Chicago partners secure win in Illinois Appellate Court affecting home rule municipalities and counties

Chicago partners secure win in Illinois Appellate Court affecting home rule municipalities and counties
April 9, 2014

Arnstein & Lehr Chicago Partners, Hal R. Morris, Hon. Arthur L. Janura, Jr., and Jenifer H. Caracciolo, and Chicago Associate, Elizabeth Thompson, recently secured an important result in the Illinois Appellate Court affecting the more than 200 home rule municipalities and counties in Illinois.

At issue in the case was whether an Illinois home rule municipality could implement by ordinance an administrative process to adjudicate requests under the Public Safety Employee Benefits Act (PSEBA). Complicating this issue was a February 2012 decision by the Illinois Supreme Court holding that a non-home rule fire protection district did not have that right because it was not expressly provided for in the Fire Protection District Act. Also, PSEBA itself had an express limitation on home rule power that says: “a home rule unit … may not provide benefits to persons covered under this act in a manner inconsistent with the requirements of this act.”

Based on this language and a broad reading of the Supreme Court case, the plaintiff argued that a home rule unit is prohibited from enacting a process to adjudicate PSEBA requests. The attorneys prevailed at trial and convinced the trial judge that there was no home rule preemption because PSEBA did not articulate a process (therefore nothing passed by the municipality could be inconsistent) and because home rule entities get their authority from the Illinois Constitution (not enabling statutes like the Fire Protection District Act), the municipality’s adjudication ordinance was upheld.

Thus, the review of any decision is by common law writ of certiorari (which in Illinois is akin to review under the Administrative Review Law) and not by declaratory judgment action. By limiting the review, there is no discovery permitted, as the review is only from the administrative record, and costs are substantially reduced. The Appellate Court agreed with the position and held that there was not home rule preemption and the ordinance was legally enforceable. In addition, because most PSEBA requests follow findings that the public safety worker was injured and entitled to a disability pension, a question arose whether determinations made by the pension board were binding in the subsequent PSEBA hearing. On that issue, the attorneys were also able to convince the trial and appellate courts that there was no res judicata or collateral etoppel implications as the pension board was deciding a different issue and there was not an identity of parties between the two proceedings. This decision settles an area of law of paramount interest to home rule entities in Illinois. In this regard, the Illinois Municipal League, filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the proposed position.