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Baldermann v. Board of Trs. of the Police Pension Fund of Chi. Ridge

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division

February 4, 2015

TIMOTHY BALDERMANN and DENNIS KAPELINSKI, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE POLICE PENSION FUND OF THE VILLAGE OF CHICAGO RIDGE, Defendant-Appellee

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 14 CH 46795. Honorable Rita P. Novak, Judge Presiding.

SYLLABUS

In an appeal by two former police officers from a trial court's order granting summary judgment to defendant Board of Trustees of the Police Pension Fund of the Village of Chicago Ridge and dismissing the officers' complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief based on the trial court's finding tat the Board had not rendered a final administrative decision with respect to plaintiffs' pension applications and, therefore, had jurisdiction to convene a hearing to consider the salary attached to rank for purposes of pensions for both plaintiffs, and further, there was no need to address the applicability of section 3-144.2 of the Pension Code, which permits the recovery of overpayments due to beneficiaries for " fraud, misrepresentation or error."

For APPELLANT, Ottosen Britz Kelly Cooper Gilbert & Dinolfo, Ltd., Naperville, IL (John H. Kelly and Ericka J. Thomas, of counsel).

For APPELLEE, Puchalski Goodloe Marzullo, LLP, Libertyville, IL (Jeffrey A. Goodloe, of counsel).

JUSTICE MASON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Pucinski and Justice Lavin concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

Page 171

MASON, J.

[¶1] Plaintiffs, Timothy Baldermann and Dennis Kapelinski (collectively, plaintiffs), two former members of the Chicago Ridge police department, appeal an order of the circuit court of Cook County granting summary judgment to defendant, the Board of Trustees of the Police Pension Fund of the Village of Chicago Ridge (the Board), and dismissing plaintiffs' complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief. The trial court found that the Board had not rendered a final administrative decision regarding either plaintiff's pension application and, therefore, the Board had jurisdiction to convene a hearing to consider the salary attached to rank for pension purposes for both plaintiffs. We agree with the trial court and affirm.

[¶2] BACKGROUND

[¶3] The facts relevant to this appeal are largely undisputed. In February 2005, Timothy Baldermann, the village's chief of police, and Dennis Kapelinski, then deputy chief of police, entered into an administrative work agreement with the village. The work agreement contained the following " buyout" provision: " The Chief of Police/Deputy Chief of Police will receive a 20% raise in salary on their last day of employment."

[¶4] Baldermann was injured in the line of duty in 2008 and on April 28, 2010, submitted an application to the Board requesting a line-of-duty disability pension. Pursuant to section 3-114.1 of the Illinois Pension Code (Pension Code or Code) (40 ILCS 5/3-114.1 (West 2010)), a police officer who sustains a disabling injury in the line of duty is entitled to a disability pension equal to 65% of the salary attached to

Page 172

the officer's rank at the date of suspension of duty or retirement.

[¶5] The Board held a hearing on the application the same day it was submitted. The record does not reflect whether the meeting held on April 28 was a regular or special Board meeting or that Baldermann's application for a duty disability pension was on the agenda. The minutes of the meeting recite that other largely ministerial matters were considered at the meeting, which lasted for slightly over an hour.

[¶6] At the beginning of the hearing, the Board's president expressed reservations about conducting the hearing so quickly, stating that he was unaware that Baldermann intended to present his application that evening. The president further noted his understanding that the Board usually took such applications under advisement, obtained medical reports and considered the application at a subsequent meeting and that he had not had an opportunity to review certain of the medical information submitted with the application. Kapelinski, one of the Board trustees, advocated that the Board consider the application, and after a short discussion, Kapelinski moved to award Baldermann a duty disability pension. The Board voted 5 to 0 to approve the motion. No motion was made and no vote was taken to approve the amount of Baldermann's pension. Counsel for the Board, Mark Sterk, who was present at the meeting, indicated that he would prepare written findings and a decision for the Board and the meeting was adjourned.

