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No. 2--03--1168


IN THE

APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS

SECOND DISTRICT


ESTATE OF DAVID F. SMIDA, Deceased,

          Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

ILLINOIS MUNICIPAL RETIREMENT FUND
and DONNA MARCINSKI,

          Defendants-Appellees.

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Appeal from the Circuit Court
of Du Page County.


No. 02--MR--1010


Honorable
Thomas J. Riggs,
Judge, Presiding.


JUSTICE McLAREN delivered the opinion of the court:

Plaintiff, the estate of David F. Smida, appeals the trial court's dismissal of its complaint seeking the review of a decision of the Board of Trustees of the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (the Board). Plaintiff argues that the court erred by not allowing it leave to amend the complaint and, alternatively, that the court erred by dismissing the complaint. We reverse and remand.

On August 29, 2002, the Board decided the claims of plaintiff and defendant Donna Marcinski, regarding Smida's retirement fund death benefit. It determined that the death benefit should be paid to Marcinski.

On September 30, 2002, plaintiff filed a complaint for administrative review against defendants, the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF) and Marcinski. The complaint does not reference that IMRF rendered its final administrative decision through the Board.

On November 4, 2002, IMRF and Marcinski filed answers to the complaint. Thereafter, the appellate court released the decision in Wilson v. State Employees' Retirement System, 336 Ill. App. 3d 199 (2002). The Wilson court held that, under section 3--107(a) of the Administrative Review Law (Review Law) (735 ILCS 5/3--107(a) (West 2002)), in an action to review an administrative decision, the administrative agency must be named as a defendant. Wilson, 336 Ill. App. 3d at 203. Thus, where a plaintiff failed to name in a complaint for administrative review the administrative agency that rendered the final decision, the trial court must dismiss the complaint. Wilson, 336 Ill. App. 3d at 203. On January 22, 2003, Marcinski moved the court for leave to withdraw her answer and file a motion to dismiss. Relying on Wilson, she argued that plaintiff's complaint was fatally defective because it did not name the Board as a defendant. That same day, plaintiff moved the court for leave to file an amended complaint to add the Board as a defendant.

On April 8, 2003, after a hearing, the court denied plaintiff's motion. IMRF also moved to withdraw its answer and file a motion to dismiss. The court granted IMRF's and Marcinski's motions to withdraw their answers and to file motions to dismiss.

Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to section 2--619 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2--619 (West 2002)), arguing that plaintiff failed to comply with section 3--107(a) of the Review Law by not naming a party of record, the Board, as a defendant. The court granted the motions, dismissing the complaint with prejudice. Plaintiff appeals.

Initially, plaintiff argues that the trial court erred by concluding that, under section 3--103 of the Review Law (735 ILCS 5/3--103 (West 2002)), plaintiff could not file an amended complaint. We review de novo the trial court's interpretation of a statute. Puffer-Hefty School District No. 69 v. Du Page Regional Board of School Trustees, 339 Ill. App. 3d 194, 206 (2003).

According to the Review Law, an "action to review a final administrative decision shall be commenced by the filing of a complaint and the issuance of summons within 35 days from the date that a copy of the decision sought to be reviewed was served upon the party affected by the decision." 735 ILCS 5/3--103 (West 2002). The Review Law further provides that, if a complaint for administrative review is timely filed, that complaint may be amended "to add an employee, agent, or member of an administrative agency, board, committee, or government entity, who acted in an official capacity as a party of record to the administrative proceeding, if the administrative agency, board, committee, or government entity is a party to the administrative review action." 735 ILCS 5/3--103(2) (West 2002). Therefore, section 3--103(2) of the Review Law creates a right to amend a complaint under specific circumstances.

