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Sanders v. Board of Trustees

OPINION FILED FEBRUARY 3, 1983.

HARLAN E. SANDERS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE CITY OF SPRINGFIELD POLICE PENSION FUND, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Sangamon County; the Hon. Richard J. Cadagin, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE LEWIS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied March 2, 1983.

In this administrative review action, defendant appeals from an order of the circuit court of Sangamon County which reversed defendant's denial of plaintiff's application for membership in the Springfield Police Pension Fund.

Plaintiff began work as a Springfield police officer on September 4, 1979, and applied for membership in the Springfield Police Pension Fund (Fund) on the same date. Relying on the premise that Dr. Philip J. Haggerty, examining physician for the Board of Trustees of the Fund (Board), had found plaintiff physically unfit to perform the duties of a police officer, the Board rejected plaintiff's application on November 26, 1979. The plaintiff was subsequently granted a hearing in regard to the denial of his application. Following this hearing, the Board reaffirmed its denial on July 9, 1980.

On August 12, 1980, plaintiff filed a complaint for administrative review in the Sangamon County circuit court, seeking reversal of the Board's denial of his membership application. Following a hearing on March 20, 1981, the court reversed the Board's decision and remanded the cause to the Board for a new hearing. Pursuant to the circuit court decision, a second hearing was held on December 23, 1981. The Board introduced into evidence a copy of a letter from Dr. Haggerty concerning the results of a physical examination of plaintiff which Haggerty performed on December 21, 1981. In this letter, Haggerty stated that plaintiff was afflicted with the following medical problems and physical abnormalities: hypertension, acute dental caries, active acne of the thorax, numerous epidermoid cysts on the scrotum and an elevated uric acid level (suggestive of a diagnosis of gout). His blood pressure at the time of the examination was 110/70. Haggerty also noted that plaintiff sustained a broken right foot in 1979 and a broken right elbow in 1981. Haggerty concluded that the large amount of medication which plaintiff was taking kept his hypertension under good control, but that he was uncertain whether the present good control of plaintiff's blood pressure through medication significantly affected the long-term risks of hypertension. The plaintiff's sole evidence consisted of a handwritten note on one of Dr. Haggerty's prescription forms which reads in its entirety:

"Harlan Sanders 12-23-81

This man is physically and mentally fit to perform the duties of a policeman at this present time."

The note is not signed.

During the course of the hearing, members of the Board expressed concern that because of plaintiff's condition, he could become "disabled" and thus eligible for disability benefits at the time of his choice by simply not taking the medication for his hypertension. The pension payments which he and his family would receive as a result of his becoming disabled could total a quarter million to a million dollars. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Board voted unanimously to reject plaintiff's application for membership in the Fund.

The plaintiff again appealed the Board's decision to the Sangamon County circuit court. Following a hearing on January 22, 1982, the court reversed the Board's decision and ordered that plaintiff be admitted to membership in the Fund, with his membership to be retroactive to September 4, 1979.

• 1 Before addressing the substantive issue presented in this case, we must first determine whether we may consider evidence as to plaintiff's physical condition adduced at hearings prior to the December 23, 1981, hearing in evaluating the propriety of the Board's action. The circuit court's docket entry of March 20, 1981, which reversed the Board's decision of July 9, 1980, reads in part:

"Complaint in Administrative Review comes on for hearing. Arguments heard. The decision of Defendant is reversed and remanded for new hearing. Cause stricken."

(Apparently no written order was entered relative to this decision.) We deem the above docket entry to be the equivalent of an order remanding the cause to the Board for a hearing de novo. A hearing de novo has the same effect as if no actions whatsoever had been instituted in the matter at issue. It is neither limited by nor dependent upon prior proceedings. (Local Liquor Control Com. v. Illinois Liquor Control Com. (1978), 59 Ill. App.3d 1, 374 N.E.2d 1298.) It follows that an administrative decision rendered at the conclusion of a hearing de novo must stand or fall on the basis of the evidence presented at that hearing; evidence produced at prior hearings may not be relied upon to support such a decision. We therefore conclude that the only evidence which we may consider in the disposition of this appeal is that presented at the December 23, 1981, hearing.

The defendant contends that the unsigned note from Dr. Haggerty was not properly admitted into evidence at the hearing held on December 23, 1981. The following colloquy concerning ...


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