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Anthony J. Stevens v. the Village of Oak Brook

May 9, 2013

ANTHONY J. STEVENS,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
THE VILLAGE OF OAK BROOK, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT (ILLINOIS MUNICIPAL RETIREMENT FUND, JAMES W. CRAIG, IN HIS CAPACITY AS VILLAGE PRESIDENT, JAMES CARSON, JEFFREY KENNEDY, KATHRYN MANOFSKY, MOIN SAIYED, ROBERT SANFORD, GERALD WOLIN, IN THEIR CAPACITY AS VILLAGE TRUSTEES, DAVID NIEMEYER, IN HIS CAPACITY AS VILLAGE MANAGER, AND EILEEN DONAHUE, IN HER CAPACITY AS AUTHORIZED AGENT OF THE VILLAGE , TO IMRF,
DEFENDANTS).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 09-MR-670 Honorable Terence M. Sheen Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Schostok

JUSTICE SCHOSTOK delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices McLaren and Zenoff concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 The plaintiff, Anthony J. Stevens, worked as a part-time building inspector for the defendant, the Village of Oak Brook (the Village), from 1980 to 2000. During that time, he did not participate in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF or the pension program) (40 ILCS 5/7-101 et seq. (West 2010)) because the Village's administrator informed him that he was not eligible to participate. From 2000 to 2008, he worked as a full-time building inspector and did participate in the IMRF. Prior to retiring, he requested that the proper Village official complete the form that would enable him to receive credit toward his pension for the part-time work he did between 1980 and 2000. The Village official refused to sign the necessary form. Four months after retiring, the plaintiff filed a complaint against the Village, asking that the proper Village official sign the necessary form. The trial court subsequently granted the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and entered a writ of mandamus, ordering that the Village have the necessary form signed. The Village appeals from that order. We affirm.

¶ 2 BACKGROUND

¶ 3 On April 28, 2009, the plaintiff filed a complaint for declaratory judgment and mandamus. The plaintiff alleged that the Village hired him as a part-time building inspector in February 1980. He worked approximately 1,040 hours per year. Although the Village was a participating employer in the IMRF, it failed to enroll him in the pension program. The Village never paid the employer contributions to the IMRF for his period of employment from 1980 to 2000. In April 2000, the Village hired the plaintiff as a full-time building inspector. At that time, the Village enrolled the plaintiff in the IMRF.

¶ 4 Prior to his retirement from the Village, plaintiff applied for IMRF benefits. Upon applying, he learned that he should have been enrolled in the IMRF in 1980. He then completed IMRF Form 6.05, which provides for omitted service credit verification. However, the Village's authorized IMRF agent refused to sign that form to authorize the plaintiff to receive his omitted credit.

¶ 5 In the plaintiff's complaint for declaratory judgment and mandamus, the plaintiff sought IMRF credit for his 20 years of service as a part-time building inspector. The plaintiff alleged that the Village was obligated to sign IMRF Form 6.05 because it had a duty in 1980 to enroll him in the IMRF. The plaintiff further alleged that there was no authority or procedure for the Village to exclude him from participating in the IMRF. The plaintiff therefore requested that the trial court enter a writ of mandamus requiring the proper Village official to sign IMRF Form 6.05. The plaintiff also claimed that the Village had violated his equal protection rights under the fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution (U.S. Const., amend. XIV) because it had enrolled other part-time building inspectors in the IMRF but not him.

¶ 6 On October 8, 2009, the plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment. On April 5, 2010, the trial court (Judge Kenneth Popejoy) denied the plaintiff's motion. The trial court found that there were outstanding factual issues that precluded entry of summary judgment in the plaintiff's favor.

¶ 7 On June 21, 2010, the plaintiff filed a first amended complaint for declaratory judgment and mandamus. On July 26, 2010, the Village filed its answer and raised eight affirmative defenses. The Village asserted that the plaintiff was not eligible for service credit from 1980 to 2000 because he had not elected to participate in the pension program. The Village further alleged that the plaintiff's request for retroactive service credit was untimely because he should have requested enrollment in the IMRF in 1980. Alternatively, the Village argued that, if the plaintiff was entitled to retroactive service credit, the Illinois Pension Code (40 ILCS 5/1-101 et seq. (West 2010)) (the Pension Code) provided that he was entitled to no more than 50 months of credit. On March 21, 2011, the Village filed an amended answer and raised an additional 10 affirmative defenses.

¶ 8 On October 3, 2011, the plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment on his amended complaint. On December 13, 2011, following a hearing, the trial court (Judge Terence Sheen) granted the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment.*fn1 The trial court explained that, under the plain and ordinary language of the Pension Code, the plaintiff's participation in the IMRF was mandatory for those years he worked more than 600 hours per year for the Village; therefore, the Village was required to enroll him in the pension program. Because the plaintiff's participation in the IMRF was mandatory, the 50-month retroactive service credit limitation did not apply to the plaintiff because that provision applied only to people who could voluntarily decide to participate in the IMRF. The trial court further found that, because it was not clear in 1980 and 1981 that the Village anticipated that the plaintiff would work more than 600 hours per year, he was not entitled to retroactive credit for those two years. However, he was entitled to credit from 1982 to 2000. Because the plaintiff was entitled to credit, the trial court determined that a writ of mandamus was appropriate because the Village's authorized IMRF agent had a non-discretionary duty to sign Form 6.05.

