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09/24/96 DONNIE ROBBINS v. BOARD TRUSTEES

September 24, 1996

DONNIE ROBBINS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE CARBONDALE POLICE PENSION FUND OF THE CITY OF CARBONDALE, ILLINOIS, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jackson County. No. 94-MR-57. Honorable E. Dan Kimmel, Judge, presiding.

The Honorable Justice Chapman delivered the opinion of the court: Hopkins, P.j., and Maag, J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chapman

JUSTICE CHAPMAN delivered the opinion of the court:

Police officer Donnie Robbins petitioned the Carbondale Police Pension Fund for a disability pension benefit, pursuant to section 3-114.2 of the Illinois Pension Code (Code) (40 ILCS 5/3-114.2 (West 1994)). On January 27, 1994, Robbins amended his petition, adding a claim for line-of-duty pension benefits under section 3-114.1 of the Code (40 ILCS 5/3-114.1 (West 1994)). The Police Pension Fund Board of Trustees (Board) denied Robbins' line-of-duty pension benefit but found that Robbins was entitled to a not-on-duty pension. The circuit court affirmed the Board's decision. Robbins appeals from the decision denying line-of-duty pension benefits. The question presented to us is whether it is necessary for an applicant for a line-of-duty pension to establish that the sole cause of his disability was an on-duty accident. We hold that it is not and therefore reverse.

Agency findings on questions of fact are prima facie true and correct. Parisi v. Jenkins, 236 Ill. App. 3d 42, 47, 603 N.E.2d 566, 569-70, 177 Ill. Dec. 496 (1992). A court's function on administrative review is limited to determining whether the factual conclusions of the agency were against the manifest weight of the evidence. Jagielnik v. Board of Trustees of Police Pension Fund of Village of Mundelein, 271 Ill. App. 3d 869, 875, 649 N.E.2d 527, 530, 208 Ill. Dec. 471 (1995). An agency interpretation of the statutes the agency is empowered to administer should only be overturned if it is clearly erroneous. O'Hare-Midway Limousine Service, Inc. v. Baker, 232 Ill. App. 3d 108, 110, 596 N.E.2d 795, 797, 173 Ill. Dec. 171 (1992).

At the hearing before the Board, Robbins, who is 47 years old, testified that he began working for the Carbondale Police Department in 1970. During the first nine years of his employment he worked as a patrol officer. In 1979, he became an evidence custodian and continued in that position until the fall of 1988, when he was reassigned to patrol duty. Robbins testified that in 1989 he was having difficulty keeping abreast of the reports he had to write. In fact, his superior criticized his performance, both because of the untimeliness of the reports and because of alleged mistakes in them. Robbins testified that the criticism caused him stress. Robbins testified that he also became stressed because the other officers he worked with were younger and, in his opinion, better trained.

Robbins testified that in addition to these perceived stress-inducing factors, he was particularly affected by one incident. On New Year's Day 1990, Robbins responded to a domestic violence call and encountered a husband armed with a shotgun. The incident ended when, in the presence of Robbins, the individual turned the gun on himself and committed suicide by shooting himself in the face. Robbins continued working patrol duty until his hand was injured in April of 1992. Robbins was off work from the hand injury until October of 1992. Robbins had been back at work for only two days when the police chief instructed him to have a psychological evaluation performed by Dr. Eric Ostrov. The exam was ordered because the chief believed that Robbins was having suicidal thoughts. Robbins denied having suicidal thoughts but testified that the very thought of returning to patrol duty upsets him. He believes that the stress he suffered and the problems resulting from it are directly related to his work as a police officer. Robbins was also questioned about his alcohol consumption. Robbins testified that he has consumed alcohol socially over the past 15 to 20 years. He believes that he is capable of handling his alcohol consumption and has never undergone treatment or therapy for alcohol abuse.

Psychologist Dr. Eric Ostrov testified that he examined Robbins in 1992 at the request of Police Chief Don Strom. Ostrov testified that both the interview and the psychological testing indicated that Robbins was emotionally distraught, depressed, and possibly suicidal. Robbins was also consuming a great deal of alcohol at that time, and he was potentially violent. Robbins told Ostrov that he had a poor appetite, was moody, was experiencing sleeplessness, and was having difficulty performing routine tasks. Robbins related that he and his current wife have had marital strife in the past. Robbins also indicated that he was having suicidal thoughts and believed that everyone, including himself, would be better off if he were dead.

Ostrov testified that there is a connection between Robbins' depression and his employment as a police officer. He believed that Robbins was very comfortable for eight years working as an evidence custodian, but when he was put back on the street, he felt inadequate and too old and feared the dangers of his job. Ostrov testified that Robbins told him of the incident involving the man who committed suicide in front of Robbins during Robbins' investigation of a domestic dispute. Ostrov related that based upon his examination of Robbins in October of 1992, he believed that Robbins probably could not carry out his duties because of his fears and that his fears were related to his work. He testified that Robbins could be dangerous because he might not be capable of backing up a fellow police officer.

Dr. Ostrov examined Robbins again one year after his initial exam and found dramatic improvement. Robbins was not nearly as depressed and his mood was positive. His hand injury had healed and his marriage was going well. Ostrov testified that based on this examination, he would have recommended that Robbins return to the police department, but only in a non-weapon-carrying capacity. After his second examination, Ostrov wrote, "I recommend that Mr. Robbins be returned to active duty only if accommodation can be made to his susceptibility to the stress of routine police work while on patrol or working on the streets." When asked whether Robbins' problem was causally connected to his work as a police officer, Ostrov testified: "I have to say yes if by causally is meant any connection. I would have to say no if what is meant is more specific connection [sic] to a specific act that he took as a police officer." Ostrov opined that there was not any one specific on-duty incident that caused the problems from which Robbins currently suffers, but that Robbins' fear of being on the street played a role in his emotional decompensation and inability to work.

Dr. David Gilliam, M.D., examined Donnie Robbins in March of 1994, and he found that Robbins' problems with depression and alcohol abuse were directly caused by his work. Gilliam opined that Robbins' reassignment to patrol duty was particularly important in leading to the development of his depression and alcohol abuse.

Psychologist James Peterson also evaluated Robbins. Peterson concluded that Robbins consumed alcohol quite heavily during a period in his life when he was distressed by work and depressed and separated from his wife. Peterson found that this dependency on alcohol was directly stress related and is not indicative of any type of long-term chronic drinking and/or alcohol dependency. Dr. Peterson also found that once Robbins learned stress-reduction techniques and coping strategies he could perhaps return to work on active duty with the public.

Dr. Michael Althoff conducted a psychological exam on March 1, 1994, to provide information regarding Robbins' current psychological functioning. Althoff found that Robbins' previous impairment appeared to be a result of his performance of the duties of a police officer. Althoff opined that the noteworthy signs and symptoms of depression, alcohol abuse, and marital conflict that were previously noted were no longer present. Althoff found that if Robbins were to return to his duties as a police officer ...


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