On April 27, 2015 the Second District Appellate Court issued its Opinion in Bremer v. City of Rockford. The Rockford Firefighters’ Pension Board awarded the plaintiff an occupational disease disability pension. The City subsequently denied the plaintiff’s demand for the payment of his health insurance premiums pursuant to the Public Safety Employee Benefits Act (“PSEBA”). The plaintiff sued for the City for payment of PSEBA benefits and to recoup his attorney’s fees pursuant to the Attorneys Fees in Wages Actions Act. The trial court entered judgment in favor of the plaintiff on his PSEBSA claim and denied the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgement on the Wage Actions Act.
The City argued that the award of an occupational disease disability pension did not satisfy the “catastrophic injury” requirement for PSEBA. The appellate court disagreed. The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s order that the award of an occupational disease disability pension satisfied the “catastrophic injury” requirement in PSEBA. The appellate court held that “there is no meaningful distinction between a line of duty disability based on sickness resulting from the cumulative acts of duty (section 4-110) and an occupational disease disability based on cardiomyopathy resulting from service as a firefighter (section 4-110.1). The appellate court ultimately remanded the issue to the trial court to determine whether the occupational disease disability pension resulted from the plaintiff’s response to what he reasonably believed to be an emergency.
The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s order that the plaintiff was not entitled to an award of attorney’s fees under the Wage Actions Act. The appellate court held that health insurance benefits under PSEBA do not qualify as “wages earned and due and owing to the terms of employment as they are not payments to an employee for services rendered.”
Justice McLaren wrote a dissent that the majority described as having a “hyperbolic tone.” Justice McLaren concurred with the majority’s opinion that health insurance benefits under PSEBA do not qualify as wages under the Wage Action Act. However, Justice McLaren, cited to his dissent in Village of Vernon Hills v. Heelan to argue that the pension board’s award of a line of duty disability pension or an occupational disease disability pension is not irrefutable proof of a catastrophic injury for purposes of section 10(a) of PSEBA. The Illinois Supreme Court has granted a petition for leave to appeal in the Heelan case.
On April 23, 2015 the Illinois House voted unanimously to approve Amendment 2 to HB-3484. The bill amends the municipal contribution enforcement language in 40 ILCS 5/3-125 and 40 ILCS 5/4-118. The amendment requires that Pension Boards comply with any rules established by the State’s comptroller. Additionally, the amendment allows pension funds to seize “payments of State Funds” to municipalities rather than “grants of State Funds” to municipalities. The Senate must still consider the bill.
On April 21, 2015 the Illinois House approved Amendment 1 to HB-1320 which amends sections 3-109.1 and 3-124.1 of the Illinois Pension Code. The amendment filed on the same day the House voted to approve the amendment would allow a police officer receiving an Article 3 pension to work for another municipality as a police officer and to continue receiving his or her Article 3 pension so long as the other municipality had a population of less than 6000 people.
On January 23, 2015 Illinois House Representative Joe Sosnowski filed HJRCA 9 which would repeal article 13, section 9 (The Pension Protection Clause) of the Illinois Constitution.
SB-817 would amend the line of duty disability provision in section 4-110 of the Pension Code to clarify when a firefighter is performing an act of duty. The bill passed the licensed activities and pension committee on a 7-4 vote.
On March 31, 2015 the Second District Appellate Court issued its Rule 23 Order in Poulos v. Board of Trustees of the Round Lake Beach Police Pension Fund. The Pension Board voted to terminate the plaintiff’s disability pension because she recovered from his disability. The plaintiff filed a complaint for administrative review and the trial court reversed. The trial court deferred to the opinion of the plaintiff’s treating physician. The appellate court reversed the trial court and affirmed the Pension Board’s decision.
The appellate court noted that the record contained conflicting evidence as to whether the plaintiff had recovered from her disability. However, the appellate court could not say that the Pension Board’s decision was against the manifest weight of the evidence. The appellate court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the Pension Board’s doctor was not qualified because he was (1) not a surgeon but rather an occupational medicine expert and (2) did not have an independent recollection of his evaluation of the plaintiff. Ultimately, the appellate court concluded that it was not its prerogative or that of the trial court to reweigh the evidence.
PGM attorney Laura Goodloe represented the Pension Board in this matter.