Appeal from the Circuit Court of Madison County. No. 99-MR-412 Honorable Daniel J. Stack, Judge, presiding. Appeal from the Circuit Court of Madison County. No. 99-MR-445 Honorable Daniel J. Stack, Judge, presiding.
Justices: Honorable Gordon E. Maag, P.J.,
Honorable Clyde L. Kuehn, J.,
Honorable Terrence J. Hopkins, J.,
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Maag
In separate actions, Robie P. Poston and Opal M. Gibbs filed suit against the Madison County sheriff's department (defendant). Each plaintiff sought a judgment declaring that a deputy sheriff assigned to work as a jail-correction officer was an "eligible employee" under the Public Employee Disability Act (Act) (5 ILCS 345/1 (West 1998)). The Madison County circuit court determined that sheriff's deputies assigned as jail-correction officers were law enforcement officers and were eligible employees under the Act. Defendant appealed.
The pertinent facts are not in dispute. In September 1996, the Madison County sheriff appointed Poston as a deputy sheriff and assigned him to work in the jail division. Gibbs had also been appointed as a deputy sheriff and was also assigned to the jail division. Both Poston and Gibbs took the official oath for the office of "Jail-Correction Officer-Deputy Sheriff". From the date of their respective appointments, Poston and Gibbs were assigned to work in the position of jail-correction officer (jail officer). Prior to their respective dates of injury, neither had been assigned to work in the patrol division of the sheriff's department. On June 10, 1996, Gibbs sustained a line-of-duty injury while performing the duties of a jail officer. She applied for disability benefits pursuant to section 1(b) of the Act (5 ILCS 345/1(b) (West 1994)). On July 14, 1999, Poston sustained a line-of-duty injury to his hand while performing the duties of a jail officer. He also applied for benefits under section 1(b). Madison County denied both applications on the basis that local corrections officers were not eligible employees according to section 1(a) of the Act (5 ILCS 345/1(a) (West 1998)).
On August 16, 1999, Gibbs filed the declaratory judgment action in the circuit court. She sought a determination that she was a law enforcement officer and an "eligible employee" under section 1(a) of the Act. Poston filed a similar action on September 2, 1999. The circuit court determined that the term "law enforcement officer", as used in the Act, includes an individual performing the job functions of a correctional officer, and the court concluded that Poston and Gibbs were "eligible employees" under section 1(a). Defendant appealed the judgments. We granted defendant's motion to consolidate the cases for purposes of appeal.
On appeal, defendant claims that the circuit court erred in deciding that jail officers were "law enforcement officers" and eligible for benefits under the Act. In support of its position, defendant notes that the pre-1992 version of section 1(a) specifically included local corrections officers as eligible employees (5 ILCS 345/1(a) (West 1992)) but that local corrections officers were excluded from that section when it was amended by the legislature in 1992 and 1993 (5 ILCS 345/1(a) (West Supp. 1993) (as amended by Pub. Act 87-1161, eff. September 18, 1992 (1992 Ill. Laws 3175-76) and Pub. Act 88-45, eff. July 6, 1993 (1993 Ill. Laws 366))). Defendant argues that these amendments demonstrate a legislative intent to exclude local jail officers from coverage under the Act. Pointing to the definitions of "law enforcement officer" contained in the Illinois Police Training Act (50 ILCS 705/2 (West 2000)) and the Illinois Human Rights Act (775 ILCS 5/2-104 (West 2000)), defendant asserts that a law enforcement officer is primarily responsible for the prevention or detection of crime and the enforcement of state and local criminal and traffic laws and that the duties of a jail officer do not fall within that definition. Defendant concludes that because Gibbs and Poston had worked exclusively as jail officers and had never performed patrol duties, they were not law enforcement officers and therefore were not eligible for benefits under the Act.
In this case, we must decide whether a sheriff's deputy assigned as a jail officer is a "law enforcement officer" as that term is used in section 1 of the Act. An issue involving statutory interpretation is a question of law and is subject to de novo review. Lucas v. Lakin, 175 Ill. 2d 166, 171, 676 N.E.2d 637, 640 (1997). In interpreting a statute, the primary goal is to ascertain and give effect to the true intent of the legislature. 5 ILCS 70/1.01 (West 1994); Kraft, Inc. v. Edgar, 138 Ill. 2d 178, 189, 561 N.E.2d 656, 661 (1990). The best evidence of legislative intent is the language used in the statute itself. Kraft, Inc., 138 Ill. 2d at 189, 561 N.E.2d at 661. If the legislative intent can be ascertained from the plain language of the statute, we must give it effect without resorting to interpretive aids. Barnett v. Zion Park District, 171 Ill. 2d 378, 389, 665 N.E.2d 808, 813 (1996). When the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous, a court should not depart from the plain language of the statute by reading into it exceptions, limitations, or conditions that the legislature did not express. Kraft, Inc., 138 Ill. 2d at 189, 561 N.E.2d at 661. However, when the language of a statute lends itself to two possible interpretations, it should be given the interpretation that is reasonable and that will not produce an absurd, unjust, or unreasonable result. Collins v. Board of Trustees of Firemen's Annuity & Benefit Fund, 155 Ill. 2d 103, 110, 610 N.E.2d 1250, 1253 (1993).
The question in this case is whether sheriff's deputies who work in the jail division are law enforcement officers and are thereby eligible employees under section 1(a) of the Act. This issue of statutory interpretation arises from the legislative revisions to that section which became effective in 1992 and 1993. The pre-1992 version of section 1 stated in pertinent part as follows:
"§1. Whenever any law enforcement officer, correctional officer, [or] fireman *** who is employed on a full[-]time basis by the State of Illinois, any unit of local government (including any home rule unit), any State[-]supported college or university, or any other public entity granted the power to employ persons for such purposes by law suffers any injury in the line of duty which causes him to be unable to perform his duties, he shall continue to be paid by the employing public entity on the same basis as he was paid before the injury ***." 5 ILCS 345/1 (West 1992).
The current version of section 1 incorporates the 1992 and 1993 amendments and applies to this case because Poston and Gibbs were injured after the effective dates of those amendments. See 5 ILCS 345/1(a) (West 2000). (The current version also contains additional legislative revisions made in 1997, but those revisions did not alter the subject matter at issue in this case.) Section 1(a) of the Act currently states as follows:
(a) For the purposes of this Section, "eligible employee" means any part-time or full-time State correctional officer or any other full[-] or part-time employee of the Department of Corrections, any full[-] or part-time employee of the Prisoner Review Board, any full[-] or part-time employee of the Department of Human Services working within a penal institution or a State mental health or developmental disabilities facility operated by the Department of Human Services, and any full-time law enforcement officer or full-time firefighter who is employed by the State of Illinois, any unit of local government (including any home rule unit), any State[-]supported college or university, or any other public entity granted power to employ persons for such purposes by law." 5 ILCS 345/1(a) (West 2000).
The Public Employee Disability Act was enacted in 1973 and was intended to provide for a continuation of full pay for law enforcement officers, corrections officers, firefighters, and State employees who suffer disabling injuries in the line of duty. See 5 ILCS 345/0.01 et seq. (West 1992). There is no indication that the legislature intended to alter or alleviate that purpose with the subsequent amendments to the Act. Though defendant argues that the legislature intended to exclude local correctional officers from coverage when it amended section 1, it cannot point to anything beyond the amendment itself as evidence that this was the intention of the legislature. Given that the specific intent of this statute remains intact, we cannot discern any plausible reason to support defendant's position that the ...