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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Officer Entitled to Two Separate COLA Increases Under Pension Code

The Illinois Appellate Court recently issued an opinion, holding that a former police offer was entitled to two separate cost-of-living increases under the Illinois Pension Code. Gutraj v. Board of Trustees of the Police Pension Fund of the Village of Grayslake, Illinois, 2013 IL App (2d) 121163, (Ill.App.Ct. 2013).
In 2000, the officer suffered a heart attack while in the line of duty, which caused him to be unable to return to work as a police officer. Later that same year, the Board of Trustees of the Police Pension Fund awarded the officer a "line of duty" disability pension.
The following year, in 2001, the officer began receiving an annual noncompounded 3% increase to his pension, pursuant to an amendment to Section 3-114.1 of the Illinois Pension Code. The officer then turned 60 years old in 2011 and demanded an additional 3% increase to his pension, pursuant to Section 3-111.1(c) of the Code, which provides for the monthly pension to increase by 3% after the claimant reaches the age of 60.
The Board refused to pay the additional 3% increase, and argued that the officer was not entitled to increases under both sections of the Code. The officer then filed suit against the Pension Board.
After reviewing both Sections 3-114.1 and 3-111.1(c), the trial court determined that each section unambiguously provided for separate, annual increases to pension benefits. The court pointed out that each increase was limited by narrowly tailored prerequisites, of which the officer met for both sections.
The Board then appealed to the appellate court, arguing that Sections 3-114.1 and 3-111.1(c) were "mutually exclusive" based on the absence of such language. Additionally, the Board argued that the ambiguity of each section required the board to look to legislative intent.
Upon review of both sections of the Code, the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the trial court ruling in favor of the officer. The court determined that the plain language of the statute was clear and unambiguous. The court found that each section set forth two distinct benefits, which required different criteria to be met. Further, the Appellate Court disagreed with the Board’s argument regarding "mutually exclusive" language, finding that both sections of the Code were unambiguous.
Post Authored by Erin Baker, Ancel Glink.


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