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Bassett v. Pekin Police Pension Board

November 15, 2005

CHARLES BASSETT, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE AND CROSS-APPELLANT,
v.
PEKIN POLICE PENSION BOARD, TIM GLEASON, HAL WATKINS, DANIEL BROTZ, ED WHITAKER, AND STEVEN A. FITZANKO, DEFENDANT-APPELLANTS AND CROSS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 10th Judicial Circuit, Tazewell County, Illinois, No. 04-MR-13. Honorable Kevin R. Galley, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Slater

Defendant Pekin Police Pension Board (the Board) terminated the pension of plaintiff Charles Bassett, a former Pekin police officer, after he was convicted of a felony. The Board authorized a refund of plaintiff's pension contributions after subtracting more than $40,000 that plaintiff had received in benefits. On administrative review, the circuit court determined that plaintiff was entitled to a full refund of his contributions. The Board now appeals from the circuit court's decision; plaintiff has cross-appealed from the Board's denial of interest. We affirm and remand.

Facts

After contributing to the Pekin police pension fund for 29 years, plaintiff began receiving pension benefits in December of 2002. On August 28, 2003, plaintiff was convicted of the felony offense of official misconduct in connection with the misappropriation of funds at the police department. The Board subsequently terminated plaintiff's benefits effective October 1, 2003. Plaintiff's $94,404.24 in contributions to the pension fund were refunded to him, reduced by the $40,218.10 in benefits plaintiff had received. This resulted in a refund totaling $54,186.14. Plaintiff filed a complaint for administrative review in the circuit court of Tazwell County alleging that he was entitled to a full refund of all his contributions to the pension fund without any offset for the benefits he had received. Plaintiff also asserted that he was entitled to interest on the refunded amount. Relying on Shields v. Judges Retirement System, 204 Ill. 2d 488, 791 N.E.2d 516 (2003), the circuit court held that plaintiff was entitled to a full refund of his pension fund contributions, but it denied his request for interest. The Board now appeals from the court's ruling and the plaintiff has cross-appealed from the denial of interest. We affirm and remand.

Analysis

Standard of Review

In reviewing a decision under the Administrative Review Law (735 ILCS 5/3-101 et seq. (West 2002)), we review the decision of the administrative agency rather than that of the circuit court. XL Disposal Corp. v. Zehnder, 304 Ill. App. 3d 202, 709 N.E.2d 293 (1999). An agency's findings of facts are held to be prima facie true and correct and will not be disturbed unless they are against the manifest weight of the evidence. Abrahamson v. Illinois Department of Professional Regulation, 153 Ill. 2d 76, 606 N.E.2d 1111 (1992). However, questions of law, such as the proper interpretation of a statute, are reviewed de novo. Shields, 204 Ill. 2d 488, 791 N.E.2d 516 (2003); see Envirite Corp. v. Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, 158 Ill. 2d 210, 632 N.E.2d 1035 (1994).

The Pension Code

Plaintiff's pension benefits were terminated pursuant to section 3-147 of the Illinois Pension Code (Pension Code), which provides in part:

"* 3-147. Felony conviction. None of the benefits provided 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 or her service as a police officer.

This Section shall not impair any contract or vested right acquired prior to July 11, 1955 under any law continued in this Article, nor preclude the right to a refund." (Emphasis added.) 40 ILCS 5/3-147 (West 2002).

As the language emphasized above indicates, while a police officer convicted of a felony forfeits his right to pension benefits, he may receive a refund of his contributions to the pension fund. Section 3-124 of the Pension Code addresses the issue of refunds, but it is limited to situations where a police officer is separated from service with less than 20 years service, or where an officer dies with less than 10 years service:

"* 3-124. Refund. A police officer who is separated from police service after June 30, 1953 with less than 20 years of service is entitled to a refund upon request of all contributions ...


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