Our inquiry is whether the Board, the party that plaintiff sought to add to the complaint, qualified for amendment under section 3--103(2) of the Review Law. Defendants argue that the Board is an "administrative agency" and, therefore, plaintiff was properly denied leave to amend its complaint, as the statute permits the addition of only "an employee, agent, or member of an administrative agency, board, committee, or government entity." 735 ILCS 5/3--103(2) (West 2002). According to defendants, because the Board is an administrative agency, it cannot be an employee, agent, or member of an administrative agency. For support, defendants rely on Wilson.

The Wilson court determined that a board that renders the final decision of an administrative agency satisfies the definition of "administrative agency" in section 3--101 of the Review Law (735 ILCS 5/3--101 (West 2002)) and therefore must be named as a defendant under section 3--107(a) of the Review Law or the complaint must be dismissed. Wilson, 336 Ill. App. 3d at 203. However, the Wilson court did not consider whether, under section 3--103(2) of the Review Law, a plaintiff should be granted leave to amend the complaint to add the board as a defendant. In fact, the plaintiff in Wilson never sought leave to amend the complaint. As a result, the holding in Wilson is of limited relevance to our analysis.

For a party to qualify for amendment under section 3--103(2) of the Review Law, three conditions must be met. First, an administrative agency, board, committee, or government entity must be a party to the action. Next, the party sought to be added must be an "employee, agent, or member of an administrative agency, board, committee, or government entity." 735 ILCS 5/3--103(2) (West 2002). The Review Law does not define these terms. However, section 3--103(2) does explain that an employee, agent, or member of an administrative agency must have "acted in an official capacity as a party of record to the administrative proceeding" (735 ILCS 5/3--103(2) (West 2002)), the third condition for amendment. Whether this language includes the Board is unclear; thus, the language is ambiguous.

When a statute is ambiguous, we may look beyond the language as written to discern the drafters' intent and consider the purpose of the statute and the evils that it was designed to remedy. In re B.C., 176 Ill. 2d 536, 542-43 (1997). After carefully reviewing the statutory language, we conclude that the Board qualifies for amendment. In the complaint, plaintiff named a government entity, IMRF, as a party. Additionally, there is no dispute that the Board was a party of record to the administrative proceeding. As for the third condition, whether the Board is an employee, agent, or member of IMRF, we conclude that the Board is a member of IMRF.

Our interpretation of section 3--103(2) of the Review Law is consistent with the legislature's intent when it enacted the right to amend a complaint under specific circumstances. While analyzing section 3--103 of the Review Law, the court in Fragakis v. Police and Fire Commission, 303 Ill. App. 3d 141, 149 (1999), applied a liberal construction of that section. The Fragakis court stated that, when the legislature amended section 3--103 of the Review Law in 1997, it sought to "bring peace to the dangerous minefield" created by cases denying a plaintiff leave to amend a timely complaint to name the appropriate party. Fragakis, 303 Ill. App. 3d at 142-43. "[T]he legislature has recognized that these [administrative review] cases should not be dismissed for such technical violations [in naming the parties]." Fragakis, 303 Ill. App. 3d at 149.

For these reasons, we conclude that the trial court erred when interpreting the statute and should have granted plaintiff leave to amend the complaint to add the Board.

Next, plaintiff argues that the trial court erred by dismissing the complaint for failing to name a party of record as a defendant, as required by section 3--107(a) of the Review Law (735 ILCS 5/3--107(a) (West 2002)). Section 3--107(a) provides that "in any action to review any final decision of an administrative agency, the administrative agency and all persons, other than the plaintiff, who were parties of record to the proceedings before the administrative agency shall be made defendants." 735 ILCS 5/3--107(a) (West 2002). Therefore, the trial court dismissed the complaint because the administrative agency, the Board, was not named as a defendant. As we previously have concluded that the trial court erred by not allowing plaintiff to amend the complaint to add the Board as a defendant, we need not address this argument.

For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the circuit court of Du Page County is reversed, and the cause remanded for further proceedings.

Reversed and remanded.

HUTCHINSON and GILLERAN JOHNSON, JJ., concur.

 

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