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Sinnock v. Bd of Fire & Police Comm.

OPINION FILED MARCH 29, 1985.

RONALD SINNOCK, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

THE BOARD OF FIRE AND POLICE COMMISSIONERS OF THE CITY OF BEARDSTOWN ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cass County; the Hon. Cecil J. Burrows, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE MCCULLOUGH DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

The plaintiff, Ronald Sinnock, brought suit to recover lost wages after the defendants, the board of fire and police commissioners and the city of Beardstown, laid him off from their police force. The trial court held Sinnock's furlough prior to an ordinance officially reducing the size of the force was wrongful. The court granted summary judgment in favor of Sinnock for the period of time before the official reduction. The court, however, refused to award him any wages for the period after the date of the ordinance and granted summary judgment in the defendants' favor for that period of time. Sinnock appeals, contending his furlough after the ordinance was still wrongful because he had more seniority than an officer who was retained. In addition, Sinnock maintains the trial court erred in not awarding him prejudgment interest on the wages that he was awarded.

The defendants failed to file a brief on appeal. While a court of review should not be compelled to serve as an advocate for the appellee, a considered judgment of the trial court should not be set aside without some consideration of the merits of the appeal. Therefore, if the record is simple and the claimed errors are such that the court can easily decide them without the aid of the appellee's brief, the court should decide the merits of the appeal. On the other hand, if the appellant's brief demonstrates prima facie reversible error and the contentions in the brief find support in the record, then the trial court's judgment may be reversed. First Capitol Mortgage Corp. v. Talandis Construction Corp. (1976), 63 Ill.2d 128, 345 N.E.2d 493.

On June 28, 1978, the city appointed patrolman Michael Dyer as chief of police. Sinnock was hired on August 10, 1979. Dyer resigned as chief on May 16, 1981, and resumed his duties as a patrolman. The city decided that with Dyer's return to the position of patrolman it had more patrolmen than it needed. The city, therefore, laid off Sinnock on May 16 because he had been the last officer hired. On May 16, 1981, the ordinances of the city provided for seven patrolmen. Ordinance No. 81-11, adopted July 21, 1981, set the number of patrolmen positions at six. The trial court held the city had wrongfully furloughed Sinnock without officially reducing the size of its force. (See Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 24, pars. 10-2.1-17, 10-2.1-18.) The trial court awarded Sinnock lost wages for the period of time between May 16 and July 21. The city has not appealed that award.

• 1 Sinnock argues that his continued furlough after passage of the ordinance was also wrongful. Section 10-2.1-18 of the Illinois Municipal Code states, in pertinent part:

"When the force of the fire department or of the police department is reduced, and positions displaced or abolished, seniority shall prevail and the officers and members so reduced in rank, or removed from the service of the fire department or of the police department shall be considered furloughed without pay." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 24, par. 10-2.1-18.)

Sinnock maintains he had more seniority in the rank of patrolman than Dyer, and, therefore, Dyer should have been furloughed.

Sinnock maintains that "seniority" refers to seniority in rank rather than seniority in service. He relies on the following statement from the supreme court's decision in Yeley v. Bartonville Fire & Police Com. (1979), 77 Ill.2d 271, 274, 395 N.E.2d 1387, 1389:

"We agree with the appellate court that section 10-2.1-18 is correctly construed to apply to seniority in rank and not in length of service with the department."

Yeley, however, presented a much different case factually than the present one. The plaintiff in Yeley had been one of three sergeants on the Bartonville police force. When the village board decided to reduce the number of sergeants to two, the plaintiff was demoted. While he had been on the force longer than the other sergeants, he had not held the rank of sergeant as long. The appellate court in Yeley decided the Illinois Municipal Code strove to promote efficiency and capability of fire and police departments and to encourage the application and retention of qualified persons. That court concluded:

"A careful reading of the section [10-2.1-18] indicates that it has two functions. It requires that, if the manpower of the department is reduced, such reduction is to be effected according to seniority on the department, regardless of rank. If however, positions within a rank are reduced, then such a reduction in any given rank is to be effected according to seniority within that rank." (Yeley v. Bartonville Fire & Police Com. (1978), 64 Ill. App.3d 448, 451, 380 N.E.2d 1387, 1390, rev'd on other grounds (1979), 77 Ill.2d 271, 395 N.E.2d 1387.)

The court held that requiring the demotion of a more qualified and more experienced sergeant would defeat the statute's purpose. Similarly, in this case, to require the furlough of a more experienced and more qualified officer would not promote the efficiency and capability within the department and would discourage the application, retention and promotion of qualified persons. As stated in Yeley v. Bartonville Fire & Police Com. (1978), 64 Ill. App.3d 448, 450, 380 N.E.2d 1387, 1389, the word "seniority" is defined as:

"`[A] status attained by length of continuous service (as in a company, institution, or organization or in a department, job, rank or occupational group) to which are attached by custom or prior collective agreement various rights or privileges (as preference in tenure, priority in promotion, and choice of work or shift) on the basis of ranking ...


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