¶ 9 In its ruling, the trial court denied the plaintiff's equal protection claim. The trial court found that the facts did not clearly establish that the Village had discriminated against the plaintiff. The trial court also rejected the Village's claim that the plaintiff's action was barred by the statute of limitations and the doctrine of laches. The trial court found that it did not have to decide whether a 5-year statute of limitations (applicable to unwritten contracts) or a 10-year statute of limitations (applicable to written contracts) applied, because the plaintiff had filed his lawsuit approximately one year after being denied his omitted service credit. The doctrine of laches did not apply because the plaintiff did not unreasonably delay bringing his lawsuit.

¶ 10 On December 21, 2011, the plaintiff filed a motion to reconsider. The plaintiff argued that the trial court should have ordered that he receive 20 years of retroactive service credit rather than just 18 years. He also argued that the trial court erred in denying his equal protection claim. On April 2, 2012, following a hearing, the trial court denied the plaintiff's motion to reconsider. The plaintiff thereafter filed a timely notice of appeal and the Village filed a timely notice of cross-appeal.

¶ 11 On June 20, 2012, after the plaintiff failed to comply with this court's order to file his appellant's brief in a timely fashion, we ordered that his case be dismissed. The result of our order was that the Village, which had previously been the cross-appellant, became the appellant and the plaintiff became the appellee.

¶ 12 ANALYSIS

¶ 13 The Village's first contention on appeal is that the trial court erred in its interpretation of section 7-137 of the Pension Code (40 ILCS 5/7-137 (West 2010)) and article XIII, section 5, of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. XIII, § 5). The Village insists that, contrary to what the trial court determined, it was not mandatory that a government employee, like the plaintiff, participate in the IMRF. Rather, the plaintiff could participate only if he voluntarily chose to do so and to make the requisite contributions to that program.

¶ 14 The Village's argument requires us to interpret parts of both the Pension Code and the Illinois Constitution. The primary purpose of statutory construction is to determine and give effect to the legislature's intent, while presuming that the legislature did not intend to create absurd, inconvenient, or unjust results. In re B.L.S., 202 Ill. 2d 510, 514-15 (2002). The best indication of the legislature's intent is the language of the statute. In re Marriage of Lindman, 356 Ill. App. 3d 462, 466 (2005).

If the language of the statute is clear, there is no need to resort to other aids of statutory construction. Id. The legislature's use of the word "shall" is generally regarded as indicating a mandatory, and not merely a directory, intent. Schultz v. Performance Lighting, Inc., 2013 IL App (2d) 120405, ¶ 13. Further, we note that we interpret the Illinois Constitution the same way as we would a statute. See People v. Tisler, 103 Ill. 2d 226, 254 (1984) (Ward, J. concurring) ("[A] court, in interpreting a constitution, is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the framers of it and the citizens who have adopted it.").

¶ 15 Section 7-137 of the Pension Code provides in pertinent part:

"Participating and covered employees.

(a) The persons described in this paragraph (a) shall be included within and be subject to this Article and eligible to benefits from this fund, beginning upon the dates hereinafter specified:

1. Except as to the employees specifically excluded under the provisions of this Article, all persons who are employees of any municipality (or instrumentality thereof) or participating instrumentality on the effective date of participation of the municipality or participating instrumentality beginning upon such effective date.

(b) The following described persons shall not be considered participating employees eligible for benefits from this fund, but shall be included within and be subject to this Article (each of the descriptions is not exclusive but is cumulative):

1. Any person who occupies an office or is employed in a position normally requiring performance of duty during less than 600 hours a year for a municipality (including all instrumentalities thereof) or a participating instrumentality. ***

2. Any person who holds elective office unless he has elected while in that office in a written notice on file with the board to become a participating employee;

3. Any person working for a city hospital unless any such person, while in active employment, has elected in a written notice on file with the board to become a participating employee and notification thereof is received by the board[.]" 40 ILCS 5/7-137 (West 2010).

¶ 16 The plain language of section 7-137 of the Pension Code provides that it "shall" apply to all municipal employees, except for a few exceptions that are not applicable here. This language clearly indicates that the plaintiff was eligible for pension benefits because he was working for the Village as a municipal employee.

ΒΆ 17 We note that our interpretation is consistent with how the IMRF has interpreted section 7-137 of the Pension Code. Although the IMRF is not an administrative agency and does not have formal regulations promulgated under the Illinois Administrative Code, its board of trustees (Board) has authority to make "administrative decisions on participation and coverage, which are necessary for carrying out the intent of this fund in accordance with the provisions of this Article." 40 ILCS 5/7-200 (West 2010). The Board has adopted the "Authorized Agent's Manual," which it uses to provide guidance to IMRF employers such as the Village. The Authorized Agent's Manual therefore constitutes the IMRF's ...


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