled his workers' compensation claim which was pending in the Industrial Commission. The settlement awarded plaintiff $26,333.16, representing 70.5 weeks of permanent partial disability. The following year, in March 2000, Robert Hicks, supervisor of SERS's disability section, wrote plaintiff a letter informing him that SERS had overpaid him $2,472.84 in benefits. The letter initially noted that SERS had paid plaintiff temporary disability benefits based on the Department's denial of plaintiff's claim for workers' compensation benefits. The letter then explained that after receiving information regarding plaintiff's settlement with the Department, SERS determined it overpaid plaintiff benefits. In a letter responding to Hicks' letter, plaintiff asserted he was not liable for any overpayment of benefits by SERS and requested an administrative hearing on the matter.

The Executive Committee, which conducted the hearing requested by plaintiff, found that SERS overpaid him benefits in the amount of $2,472.84 and recommended to the Board that plaintiff's appeal be denied. Patrick Cummings, manager of SERS's claims division, wrote plaintiff a letter dated June 21, 2000, informing him that the Executive Committee reviewed and denied his appeal at its June 8, 2000, meeting based upon a nine-page "Recommendation." The letter attached the "Recommendation," which concluded that "there has been an overpayment of occupational disability benefits to [plaintiff], and, therefore, [plaintiff] is required to repay that overpayment of benefits to the System." The final sentence of the "Recommendation" stated "[t]he Committee recommends that the appeal of [plaintiff] be denied."

On July 6, 2000, the Board ratified the Executive Committee's recommendation that plaintiff's appeal be denied, and on July 10, 2000, Cummings wrote plaintiff a letter notifying him of the Board's decision. The letter specified "[t]his constitutes a final decision on adminstrative review of your appeal by the State Employees' Retirement System (SERS)."

In August 2000, plaintiff filed a complaint for administrative review in the circuit court seeking reversal of SERS's decision. Plaintiff named SERS and the Executive Committee of SERS as defendants in his complaint, but he did not name the Board as a defendant. Following a hearing at which counsel presented arguments, the circuit court granted the relief requested in plaintiff's complaint for administrative review.

Defendants contend that the circuit court was required to dismiss plaintiff's complaint for administrative review because plaintiff failed to name the Board as a defendant in his complaint. Whether plaintiff's failure to name the Board warranted dismissal of his complaint is a question of law, and accordingly, our standard of review is de novo. Veazey v. Baker, 322 Ill. App. 3d 599, 602 (2001); ESG Watts, Inc. v. Pollution Control Board, 191 Ill. 2d 26, 29 (2000).

There is no constitutional right to appeal decisions of administrative agencies. ESG Watts, Inc., 191 Ill. 2d at 29. Instead, the appellate and circuit courts have only those powers to review administrative actions "as provided by law." ESG Watts, Inc., 191 Ill. 2d at 29; Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, §6. The Illinois Appellate Court has only such power of direct review as the legislature provides. Central City Education Ass'n, IEA/NEA v. Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, 149 Ill. 2d 496, 526-27 (1992).

Section 14-101 of the Illinois Pension Code (Code) created SERS, and section 14-134 of the Code vests responsibility for the operation of SERS in the Board. 40 ILCS 5/14-101, 14-134 (West 1998). Section 14-135.04 of the Code specifically vests the Board with power "[t]o consider and pass on all applications for annuities, allowances, and benefits." 40 ILCS 5/14-135.04 (West 1998). Section 14-150 of the Code provides that "final administrative decisions of the retirement board" are subject to judicial review under the Administrative Review Law (Review Law) (735 ILCS 5/3-101 et seq. (West 1998)). 40 ILCS 5/14-150 (West 1998).

The Review Law is a departure from the common law and, as such, its provisions must be strictly adhered to by the parties. ESG Watts, 191 Ill.2d at 30. Section 3-102 of the Review Law expressly makes review of an administrative decision contingent upon compliance with the Review Law's provisions. It provides:

"Unless review is sought of an administrative decision within the time and in the manner herein provided, the parties to the proceeding before the administrative agency shall be barred from obtaining judicial review of such administrative decision." 735 ILCS 5/3-102 (West 1998).

Section 3-107(a) of the Review Law states that "in any action to review any final decision of an administrative agency, the administrative agency *** shall be made [a] defendant[]." 735 ILCS 5/ 3-107(a) (West 1998). Section 3-101 of the Review Law defines "administrative agency" as "a person, body of persons, group, officer, board, bureau, commission or department (other than a court or judge) of the State *** having power under law to make administrative decisions." (Emphasis added.) 735 ILCS 5/3-101 (West 1998). The supreme court has stated that compliance with section 3-107(a)'s naming requirement "is mandatory and specific, and admits of no modification." Lockett v. Chicago Police Board, 133 Ill. 2d 349, 354 (1990). The failure to comply with section 3-107(a) requires the circuit ...


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