Officer’s Surviving Spouse Not Entitled To Cost-Of-Living Increases

An Illinois statute provides that “upon the death of a police officer entitled to a pension, the surviving spouse shall be entitled to the pension to which the police officer was then entitled.” Bonnie Gurke is the surviving spouse of Charles Gurke, a police officer with the Village of Roselle, Illinois. When Roselle’s pension board granted Bonnie a cost-of-living increase after the death of her husband, the Village challenged the Board’s decision in court. The Illinois Court of Appeals rejected the Board’s position that surviving spouses were entitled to cost-of-living benefits. The Court found that “we do not find that the word ‘then’ is ambiguous. The logical interpretation of the word ‘then’ is that the surviving spouse in entitled to the pension benefits that the officer was receiving at the time of his or her death. This interpretation contemplates a fixed benefit amount and rules out future benefit increases. The remainder of the section of the statute is silent regarding cost-of-living increases for survivors who receive benefits, which supports the argument that the Legislature did not intend that surviving spouses receive such future increases.”

The Board argued that its interpretation of Illinois’ retirement statutes was consistent with the public policy that it should award cost-of-living increasing to surviving spouses of officers who had risked their lives to protect the public. While the Court acknowledged “the dedication with which police officers serve, the issue is resolved by construing the applicable statutes. We need not consider the various public policy arguments proposed by either side. Considerations of public policy are superfluous when the statutory language is clear.”

Village of Roselle v. Roselle Police Pension Board, 2008 WL 2134134 (Ill.App. 2008).

This article appears in the August 2008 issue