[¶7] At some point after the hearing (the date is not reflected in the record) a written " Finding and Decision" was circulated and signed by each Board trustee. The written decision, which bears a date of April 28, 2010, reflects that Baldermann is entitled to a duty disability pension, but does not include any determination regarding Baldermann's salary attached to rank for pension purposes or the total amount of the pension. The written decision also does not recite that a majority of the Board voted to approve the decision or that a copy of the decision was sent to Baldermann. Attached to the decision is a certificate of payment signed by Kapelinski that recites: " This is to certify that the Chicago Ridge Police Pension Fund awarded a line of duty disability pension to Timothy Baldermann *** effective April 28, 2010."

[¶8] On April 28, 2010, the same day the Board met to consider Baldermann's application, Kapelinski, in his capacity as Board secretary, signed an " Acknowledgement of Benefits Granted by Police Pension Fund of Village of Chicago Ridge" listing Baldermann's monthly pension amount as $10,765.98 based on an annual salary of $198,756.48 (computed using the 20% " raise" Baldermann received on the date of his retirement). Kapelinski obtained the information regarding Baldermann's pension from Lois Hill, payroll clerk for the village. There is nothing in the record to indicate that the Board considered or voted to approve the figures included in the form. Kapelinski then forwarded the information to Lauerbach & Amen, the Board's accounting firm.

[¶9] On April 29, Lauerbach & Amen sent Kapelinski a pension benefit worksheet " prepared using the information provided by the pension fund " for Baldermann. (Emphasis added.) The firm asked that Kapelinski sign the worksheet, which in the signature block bore the legend: " Reviewed and Approved by Pension Fund." The firm also advised Kapelinski that per the provisions of Public Act 95-950 (Pub. Act 95-950 (eff. Aug. 29, 2008)), which amended the Pension Code, in addition to a Board trustee, the village treasurer was required to sign the worksheet. The copy

Page 173

of the form in the record reflects that Kapelinski signed it on April 29.

[¶10] On May 6, 2010, Kapelinski applied to the Board for a regular retirement pension effective May 29, 2010. Under the Pension Code, a police officer age 50 or over with 20 years of creditable service is entitled to a pension of 50% of the salary attached to the rank held by the officer on the last day of service, or for one year prior to the last day, whichever is greater. 40 ILCS 5/3-111(a) (West 2010). Although Baldermann had been awarded a duty disability pension on April 28, 2010, and filed an affidavit in the trial court stating that he was employed as the chief of police until April 28, 2010, Baldermann signed Kapelinski's application on May 6 as the chief of police and certified Kapelinski's creditable service. The same day Kapelinski's application was submitted, Thomas Herman, purportedly as the Board's secretary,[1] signed a certification that Kapelinski's salary attached to rank for pension purposes was $188,468.02 (again reflecting the 20% raise). On May 10, 2010, Herman also signed a retirement benefit history spreadsheet for Kapelinski. The Board never voted to approve Kapelinski's application for a pension, his pensionable salary or the total amount of his pension.

[¶11] On May 11, 2010, Kapelinski spoke to village treasurer Deborah Pyznarski and asked her to certify and " sign off" on both his and Baldermann's pension calculations. Pyznarski later reviewed the calculations and concluded that both were incorrect because they included the " buyouts" as salary attached to rank for pension purposes. On May 14, Pyznarski met with Kapelinski, the village clerk and the mayor and advised them of her belief. Pyznarski and Kapelinski argued during the meeting and Pyznarski claimed Kapelinski threatened her. She testified that she ultimately signed the calculations because she feared that her job, as well as that of her husband, a village police officer, was in jeopardy. Pyznarski never advised the Board or Lauerbach & Amen that she believed the calculations were incorrect.

[¶12] Also on May 11, Scott Schall, a member of the village police department, sent a letter to Sterk objecting to the inclusion of the 20% raise in the calculation of Baldermann's and Kapelinski's pensions. Sterk sent a letter addressed to the Board on May 18 in which he stated his opinion that the buyout provisions of the work agreement constituted salary attached to rank for pension purposes and that those provisions were not in violation of the Pension Code. Specifically, Sterk expressed his understanding that the raises Baldermann and Kapelinski received in connection with their retirement were in exchange for their waiver of compensation for accrued vacation. The same day, the ...


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