On December 10, 2019 the Third District Appellate Court issued its Opinion in City of Peoria v. Firefighters’ Pension Fund of the City of Peoria, et al. A firefighter applied for a line of duty disability pension. The City of Peoria petitioned to intervene in the hearing. The pension board denied the City’s petition and granted the firefighter’s application for a line of duty disability pension. The City filed a complaint for administrative review challenging the denial of its petition to intervene and the decision to grant a line of duty disability pension. The trial court and the appellate court affirmed the pension board’s decisions.
The firefighter injured himself while participating in a “collapsed house” training exercise. All three doctors concluded the firefighter was disabled. Two doctors opined the firefighters’ disability was not caused by the training incident but rather was caused by pre-existing conditions unrelated to the firefighter’s job duties. One doctor opined the firefighter’s disability resulted, in some way, to the exacerbation of his pre-existing condition.
The City’s argued that it should be allowed to intervene due to (1) PSEBA, (2) its interest in contributing to the pension fund, and (3) to ensure the pension statutes are properly interpreted by the pension board. During the intervention hearing, the City’s attorney admitted (1) the City did not intend on calling any witnesses and (2) that the City had already provided all of its records in response to a pension board subpoena. The City also declined to make an offer proof. The Pension Board denied the petition, held the disability hearing, and awarded the firefighter a line of duty disability pension. The City subsequently filed a motion to supplement the record and renewed its petition to intervene. The pension board granted the motion to supplement but denied the renewed petition to intervene. The pension board requested supplemental opinions from its doctors as to whether the cumulative effects of acts of duty caused or contributed to the disabling condition. Two doctors said “no” and one doctor said “yes.” The pension board again voted to award the firefighter a line of duty disability pension and concluded in its written decision that the cumulative effects of acts of duty caused the disability.
The appellate court declined to address whether the City had standing to challenge the pension board’s decision since it was not allowed to intervene. The parties agreed that the firefighter would not be entitled to PSEBA benefits because he was injured during a training exercise and was not responding to what he reasonably believed to be an emergency. Therefore, the City’s broad interest of contributing to the pension fund–in and of itself–did not require intervention. The City’s interest in developing a complete record and cross-examining witness did not require intervention where the City could not identify witnesses it intended on calling or evidence it intended on offering. Therefore the pension board’s denial of the petition to intervene was not an abuse of discretion.
Finally, the appellate court held the decision to award a line of duty disability pension was not against the manifest weight of the evidence. The firefighters’ testimony and one doctor’s opinion supported the pension board’s finding.
Click HERE for Oral Argument.