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03/23/88 James B. Di Falco, v. the Board of Trustees of

March 23, 1988

JAMES B. DI FALCO, APPELLEE

v.

THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE FIREMEN'S PENSION FUND OF THE WOOD DALE FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT NO. ONE ET AL., APPELLANTS



SUPREME COURT OF ILLINOIS

521 N.E.2d 923, 122 Ill. 2d 22, 118 Ill. Dec. 446 1988.IL.406

Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Second District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County, the Hon. John S. Teschner, Judge, presiding.

APPELLATE Judges:

CHIEF JUSTICE MORAN delivered the opinion of the court. JUSTICE WARD Dissenting.

DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE MORAN

James B. Di Falco submitted to the board of trustees of the Firemen's Pension Fund of Wood Dale Fire Protection District No. One (board) an application for a duty-related disability pension. The board dismissed the application as untimely. Thereafter, Di Falco, plaintiff herein, brought an action in the circuit court of Du Page County for administrative review against the defendants herein: the board; Wood Dale Fire Protection District No. One, Du Page County, Illinois (district); and the board of fire commissioners of Wood Dale Fire Protection District No. One (commissioners). The trial court affirmed the decision of the board to dismiss the application. The court also granted the motion of the commissioners to be dismissed as party defendants.

On appeal, the appellate court reversed the dismissal of plaintiff's application, finding that nothing within the Illinois Pension Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 108 1/2, par. 4-101 et seq.) precluded discharged fire fighters from being eligible for a disability pension. The appellate court also affirmed the dismissal of the commissioners as party defendants. (151 Ill. App. 3d 409.) We allowed the remaining defendants' petition for leave to appeal under Rule 315 (107 Ill. 2d R. 315).

The issue presented for review is whether a probationary fire fighter is entitled to a disability pension when the fire fighter first applies for the pension a year after his discharge.

The relevant facts are undisputed. On June 1, 1982, plaintiff was appointed a probationary fireman-paramedic. While on duty in October 1982, he allegedly sustained injuries to his spine, necessitating a disability leave beginning about December 2, 1982.

On May 2, 1983, plaintiff received a letter from the commissioners advising him that his probationary status would be extended for a period equal to the amount of time between December 2, 1982, to whenever he returned to full-time service. However, by letter dated May 26, 1983, the commissioners advised plaintiff that effective on that date he was no longer a member of the firefighting force of that district. Plaintiff has not contested in this court the legality of his discharge; therefore, for the purpose of review, we shall assume his discharge was proper.

Almost a year later, on May 24, 1984, plaintiff submitted his application for a duty-related pension to the defendant board pursuant to the terms of the Pension Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 108 1/2, par. 4-110). The board ordered plaintiff to undergo examinations by three physicians as provided for in section 4-112 of the Pension Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 108 1/2, par. 4-112).

Both the defendant board and the trial court found that, as a matter of law, plaintiff was not entitled to apply for a disability pension, and dismissed plaintiff's application. The gist of the holding of the board and trial court, as well as of defendant's argument here, is that in order to qualify for a duty-related disability pension under section 4 -- 110, an individual must be a "fireman," as used in that section, at the time of the application. Following this line of argument, defendants assert that, because plaintiff had been discharged May 26, 1983, he was no longer a "fireman" when he applied almost a year later for a pension, and therefore was not entitled to a pension.

In the face of defendant's argument concerning the meaning of "fireman" as used in section 4 -- 110, the appellate court found that there was no provision in the Illinois Pension Code at the time plaintiff entered the pension system that precluded application for a pension after discharge. The appellate court concluded that to foreclose plaintiff's right to apply for a disability pension after his discharge would have the effect of diminishing and impairing plaintiff's pension benefit rights in violation of section 5 of article XIII of the Illinois Constitution.

The Illinois Constitution provides that membership in a pension system of any local government unit in the State is "an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired." (Ill. Const. 1970, art. XIII, ยง 5.) After the effective date of the Constitution, the "contractual relationship" is governed by the actual terms of the Pension Code at the time the employee becomes a member of the pension system. (Kerner v. State Employees' Retirement System (1978), 72 Ill. 2d 507, 514, cert. denied (1979), 441 U.S. 923, 60 L. Ed. 2d 397, 99 S. Ct. 2032.) Therefore, in determining plaintiff's rights under the Pension Code, we must look to the language of the relevant statutes in effect in 1982 when ...


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