Trial Court Retains Jurisdiction After Appellate Remand To Firemen’s Board

Patricia Jelinek and Jamie O’Callaghan, both widowed spouses of firemen, disputed whether the Firemen’s Retirement Board awarded them the proper benefit. Their husbands died while they were receiving duty-related benefits for injuries they suffered as firemen. The Board granted them less than they felt they were entitled to, so, as permitted under the Illinois Administrative Code, they asked the trial court to review the decision.

In 2002, the trial court ruled in favor of the widows. The court sent the case back to the Board with directions to award a proper benefit. The Board appealed that decision to the First District Illinois Appellate Court. In 2005, the appellate court vacated the trial court’s ruling and sent the case back to the Board to determine if the husbands’ duty-related disabilities permanently prevented them from returning to active duty with the fire department.

After the Board unsuccessfully asked the Illinois Supreme Court to hear the case, the appellate court’s mandate was issued to the trial court. Jelinek’s and O’Callaghan’s cases were heard again by the Board, which granted them the greater benefit prospectively only, not dated back to the time their husbands’ died.

Jelinek and O’Callaghan went back to the trial court and asked for retrospective calculation of the award. But on the assumption that the trial court still had jurisdiction over the case, they did not file a new appeal of the Board’s latest decision. That caused the trial court to rule it did not have jurisdiction to decide the widows’ request. Here’s the explanation:

The circuit court stated that plaintiffs needed to timely file new complaints for administrative review of the Board’s remand decisions in order for the circuit court to have jurisdiction to entertain the issue of whether the Board acted outside the appellate court’s mandate by setting an arbitrary date for the payment of benefits. The circuit court concluded that it could not review plaintiffs’ [Jelinek and O’Callaghan] motion to enforce because they failed to file any complaint for administrative review within 35 days of the Board’s decisions …

The widows then appealed that ruling by the trial court. The issue was whether the trial court had jurisdiction to hear the widows’ request that their awards be calculated retrospectively. The answer turned on the effect of the appellate court’s order in 2005 that sent the case back to the Board, not to the trial court, for recalculation of the award. Did that appellate court order deprive the trial court of jurisdiction?

The appellate court said “No.” The appellate decision in 2005 was not final and did not divest the trial court of its jurisdiction over the case. The widows’ request to enforce retrospective calculation of the award was a continuation of the same case that did not require them to file new complaints in order to invoke jurisdiction. This is how the appellate court explained it:

This court’s 2005 remand order did not constitute a final order because it did not finally dispose of plaintiffs’ rights where it instructed the Board to hold an evidentiary hearing to afford plaintiffs the opportunity to prove that their husbands’ injuries permanently prevented them from returning to active duty with the fire department … Because the issue on remand involved fact finding, this court’s instructions concerning the remand hearing were properly directed to the Board rather then the circuit court. We reject the Board’s assertion that there is some qualitative difference between a reviewing court’s remand order–like the one issued here–that directly instructs the agency to hold an evidentiary hearing versus a reviewing court’s remand order that directs the circuit court to instruct the agency to hold an evidentiary hearing.

Contrary to the Board’s assertion on appeal, our 2005 remand order did not impliedly confer jurisdiction over plaintiffs’ actions in the Board alone. Rather, consistent with the Administrative Review Law and supreme court rules, we instructed the Board to take additional evidence and, on October 28, 2005, issued the mandate that reinstated the case in the circuit court-the court that first acquired jurisdiction of the case and, thus, retains jurisdiction of the action until final disposition … Accordingly, plaintiffs [widows] were not required to file new complaints for administrative review within 35 days of the Board’s 2006 remand decisions because the appeal and remand hearing were a continuation of plaintiffs’ original consolidated complaint for administrative review.

Click here to get the whole opinion, Jelinek v. Retirement Board of the Firemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago, Nos. 1-07-1141, 1-07-1142 (6/19/09).

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