Appeal from the Marion Circuit Court, The Honorable John M. Ryan, Judge, Cause No. C85-1542
Shepard, C.j., DeBRULER, Dickson, JJ., Concur. Givan, J., Dissents With Opinion IN Which Pivarnik, J., Joins.
The issue before us is whether a former magistrate is entitled to creditable service towards the Public Employees' Retirement Fund (PERF) when the city-county resolution opting into the Fund excluded part-time employees.
The facts are undisputed. Judge John L. Niblack of the Marion Circuit Court had the power to appoint magistrates to preside over small claims, misdemeanors and traffic offenses. On January 1, 1960, Judge Niblack appointed Jacob S. Miller as magistrate in the Speedway Magistrate Court. Miller presided over two court sessions a week, one on Monday night and the other on Thursday morning. Each court session ran about eight hours. Miller held additional sessions in May to handle the large number of offenses that accompany the annual motor car race. In addition, he signed search warrants, conferred with police, and answered correspondence related to court matters. Miller testified he worked about 1300 or 1400 hours a year. Miller served until December 31, 1965.
In 1973, the City of Indianapolis and Marion County joined to form one governmental unit. The new government decided to join PERF. City-County Special Resolution 14, 1974 provided that employees of the Marion Circuit Court would become members of the fund.
When Miller sought PERF benefits in 1984, he claimed creditable service from 1960 through 1965 as a magistrate under the Circuit Court of Marion County. An initial letter from PERF denied Miller credit. Miller objected to the determination and raised the matter with the PERF Board of Trustees. The Board named a hearing officer who received evidence and heard argument. The hearing officer recommended the Board deny Miller credit for his service as a magistrate. The Board accepted the hearing officer's recommendation.
Miller petitioned the Marion Circuit Court for judicial review of the agency's action. The Circuit Court held Miller was entitled to credit for his service as a magistrate and remanded the cause to PERF to calculate benefits.
The PERF Board of Trustees appealed the trial court's decision to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals, on its own motion, transferred the cause to this Court. Our analysis proceeds in two parts. First, we note the appropriate standard of judicial review for agency actions. Second, we determine whether the PERF statute or the City-County Council Resolution excludes Miller's position from coverage.
I. Standard of Judicial Review
Miller's petition for judicial review of the administrative agency's action was regulated by the Administrative Adjudication Act, Ind. Code § 4-22-1-1 et seq. (Burns 1986 Repl.).[Footnote 1] Under that Act, the court proceeding is not a trial de novo. Ind. Code § 4-22-1-18(a). A court simply analyzes the whole record to determine whether the factual findings were supported by substantial evidence. Ind. Code § 4-22-1-18(c)(5). "The trial court, in reviewing the administrative action, has no right to weigh conflicting evidence and choose that which it sees fit to rely upon. The statute gives this fact-finding function to the administrative body." Department of Financial Institutions v. State Bank of Lizton (1969), 253 Ind. 172, 177, 252 N.E.2d 248, 251.
The same degree of deference is not granted to an agency's legal Conclusions. Public Service Commission v. City of Indianapolis (1956), 235 Ind. 70, 131 N.E.2d 308. Law is the province of the judiciary. Our constitutional system empowers the courts to draw legal Conclusions. Recognizing this authority, the statute declares that a reviewing court may set aside agency action "not in accordance with law. . . ." Ind. Code § 4-22-1-18(c)(1).
In this case, the Circuit Court had a question of law before it. While the Circuit Court owed the agency's opinion some deference, the court did not err by coming to its own Conclusion on a question of law. While the distinction between legal questions and factual questions is not always clear, here the line is bright. The parties have no quarrel over the facts; the question is whether those facts lead to the legal Conclusion that Miller is entitled to credit for ...