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11/28/89 Jeffrey S. Fisher, v. Rock Island County Et Al.

November 28, 1989





547 N.E.2d 678, 191 Ill. App. 3d 110, 138 Ill. Dec. 511 1989.IL.1833

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Rock Island County; the Hon. Joseph Beatty, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE SCOTT delivered the opinion of the court. WOMBACHER, P.J., and STOUDER, J., concur.


The circuit court of Rock Island County reversed, by order dated April 22, 1988, a decision of the Rock Island County Merit Commission (Merit Commission) rejecting plaintiff-appellee as a deputy sheriff applicant and remanded the cause to the Merit Commission with directions to add plaintiff to the then current eligibility list for a deputy sheriff position. Defendants-appellants appeal the circuit court's order, alleging that the findings and decision of the circuit court were against the manifest weight of the evidence.

Plaintiff was a candidate for appointment as a Rock Island County deputy sheriff. After learning that testing for eligibility for the position was to be held, plaintiff took and passed a physical agility test. He was then furnished with written instructions on the conduct of the written examination which was characterized by its publisher, McCann Associates, Inc. (McCann Associates), as "How to Do Your Best on a McCann Associates, Inc. Deputy Sheriff (Form ESV -- 125) Written Test." The first page of that document, admitted as exhibit 8, stated: "All questions have equal weight. Your score will be based on the number of questions which you have answered correctly." Identical language appeared in the written test booklet.

On July 11, 1987, plaintiff took the examination with knowledge of the directions and how the test would be scored. McCann Associates scored the examination and recommended a total cut-off score of 77.6%, leaving 21 qualified applicants with plaintiff being among those qualified. Although plaintiff received an overall acceptable score, McCann Associates noted some subtest deficiencies in plaintiff's examination regarding the areas of police aptitude and police public relations. Regarding subtest deficiencies in these two areas, McCann Associates stated the following in its report to the Merit Commission:

"A score of 18 or less on Subtest V -- 2, Police Aptitude, suggest[s] that the candidate may have neither the overall aptitude for police work nor the interest and motivation toward police work that a candidate should have in order to acquire the knowledges, skills and abilities needed by a competent police officer. In the oral examination or interview, further probing should be done to provide additional evidence as to the candidate's attitude and real motivation toward the position of police officer.

A score of 12 or less on Subtest V -- 3, Police Public Relations, suggest[s] that the candidate may have real difficulty in dealing with citizens in the course of his/her law enforcement duties or that the candidate's view of the role of police officer in society is not appropriate. It is possible, in either an oral examination or an interview, to ask questions which can provide you with further evidence to indicate whether or not this deficiency is sufficiently critical to justify not considering the candidate further for appointment."

The Merit Commission met on August 5, 1987, for the purpose of reviewing the test scores and the written analysis provided by McCann Associates. By unanimous vote the Merit Commission determined "that the eligibility requirements be cut off at a raw score of 76% with 4 persons in that range being rejected for serious deficiencies in one or more areas." Plaintiff was among those rejected for serious deficiencies in one or more areas and was informed by the Merit Commission that he had failed the test by letter dated August 5, 1987. Plaintiff's subsequent requests to the Merit Commission for reconsideration were denied.

The Merit Commission is responsible for screening applicants pursuant to recognized principles of public employment. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 125, par. 157.) The Merit Commission must also "formulate, adopt and put into effect, rules, regulations and procedures for its operation and . . . shall set standards and qualifications for each class." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 125, par. 159.) Pursuant to statute, the Merit Commission adopted rules and regulations with regard to candidates for deputy sheriff which state, in pertinent part, that the applicant must:

"B.8. Successfully pass a written and/or oral examination to be administered by the Merit Commission."

Plaintiff asserts that the Merit Commission further expressed its policy regarding examinations in a "Memo For Record" delivered to the ...

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