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No Survival in Action for Accrued Widow’s Benefits

October 6th, 2014

Hooker v. Retirement Bd. of the Fireman’s Annuity & Benefit Fund of Chicago,         2014 IL App (1st) 131568

In a follow up to a case featured in our July 2012 and January 2014 newsletters, the ongoing saga of the widows annuity benefit of Elaine Hooker continues to play out in the Illinois appellate courts.

As you may recall, Chicago Firefighter Michael Hooker suffered a debilitating injuring in the line of duty in 1988.  He died in 2000.  The Board awarded Mrs. Hooker the minimum widow’s annuity but she appealed for a line-of-duty death benefit and prevailed.  While her appeal in that case was pending, the Legislature amended the Code to include duty availability pay (“DAP”) as part of pensionable salary.  That led to a second lawsuit.  As reported in our January newsletter, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled DAP should not be included in the calculation of Mrs. Hooker’s annuity.  See Hooker v. Retirement Bd. of the Firemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago, 2013 IL 114811.

Mrs. Hooker died in 2010.  While her case was still pending before the Illinois Supreme Court, her heirs filed another lawsuit seeking a retroactive increase in her widow’s annuity.  In this case, the heirs argued Mrs. Hooker’s annuity should be retroactively increased and paid to her heirs due to an increase in salaries effectuated by a February 2011 CBA.

After finding the court lacked jurisdiction to address the plaintiffs through administrative review because he did not file his suit within 35 days of issuance of a determination letter from the pension board, the court addressed the narrow issue of whether the estate of an annuity recipient could bring an action against the board.  The court concluded such an action does not survive the death of the annuity recipient.  In short, any cause of action to make retroactive payments to Mrs. Hooker’s annuity benefit died with her.