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Esner v. Bd. of Trustees of Firemen's Pension

OPINION FILED JANUARY 4, 1979.

JAMES ESNER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE FIREMEN'S PENSION FUND OF THE VILLAGE OF NORTH RIVERSIDE ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. ARTHUR L. DUNNE, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE LINN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff, James Esner, is a member of the fire department of the Village of North Riverside, Illinois. The Board of Trustees of the Firemen's Pension Fund of the Village of North Riverside (Pension Board) rejected Esner's application for admission into the firemen's pension fund. The Pension Board's decision was affirmed by the Circuit Court of Cook County, upon administrative review.

Esner appeals, contending: (1) that the Pension Board applied an impermissible standard in rejecting his application for admission into the firemen's pension fund; and (2) that the Pension Board's decision is contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence.

We vacate the Pension Board's decision and the judgment of the Circuit Court of Cook County. We direct the circuit court to remand this case to the Pension Board (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 110, par. 275(g)) for the taking of additional evidence and the entry of specific findings. See Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 110A, par. 366(a)(5).

On February 1, 1977, Esner was appointed a member of the fire department of the Village of North Riverside. On February 4, Esner applied to the Pension Board for admission into the firemen's pension fund. Qualifications for admission are controlled by statute (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 108 1/2, par. 4-107) and provide in pertinent part that "any person appointed as a fireman shall: * * * (3) Be found upon a medical examination by a duly licensed physician selected by the [Pension] Board to be then physically and mentally fit to perform the duties of a fireman" (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 108 1/2, par. 4-107(b)(3)).

The Pension Board convened on March 29, 1977, to consider Esner's application for admission into the fund. The only evidence presented to the Pension Board consisted of two letters, one from the Pension Board's physician and one from Esner's physician.

Doctor Claudio G. Agne, M.D., was selected by the Pension Board to conduct a complete physical examination of Esner, for the purpose of determining whether Esner was physically and mentally fit to perform the duties of a fireman. Dr. Agne's findings were presented to the Pension Board in the form of a letter. This letter provides in pertinent part:

"X-ray of the lumbar and sacral spines taken at Loyola University Medical Center revealed narrowing of the L-5 S-1 disk space with some degenerative changes noted in the L-5 S-1 area.

The x-ray findings are indicative of osteo-arthritic changes of the spine that are present now * * *.

At the time of the examination, the patient was asymptomatic as far as he can recall. However, with the x-ray findings of the spine showing a pre-existing condition, I cannot recommend him for the Pension Fund."

Esner submitted to the Pension Board, for its consideration, a letter dated February 1, 1977, from Doctor Gerald A. Hancur. This letter provides in relevant part:

"I have reviewed the x-rays taken of James Esner in Loyola Hospital. There is a definite spondylosis and narrowing of the lumbo-sacral joint. Since the condition is asymptomatic now I believe there is no justification to assume that this condition will be troublesome in the future, especially at his present work."

Based upon these two letters, the Pension Board voted unanimously to reject Esner's application for admission into the firemen's pension fund. Upon administrative review, the Pension Board's decision was ...


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