Supreme Court Summaries

Opinions filed December 19, 2013

 

 

  

 

Hooker v. Retirement Board of the Firemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago, 2013 IL 114811

 

Appellate citation: 2012 IL App (1st) 111625.

 

      JUSTICE BURKE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

      Chief Justice Garman and Justices Freeman, Thomas, and Karmeier concurred in the judgment and opinion.

      Justice Theis dissented, with opinion, joined by Justice Kilbride.

 

      These Cook County proceedings were initiated by the widows of two Chicago firefighters who suffered duty-related injuries and died some time later. Michael Hooker was awarded a duty disability benefit in 1989 and died in 2000. His widow, Elaine, received an ordinary widow’s pension from the Retirement Board of the Firemen’s Annuity and Retirement Benefit Fund of Chicago. James Murphy was awarded a duty disability benefit in 1985 and died in 1998. His widow, Jane, also received an ordinary widow’s pension. Later, in proceedings not contested here, the two widows were awarded the annuities available to widows of firemen who died in the line of duty, retroactive to the date of death of each spouse, plus interest, because the injuries were permanent and had prevented them from ever returning to active duty.

      This appeal involves the widows’ additional request for duty availability pay, which is generally intended to compensate firefighters for being available for duty. This type of compensation was created in the early 1990s, after these firemen’s accidents, and neither of them ever received it.

      The Pension Code provides that the annuity for widows of firemen is calculated based on the current salary attached to the classified position to which they were certified at the time of their death. Thus, when firefighters’ pay increases, widows may receive credit for increases for the positions to which their husbands were certified, and their pension annuities will increase based on those changes, even though the decedents never received them.

      These widows contended that duty availability pay should be included in the calculation on which such increases may be based. They pointed to Pension Code language added in 2004 that, they claimed, supported their argument. However, in this decision, the Illinois Supreme Court said that the plaintiffs were not reading the statutory language correctly. Insofar as duty availability pay may be used for pension calculation, it must be pay that was actually received by the firemen, which in this case never occurred.

      The circuit court had not accepted the plaintiffs’ argument and, on this issue, had granted summary judgment for the Board. The appellate court reversed, but the supreme court said that the appellate court ruling cannot be upheld. Only duty availability pay that was actually received by firemen may be included in the salary calculation on which a pension is based.

      The circuit court was affirmed and the appellate court was reversed. Class action certification, which the plaintiffs had sought, is not appropriate.