Click HERE for Harris v. Quinn oral argument. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in this case may have dramatic consequences for public sector union membership.
Chicago Kent College of Law Professor Martin Malin explains why the case is significant from a labor law perspective.
On January 21, 2014 the Second District Appellate Court heard Oral Argument in Fox v. Wood Dale Firefighters’ Pension Board. The issue in the case is whether the Pension Board’s decision to deny a firefighter a line-of-duty disability pension was against the manifest weight of the evidence.
On January 28, 2014 the We Are One Coalition filed a class action lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Public Act 98-599, the Pension Reform Law. The Complaint alleges that Public Act 98-599 violates the Pension Protection Clause, the Contracts Clause, and the Takings Clause of the Illinois Constitution.
On January 23, 2014 the First District Appellate Court issued its Rule 23 Order in Chaparro v. The Retirement Board of Policemen’s Annuity & Benefit Fund of the City of Chicago. The Plaintiff, a police officer, was rendered disabled when she fell while climbing down a ladder from a police van. The van was in a restricted garage and was not in service at the time the Plaintiff fell. The Pension Board denied the Plaintiff’s application for a line-of-duty disability pension and concluded that the Plaintiff’s disabling injury was not incurred in the performance of an “act of duty.” The trial court reversed the Pension Board’s decision. The First District Appellate Court reversed the trial court and affirmed the Pension Board’s decision denying the Plaintiff’s application for a line-of-duty disability pension.
The Court re-affirmed its holding in Summers that whether a disability was incurred in the performance of an act of duty is a question of law subject to de novo review. The Court noted that the precise physical act which caused the disability is not relevant. Rather, the Court must look at the capacity of the officer at the time of the disabling injury. Specifically, whether the capacity involved a “special risk” that met the definition of an “act of duty” under section 5-113 of the pension code. The capacity of the injured officer in this case had a “clear counterpart in civilian life.” Regardless of the equipment involved (ie. a police surveillance van) the capacity of the officer at the time of her injury was that of a “repair person.” Therefore, the police officer was not performing an act of duty at the time she suffered her disabling injury.
On January 22, 2014 the Illinois Supreme Court heard Oral Arguments in People v. Burge. The issue in the case is whether the Illinois Attorney General had standing to challenge the decision of the Retirement Board of the Policemen’s Annuity & Benefit Fund of the City of Chicago that Commander John Burge’s felony conviction was not related to his service as a police officer and that Commander Burge was entitled to keep receiving his retirement pension. The First District Appellate Court had reversed the Pension Board’s decision and the Pension Board and Commander Burge appealed.
On January 13, 204 the Fourth District Appellate Court issued its Opinion in Sharp v. Board of Trustees of the State Employees Retirement System. The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s order that SERS lacked authority to recalculate and correct a pension overpayment. The appellate court held that SERS was governed by the 35-day time period set forth in the administrative review law and that it had no express authority to correct overpayments following the expiration of the 35-day time period. Absent express authority granted by the legislature, the 35-day time period controlled. Therefore, the appellate court rejected SERS arguments that its fiduciary duty to the pension fund or its statutory purpose gave it implicit authority to correct overpayments after the 35-day time period.
This case is a good reminder to downstate fire and police pension boards that they only have 35 days in which to correct errors in final administrative decisions.
Supreme Court To Hear First Amendment Challenge To Labor Unions
A Union For Home Health Aides Brings New Questions To Supreme Court
In part, this lawsuit challenges “Fair Share” fees that workers who do not participate in the union are required to pay once the majority of workers have voted to form a union. The case may have enormous implications for public sector labor unions.
On January 14, 2014 the First District Appellate Court issued its Rule 23 Order in Scepurek v. Board of Trustees of the Northbrook Firefighters’ Pension Fund. The Pension Board denied the plaintiff’s application for a line of duty disability pension. The trial court affirmed the Pension Board’s decision. The First District Appellate Court reversed and held the plaintiff was entitled to a line of duty disability pension.
The plaintiff alleged that he suffered a disabling back injury while performing CPR. The plaintiff alleged that the act of duty, in part, exacerbated the plaintiff’s pre-existing back conditions. The Pension Board rejected the plaintiff’s argument. The Appellate Court held that the Pension Board’s decision was against the manifest weight of the evidence. First, the Appellate Court noted that “a disability may result from multiple causes” and that the plaintiff only has to prove that the act of duty “is a causative factor contributing to the claimant’s disability.” The Appellate Court held that the record did not contain any evidence to support the Pension Board’s decision. “[A]ll physicians, including the Board’s own independent medical evaluators, concluded that the [act of duty] at least, in part, contributed to plaintiff’s permanent disability.” The Appellate Court concluded that the Board was “totally unrealistic in its finding” and that dismissing the act of duty as a causative factor “defied common sense.”
This is another case where a pension board rejects the medical opinions based on a finding that the applicant is not creditable. The Appellate Court noted that there was no evidence in the record that the plaintiff was malingering. The Appellate Court also noted that the Pension Board’s observation that the plaintiff did not have trouble sitting through the disability hearing went to the issue of “disability” and not the issue of “causation.” The Appellate Court concluded the Pension Board “substituted its lay assumptions and engaged in conjecture.” Finally, the Appellate Court held that while credibility determinations are generally within the province of the Board, “the Board cannot piecemeal tear apart a plaintiff’s credibility one one issue while finding him credible on all other issues when plaintiff’s statements are supported by documentary evidence and are found credible by all medical evidence in the case.”
Click HERE to listen to Oral Argument