Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Sixth Division
LORI G. LEVIN on Behalf of Herself and All Others Similarly Situated, Plaintiff-Appellant,
THE RETIREMENT BOARD OF THE COUNTY EMPLOYEES' AND OFFICERS' ANNUITY AND BENEFIT FUND OF COOK COUNTY, Defendant-Appellee.
from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 16 CH 14789
Honorable Kathleen M. Pantle, Judge Presiding.
JUSTICE HARRIS delivered the judgment of the court, with
opinion. Justice Cunningham concurred in the judgment and
opinion. Justice Connors dissented, with opinion.
1 In September 2016, plaintiff-appellant, Lori G. Levin,
requested that defendant-appellee, the Retirement Board of
the County Employees' and Officers' Annuity and
Benefit Fund of Cook County (hereinafter Board), allow her to
purchase health insurance under the County Employees' and
Officers' Annuity and Benefit Fund of Cook County
(hereinafter Fund). After several procedural delays, the
Board voted to deny Levin the ability to purchase health
insurance under the Fund because Levin's last employer
was the State of Illinois and not Cook County. The Board
cited a provision in the benefits handbook, which required
that in order to be eligible for the insurance, an individual
must be an "annuitant" as defined by statute and
the annuitant's last job must have been with Cook County.
Levin appealed the Board's decision to the circuit court
of Cook County. In May 2018, the circuit court affirmed the
Board's decision. The circuit court ruled Levin did not
have an unconditional right to the health insurance and the
Board did not exceed its authority when it implemented the
"last-employer" rule. Levin then appealed to this
2 For the reasons stated more fully below, we reverse the
order of the Board. It is undisputed that Levin is an
"annuitant," and we conclude that under the
applicable statute she is entitled to seek health insurance
provided by the Fund. We hold the Board exceeded its
authority when it implemented the "last-employer"
rule. The rule is declared void and unenforceable.
4 This action commenced on September 22, 2016, when Levin
sent a letter to the Board requesting health benefits under
the Fund. The Board denied her request in a final order dated
June 12, 2017. Levin timely sought administrative review of
the Board's order before the circuit court of Cook
County. On May 10, 2018, the circuit court affirmed the
Board's order denying health insurance benefits to Levin.
On June 4, 2018, Levin timely filed her notice of appeal.
Accordingly, this court has jurisdiction over this matter
pursuant to article VI, section 6, of the Illinois
Constitution and Illinois Supreme Court Rules 301 and 303.
Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, § 6; Ill. S.Ct. R. 301 (eff.
Feb. 1, 1994); Ill. S.Ct. R. 303 (eff. May 30, 2008).
6 Both parties agree the facts of this case are largely
undisputed. Plaintiff-appellant, Levin, was employed by Cook
County as an assistant state's attorney from November 1,
1980, until July 31, 2003. During her employment with Cook
County, she made the employee contributions required to be an
annuitant of the Fund. On or about August 1, 2003, Levin
entered into service with the State of Illinois as executive
director of the Illinois Criminal Justice Information
Authority. During her tenure as executive director, Levin
paid employee contributions required as a participant of the
State Employees' Retirement System. On or about June 5,
2009, Levin resigned from service with the State of Illinois.
On December 20, 2011, the Board received Levin's
application for annuity benefits. The Board approved the
application at its regularly scheduled meeting in January
2012. The calculation of Levin's annuity benefit was
based upon her service with Cook County and the State of
Illinois pursuant to the Retirement Systems Reciprocal Act
(40 ILCS 5/20-101 et seq. (West 2016)).
7 Following her retirement from the State, Levin had health
insurance under her husband's employer's plan.
Subsequently, her husband left his employer and the couple
continued to have coverage via COBRA insurance. This coverage
expired on October 1, 2016. Since Levin had not worked for
the State of Illinois for the required eight years, she was
ineligible to participate in the State of Illinois's
retiree health insurance plan.
8 In a letter dated September 22, 2016, Levin requested that
the Board allow her to purchase health insurance under the
Fund's plan for herself and her husband. The Board
responded in a letter dated October 6, 2016. It stated her
request had been rejected:
"The Board has considered your request and we regret
that upon review you and your husband do not satisfy the
eligibility requirements to participate in the retiree health
plan. In closing, because Cook County was not your last
employer prior to the effective date of your annuity
benefits, you do not meet the eligibility requirements."
Board's October 6, 2016, letter referenced the "Cook
County Pension Fund Health Benefits Handbook" dated 2009
(hereinafter Handbook), which states that in order to be
eligible for the retiree health benefits, a participant must
be both an "annuitant" pursuant to section 9-239 of
the Illinois Pension Code (id. § 9-239) and
must have been last employed with Cook County or the Forest
9 In an October 22, 2016, letter to the Board, Levin
requested reconsideration of the October 6 decision. No
response was ever received. On November 10, 2016, Levin filed
a complaint in the circuit court of Cook County seeking
administrative review of the Board's October 6 decision.
On March 14, 2017, at the request of the Board, the circuit
court entered an agreed order remanding the matter "to
the Board for further proceedings, at its April 6, 2017
meeting and to issue a final administrative decision
regarding Plaintiff's request to purchase group health
insurance from the Fund." Following an executive
session, the Board adopted a motion to take the matter
"under advisement and that a decision regarding her
request be deferred until the Board's next regular
meeting on May 4, 2017."
10 The Board did not address the issue at the May 4 meeting
nor did it address it at the June 1 meeting. At a special
meeting of the Board on June 12, 2017, the Board issued a
final decision rejecting Levin's request. The Board again
pointed to the eligibility requirements found in the
11 The parties then returned to the circuit court. The
parties briefed Levin's complaint for administrative
review. On September 27, 2017, the circuit court requested
supplemental briefing on whether it was necessary to reach
the constitutional grounds raised in Levin's complaint.
After supplemental briefing, the circuit court heard oral
arguments on November 20, 2017. On May 10, 2018, the circuit
court issued an order affirming the Board's denial of
Levin's request. In its ruling, the circuit court held
that section 9-239 did not provide Levin with an
unconditional right to participate in the Fund's health
plan because the statute states that the Fund "may"
subsidize an annuitant's health coverage. The court
further ruled that the "last-employer" rule adopted
in 2009 did not exceed the Board's authority and did not
conflict with the Pension Code. Finally, the court held that
the pension clause of the Illinois Constitution was
12 This ...