Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Richard J. Billik, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice
Does a municipality have the right to participate in a pension board hearing when one of its police officers seeks a duty-related disability pension? Or does the board have the discretion to decide whether there will be participation and, if so, how much? We address those questions in this appeal.
The Board of Trustees of the Police Pension Fund of the Village of Stickney (the Board) denied the Village of Stickney's (the Village) request to participate in a hearing on Richey Hare's application for duty-related disability pension. When the Village sought administrative review, the circuit court found the Board abused its discretion by preventing the Village from participating at the hearing. The circuit court set aside the Board's decision and remanded the cause for a new hearing.
On appeal, Hare contends the Illinois Pension Code (Code) gives the Board "exclusive control" of the pension fund and nothing in the Code gives a municipality the right to participate. See 40 ILCS 5/3-132 (West 2002). The Village contends it has the right to participate as a "party in interest" (see 40 ILCS 5/1-101.3 (West 2002)) with a financial stake in the Board's decisions. We conclude the Village's participation, in whole or in part, is left to the Board's discretion, which, in this case, was not abused. We reverse the trial court's order and remand for further consideration.
Defendant Richey Hare worked as a police officer for the plaintiff, the Village of Stickney. In 2001, Hare applied for duty-related disability pension. On September 17, 2001, the Board held a hearing to consider Hare's application. At the hearing, the Village appeared through its attorneys, Donald Kreiger and Henry Sledz, and requested permission to participate as a party. The Village attorneys said they wanted to cross-examine the witness, Hare, and review the evidence to make sure it was presented properly and was admissible. The Village's attorneys argued the Village was an interested party due to the possible financial impact of any pension awarded by the Board. They also argued Hare would not be prejudiced because Sledz notified Hare's attorney of the Village's intent to participate. The Board unanimously denied the Village's request to participate.
During the hearing, the Board accepted several documents into evidence. Hare testified, and Board members cross-examined him. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Board granted Hare's application for duty-related disability pension.
In the subsequent written order, the Board set forth in detail its factual findings, analysis, and conclusions. The Board also reviewed the Village's request to intervene. The Board indicated it sent the Village's attorney, Mr. Kreiger, a letter and facsimile on August 24, 2001, advising him as follows: " 'If you wish to file a petition to intervene, please advise our office on or before August 27, 2001. We will then set up a briefing schedule . . .' "
The Village never responded. The record on appeal does not include a copy of the Board's letter. In its order, the Board reviewed the cases argued by the Village's attorneys at the hearing and concluded:
"The statute makes no provision for intervention by the municipality in a hearing granting a pension or other benefits. The Village attorneys were not persuasive in their position as to the right to intervene."
The Village filed a complaint in the circuit court seeking administrative review of the Board's decision, alleging the Board wrongfully denied the Village's request to participate at the hearing. The Village asked the court to set aside the Board's decision and order a new hearing to allow the Village to participate. The Village also asked the court to find the Board's decision to award duty-related disability pension was against the manifest weight of the evidence.
The Board filed a motion to dismiss, contending the Village was not a party to the administrative proceedings and lacked standing to seek administrative review. Hare joined the Board's motion.
The circuit court denied the Board's motion to dismiss, and ultimately found the Board erred when it prevented the Village from participating in the hearing. The court said:
"The Pension Board's decision to deny the 'Village the right to intervene in the pension benefit hearing' for the reasons set forth in the Decision and Order is not supported in the record as an appropriate exercise of its discretion in presiding over the hearing."
The court set aside the Board's decision, remanded the cause for a new hearing, and instructed the Board to allow the Village to participate. The court specifically stated it would not decide whether the Board's decision to award duty-related disability pension was against the manifest weight of the evidence, because such review was ...