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Aich v. City of Chicago

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division

June 6, 2013

ABRAHAM A. AICH, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
THE CITY OF CHICAGO, Respondent-Appellee.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 11 CH 450240 The Honorable Patrick T. Rogers Judge Presiding.

Justices Fitzgerald Smith and Pucinski concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

LAVIN, PRESIDING JUSTICE

¶ 1 This appeal arises from a determination of the department of administrative hearings (DOAH) of the City of Chicago (the City) that petitioner Abraham Aich, a Chicago police officer, violated the Municipal Code of Chicago by failing to reimburse the City for expenses incurred when petitioner failed to timely report to the City that he had obtained a divorce from Sumaya Aich and failed to remove her as a beneficiary of his insurance benefits. On appeal, petitioner asserts that the administrative law judge (ALJ) improperly considered hearsay evidence and transferred the City's burden of proof to petitioner. He also contends that the ALJ's findings were against the manifest weight of the evidence. We affirm.

¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 3 In April 2011, the City filed a complaint with the DOAH seeking a determination that petitioner had failed to pay a debt owed to the City as a result of the City's expenditure of healthcare benefits on petitioner's ineligible dependent in violation of section 1-20-090 of the Municipal Code of Chicago (Chicago Municipal Code § 1-20-90) (amended July 21, 2004)). Specifically, the City alleged that petitioner, a City employee, was married to Sumaya Aich, who began receiving healthcare coverage under petitioner's employee healthcare plan on about July 18, 2000. The couple divorced on July 21, 2004, however, and the City handbook required employees to terminate healthcare coverage for a former spouse by notifying the benefits management office of the department of finance (BMO) within 30 days of the divorce. Petitioner did not inform the BMO until October 28, 2005. As a result, Sumaya continued receiving coverage to which she was not entitled from July 21, 2004, to October 28, 2005, costing the City $3, 498.94. The City further alleged that petitioner did not comply with the City's letter demanding reimbursement.

¶ 4 At the hearing on the City's complaint, the ALJ granted the City's motion to admit several exhibits into evidence. The first exhibit was an affidavit executed by Judith Landoch, a benefit claims supervisor and keeper of business records for the BMO. Landoch stated that pursuant to City policy, "all new employees are provided with access to the employee handbook." Petitioner requested healthcare coverage for Sumaya on July 18, 2000. Landoch also stated that every year, the BMO mailed open enrollment forms listing an employee's covered dependents and that the BMO sent petitioner a form listing Sumaya as a covered dependent for the years 2004 to 2006. Although petitioner was divorced from Sumaya on July 21, 2004, he did not notify BMO of his divorce until October 28, 2005. Between those dates, the cost of benefits provided to Sumaya was $3, 498.94, in violation of the handbook, and the City had not been reimbursed. Attached to Landoch's affidavit was a 2004 open enrollment form dated October 31, 2003, as well as the 2005 open enrollment form for the enrollment period beginning on October 24, 2004, both of which list Sumaya as a beneficiary. The attached 2006 enrollment form also lists Sumaya as a beneficiary.

¶ 5 Petitioner objected to Landoch's affidavit, arguing that the admission of a document with no foundation and no support was neither competent nor substantial. The ALJ overruled petitioner's objection, noting that he could request that a subpoena be issued, and that the administrative rules permitted testimony to be provided through an affidavit. When petitioner's attorney stated that the burden was on the City, not petitioner, the City essentially replied that it was meeting its burden through Ladoch's affidavit, which was admitted into evidence.

¶ 6 The City also presented the judgment dissolving petitioner's marriage to Sumaya, entered on July 21, 2004, which appears to have been certified on July 26, 2004, as well as portions of the handbook which state that the employee is responsible for notifying the City when his partner becomes ineligible for benefits, that the BMO must be notified within 30 days of changes and that documentation in support of the change must be submitted within 60 days. In addition, the City presented a letter to petitioner which explained that he owed the City $3, 498.94 for the additional coverage the City paid for due to his failure to properly notify the BMO of his divorce. Following the admission of the City's exhibits, the ALJ found that the City had presented a prima facie case.

¶ 7 Petitioner's attorney moved for a directed finding, arguing there was no evidence he could contest because he could not cross-examine the City's documents. The following colloquy ensued:

"ALJ DAVIS: Well, *** you could have called a witness. You didn't.
MR. GEIGER [petitioner's attorney]: It's not my burden, your Honor.
ALJ DAVIS: Well, no.
MR. GEIGER: It's their ...

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