Courts Approve Interim Benefit Awards

by Meganne Trela

An Illinois appellate court recently affirmed a pension board’s ability to award of interim benefits without triggering the 35-day administrative review period in Masterton v. Village of Glenview Police Pension Board, 2022 IL App (1st) 220307. In Masterton, a police officer died while attending roll call in late 2014. The officer’s ex-wife, on behalf of the former couple’s minor son, applied for line-of-duty survivor benefits of 100% of the officer’s salary. Before ruling on the request for the line-of-duty benefit, in 2015 the pension board began paying the minor child an interim non-duty surviving child benefit without prejudice to the application for a line of duty surviving benefit.

A picture containing graphical user interface Description automatically generated The Village of Glenview eventually intervened in the proceedings. The Village argued, among other things, that the pension board lacked jurisdiction to consider the line-of-duty benefit application because it awarded an interim non-duty surviving benefit to the minor. In making its argument, the Village argued that the pension board’s 2015 approval of the non-duty benefit was a final administrative decision, triggering the 35-day administrative review period.

The First District Appellate Court first reviewed whether the initial 2015 decision to award a non-duty survivor benefit to the child was a “final administrative decision.” The court concluded that under the Illinois Administrative Procedure Act, agencies are required to notify parties or their agents “personally or by registered or certified mail of any decision or order.” 5 ILCS 100/10-50(a) Accordingly, mailing a decision starts the jurisdictional clock for purposes of administrative review. Moreover, the term “administrative decision” is defined by statute as a decision, order, or determination which “affects the legal rights, duties or privileges of parties and which terminates the proceedings before the administrative agency.” 735 ILCS 5/3-101.

The appellate court found that typically an administrative decision followed (1) an application; (2) an adversarial process; (3) a hearing on controverted facts; (4) an ultimate decision rendered by an impartial fact-finder; and (5) the body informing the applicant in writing of its actions. Thus, the 2015 interim award was not a final administrative decision. The court determined that the non-duty survivor benefit for the child was undisputed, there was no hearing, there was no adversarial process, the decision regarding the interim benefits did not terminate the proceedings before the agency, and no ultimate disposition was rendered. Last, there was no notice from the pension board that the interim decision was final and subject to administrative review. As a result, the interim award was not a final administrative decision and did not strip the pension board of jurisdiction to consider the applicant’s line-of-duty benefit application.

While there were other issues addressed in this case, the court definitively allowed the award of interim benefits to a survivor when the benefit was not disputed. Thus, pension boards may award undisputed interim benefits to applicants without prejudicing the parties with respect to claims for other benefits that may be contested. Further, the court clearly outlined the process for determining whether a decision meets the threshold for being a final administrative decision. Despite that a pension boards considering an award of interim benefits should first consult with their attorney regarding the facts and circumstances regarding any interim benefit request.