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White v. City of Aurora

July 30, 2001

ROBERT W. WHITE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE
v.
THE CITY OF AURORA, THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE CITY OF AURORA, POLICE PENSION FUND; KEVIN BAXTER; DANIEL HOFFMAN; EDWARD BEALE; JOHN P. DUGGAN; AND WILLIAM J. WEIGEL, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County. No. 99-MR-375 Honorable Patrick J. Dixon, Judge, Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McLAREN

UNPUBLISHED

The Board of Trustees of the City of Aurora, Illinois, the police pension fund, Kevin Baxter, Daniel Hoffman, Edward Beale, John P. Duggan, and William J. Weigel (collectively, the Board), appeal the trial court's decision reversing the Board's denial of "line of duty" benefits to Robert W. White, after White was injured while stepping out of his squad car to place a traffic citation on the windshield of a car. We reverse.

The following facts are uncontroverted. On November 13, 1997, White, a 56-year-old, 23-year veteran of the Aurora police department, was assigned to patrol the area of the Hollywood Casino in Aurora. All officers were instructed to write more parking citations. As White exited his squad car to place a citation on the windshield of a car illegally parked on a bridge near the casino, he slipped. The accident caused an injury to his back that resulted in a permanent disability.

On January 7, 1999, White applied for a "line of duty" disability pension under section 3--114.1 of the Illinois Pension Code (Pension Code or Code), which provided 65% of an officer's salary. 40 ILCS 5/3--114.1 (West 1996). On August 17, 1999, after a hearing, the Board denied White's application for a "line of duty" pension, leaving him eligible for a "not on duty" pension, which would provide 50% of his salary (40 ILCS 5/3--114.2 (West 1996)).

On September 21, 1999, White filed a complaint for administrative review, adding the City of Aurora as a party-defendant. On November 3, 1999, the trial court dismissed the City of Aurora. After hearing arguments and reviewing the parties' briefs, the trial court reversed the decision of the Board, finding that White was entitled to a "line of duty" pension. The Board filed this timely appeal.

Section 3--114.1 of the Pension Code provides:

"Disability Pension--Line of duty. If a police officer as the result of sickness, accident or injury incurred in or resulting from the performance of an act of duty, is found to be physically or mentally disabled for service in the police department, so as to render necessary his or her suspension or retirement from the police service, the police officer shall be entitled to a disability retirement pension of 65% of the salary attached to the rank on the police force held by the officer at the date of suspension or retirement. A police officer shall be considered 'on duty', while on any assignment approved by the chief of the police department of the municipality he or she serves, whether the assignment is within or outside the municipality." (Emphasis added.) 40 ILCS 5/3--114.1 (West 1996).

Initially we must address which standard of review to apply. White asserts that the issue presented is one of law and that the Board's decision must be reviewed de novo. Conversely, the Board contends that the issue presented is a mixed question of fact and law and that its decision must be upheld unless it is clearly erroneous. We agree with White.

On administrative review, determinations regarding questions of fact are given deference and will not be disturbed unless they are against the manifest weight of the evidence. City of Belvidere v. Illinois State Labor Relations Board, 181 Ill. 2d 191, 205 (1998). Determinations regarding mixed questions of fact and law are not disturbed unless they are clearly erroneous. Belvidere, 181 Ill. 2d at 205. Determinations regarding questions of law are reviewed de novo. Belvidere, 181 Ill. 2d at 205. Interpretation of a statute is a question of law. Albazzaz v. Department of Professional Regulation, 314 Ill. App. 3d 97, 105 (2000).

Here, the facts were uncontroverted and the Board was charged only with interpreting the meaning of the term "act of duty" as contained in section 3--114.1 (40 ILCS 5/3--114.1 (West 1996)) and defined in section 5--113 of the Pension Code (40 ILCS 5/5--113 (West 1996)). Because these are purely issues of statutory interpretation, we will apply a de novo standard of review.

Section 3--114.1 of the Illinois Pension Code establishes, inter alia, the right of a police officer to receive a "line of duty" disability retirement benefit equal to 65% of his salary at the time the disability is allowed where the disability results from injury incurred in "the performance of an act of duty." 40 ILCS 5/3--114.1 (West 1996). In contrast, section 3--114.2 of the Code provides that an officer disabled as the result "of any cause other than the performance of an act of duty" is to receive a disability benefit of 50% of his salary at the time the disability occurs. 40 ILCS 5/3--114.2 (West 1996). Section 5--113 of the Code defines an "[a]ct of duty," in pertinent part, as follows:

"Any act of police duty inherently involving special risk, not ordinarily assumed by a citizen in the ordinary walks of life, imposed on a policeman by the statutes of this State or by the ordinances or police regulations of the city in which this Article is in effect or by a special assignment ***." (Emphasis added.) 40 ILCS 5/5--113 (West 1996). See Robbins v. Board of Trustees of the Carbondale Police Pension Fund, 177 Ill. 2d 533, 540 (1997) (court used the definition of "act of duty" contained in section 5--113 to interpret section 3--114.1).

On appeal, White contends that he is entitled to a line of duty disability benefit because he sustained his injuries in the performance of an act of duty as that term ...


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