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Leonard Rutka v. the Board of Trustees of the Cicero

November 24, 2010

LEONARD RUTKA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE CICERO POLICE PENSION BOARD,
DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. 09 CH 10300 Honorable Daniel A. Riley,Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Neville

JUSTICE NEVILLE delivered the opinion of the court: Leonard Rutka, a police officer with the Cicero police department, requested that the Cicero Police Pension Board (Pension Board) recalculate his pension benefits. Following a hearing, the Pension Board denied Rutka's request to recalculate his pension benefits, finding that it lacked jurisdiction because Rutka's request was not filed within 35 days of its prior final decision as required by section 3-103 of the Administrative Review Law. 735 ILCS 5/3-103 (West 2002). Rutka appeals from the order of the trial court, which upheld the Pension Board's decision.

Rutka presents two issues for our review: (1) whether the Pension Board had jurisdiction on January 27, 2009, to reconsider its January 10, 2005, decision to recalculate his pension benefits; and

(2) whether the Pension Board had jurisdiction to change his creditable service years from 25 to 24 years of service. We find that a final decision was made to approve Rutka's pension benefits on February 18, 1999, and that no complaint was filed within 35 days of that decision, so the Pension Board did not have jurisdiction on January 10, 2005, to recalculate Rutka's pension. Therefore, we affirm the trial court's order finding that the Pension Board's February 18, 1999, calculation of Rutka's benefits and years of creditable service was proper.

BACKGROUND

The facts material to the disposition of this case are not in dispute. Rutka became an officer with the Cicero police department on February 1, 1974. On April 29, 1997, he was appointed to the position of "Deputy Superintendent." On March 2, 1998, his appointment as deputy superintendent was terminated and he assumed the rank of "Lieutenant."

On February 9, 1999, Rutka entered into a settlement agreement and Release with the Town of Cicero regarding a complaint he filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging age discrimination. Pursuant to the terms of the agreement, Rutka agreed to "voluntarily retire from his position as Lieutenant" as of February 9, 1999. Rutka also received a lump-sum payment of $30,095.35, equal to the amount of his salary between January 11, 1999, through June 30, 1999. Rutka's pension benefits were approved during a Pension Board meeting on February 18, 1999, and his pension benefits were calculated at $65,759.38 based upon the rank of lieutenant. That same day, Rutka's benefits were recalculated based upon the combined rank of deputy superintendent and lieutenant at $68,759.38, pursuant to section 3-111 of the Illinois Pension Code (Code) (40 ILCS 5/3-111(a) (West 2002)). Rutka immediately started receiving his pension benefits.

Approximately six years later, on January 10, 2005, the Pension Board's minutes indicate that Rutka submitted correspondence to the Pension Board requesting that his salary be recalculated to reflect a base salary of $76,040.64, based upon the rank of deputy superintendent instead of a base salary based upon the combined rank of deputy superintendent and lieutenant. The Pension Board voted to recalculate Rutka's pension pursuant to his request, but the pension benefits voted upon and approved by the Pension Board, during the vote on Rutka's request for modification, were never paid to Rutka.

On July 6, 2007, Rutka sent a letter to the Pension Board requesting a hearing before the Pension Board to recalculate his pension benefits based upon the salary rate of a deputy superintendent. A hearing on Rutka's request was held on October 10, 2008, and on January 27, 2009, the Pension Board entered a decision and order denying Rutka's request for modification. The Pension Board held: (1) that it lost jurisdiction 35 days after its February 18, 1999, final decision on payment of benefit, and (2) that Rutka was not entitled to creditable service for the period of time represented in the lump sum amount pursuant to the terms of the settlement agreement.

On March 6, 2009, Rutka filed a complaint in the trial court for administrative review of the Pension Board's January 27, 2009, decision denying his request for modification of his pension benefits. The trial court held that the Pension Board's 1999 decision was proper and that the Pension Board was estopped from changing Rutka's creditable service from 25 years to 24 years. Ruta filed the instant appeal on January 28, 2010.

ANALYSIS

Standard of Review In this case, we must determine whether the Pension Board had jurisdiction on January 10, 2005, to modify its prior decision entered on February 18, 1999. Because this jurisdictional issue presents a question of law, our review is de novo. Blount v. Stroud, 232 Ill. 2d 302, 308-09 (2009), citing In re A.H., 207 Ill. 2d 590, 593 (2003) (applying a de novo standard to the jurisdiction issue). Finally, we review the decision of the administrative agency rather than the decision of the circuit court. Wade v. City of North Chicago Police Pension Board, 226 Ill. 2d 485, 504 (2007).

Jurisdiction

On appeal, Ruta argues that the Pension Board lacked jurisdiction on January 27, 2009, to reconsider its January 10, 2005, decision to recalculate his pension. However, before reaching this issue, we must determine whether the Pension Board's February 18, 1999, decision on Rutka's pension benefits was final and whether the ...


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