ASHMORE v. BLOOMINGTON POLICE PENSION BOARD

On December 11, 2018 the Fourth District Appellate Court issued its Opinion in Ashmore v. Board of Trustees of the Bloomington Police Pension Fund.  The plaintiff, a police officer, applied for a line of duty disability pension, or in the alternative, a not on duty disability pension.  The Pension Board concluded the plaintiff was not disabled and denied both applications.  Because the Pension Board found the plaintiff was not disabled, it did not address the “act of duty” issue.  The trial court affirmed the Pension Board’s decision.  The plaintiff’s appealed.  The appellate court reversed and held the plaintiff was entitled to a line of duty disability pension.

The plaintiff injured his arm while on duty when he fell while pushing a vehicle that was stuck in the snow.  Pursuant to section 3-115 of the Pension Code, the Pension Board selected three doctors to examine the plaintiff.  Two doctors concluded the plaintiff was disabled and that the disability resulted from the fall on duty.  One doctor concluded the plaintiff was not disabled but that plaintiff still had chronic pain.  The dissenting doctor did note that the fall caused plaintiff’s injury.  The plaintiff’s treating physician concluded plaintiff was disabled.  In denying the plaintiff’s disability pension application, the pension board relied on the dissenting doctor and adverse credibility determinations.

The appellate court held the Pension Board erred in relying on the dissenting doctor’s report.  The appellate court noted the dissenting doctor acknowledged the plaintiff’s chronic pain and five pound weight lifting restriction in light of plaintiff’s job requirements.  The appellate court, citing the Supreme Court’s holding in Wade v. North Chicago Police Pension Board, held the dissenting doctor failed to consider relevant and material evidence that was key under the circumstances of the case.  The dissenting doctor mistakenly believed the plaintiff’s job was administrative in nature and the appellate court held that finding was “objectively unreasonable.”  Therefore, the Pension Board erred when it relied on the dissenting doctor’s opinion to the exclusion of the other opinions.

The appellate court also rejected the Pension Board’s adverse credibility determination and noted that “minor inconsistencies…that are on collateral issues and are essentially irrelevant to the underlying issue of whether plaintiff is disabled.”  The appellate court held that even if evidence supported the Pension Board’s credibility determinations, the Pension Board’s decision was still against the manifest weight of the evidence because the testimony the Pension Board found “…problematic had minimal or no materiality regarding the question of whether plaintiff was disabled.”

Finally, the appellate court cited its original jurisdiction under Article VI, section 6 of the Constitution and held that plaintiff was performing an “act of duty” at the time he fell and suffered his disabling injury.  The appellate court cited Mingus v. Peoria Police Pension Board in support of its conclusion.

Click HERE to listen to the appellate court oral arguments.

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