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O'Loughlin v. Village of River Forest

March 28, 2003


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 99 CH 16934 Honorable Bernetta D. Bush, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Reid


The plaintiff, Brendan O'Loughlin, appeals the trial court's grant of summary judgment to the defendant, the Village of River Forest, Illinois (River Forest), and the denial of his cross-motion for summary judgment. The sole issue raised on appeal is what is meant by the term "catastrophic injury" under the Illinois Public Safety Employee Benefits Act (820 ILCS 320/10(a)(West 1998)) (the Act). For the reasons that follow, we reverse the decision of the trial court.


O'Loughlin was employed as a police officer for River Forest in July 1988. On January 16, 1997, O'Loughlin injured his left shoulder while in the line of duty. The injury occurred when he slipped on ice and fell while approaching a suspected criminal's car during an investigation. O'Loughlin tore cartilage in his left shoulder joint and was required to undergo surgery and physical therapy. O'Loughlin returned to full duty in November 1997.

On January 16, 1998, O'Loughlin injured his left shoulder again while attempting to restrain a subject who was being placed under arrest. O'Loughlin again underwent surgery and physical therapy. However, as a result of the injury, O'Loughlin was unable to perform the duties of a police officer and consequently was granted a line-of-duty disability pension by the River Forest Police Pension Board on January 11, 1999.

On November 23, 1999, O'Loughlin filed a complaint wherein he requested that River Forest pay health insurance premiums for him and his family pursuant to the Act. O'Loughlin argued that he suffered a catastrophic injury, which made him eligible to receive insurance coverage under the Act.

On September 28, 2001, River Forest filed a motion for summary judgment. In its motion, River Forest argued that O'Loughlin's shoulder injury was not a catastrophic injury and consequently he was not entitled to receive benefits under the Act. On October 31, 2002, O'Loughlin filed a cross-motion for summary judgment wherein he argued that his shoulder injury was a catastrophic injury and that he was entitled to receive benefits under the Act. On January 10, 2002, the trial court granted River Forest's motion and denied O'Loughlin's. This appeal follows.


O'Loughlin argues that the trial court erred when it denied his motion for summary judgment and instead granted River Forest's motion for summary judgment. O'Loughlin maintains the trial court erred because the shoulder injury that he suffered qualifies as a "catastrophic injury" for purposes of benefits under the Act.

Although the use of summary judgment aids in the expeditious disposition of a lawsuit, it is a drastic measure and should only be granted if the movant's right to judgment is clear and free from doubt. Outboard Marine Corp. v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., 154 Ill. 2d 90, 102 (1992). A motion for summary judgment is properly granted, therefore, only when the pleadings, depositions, admissions, and affidavits on file reveal that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. 735 ILCS 5/2- 1005(c) (West 2000). In considering a summary judgment motion, the court has a duty to construe the evidence strictly against the movant and liberally in favor of the nonmoving party. Travelers Insurance Co. v. Eljer Manufacturing, Inc., 197 Ill. 2d 278, 292 (2001). In appeals from orders granting summary judgment, our review is de novo. Travelers, 197 Ill. 2d at 292.

Statutory construction is a matter of law and review is de novo. People v. Richardson, 196 Ill. 2d 225, 228 (2001); Krohe v. City of Bloomington, 329 Ill. App. 3d 1133, 1135 (2002), citing People v. Slover, 323 Ill. App. 3d 620, 623 (2001). The primary goal in construing a statute is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature. Richardson, 196 Ill. 2d at 228. This inquiry appropriately begins with the language of the statute. People v. Woodard, 175 Ill. 2d 435, 443 (1997). The legislative intent is best ascertained by examining the language of the statute itself. People v. Robinson, 172 Ill. 2d 452, 457 (1996); Nottage v. Jeka, 172 Ill. 2d 386, 392 (1996).

The rules of statutory construction provide that in determining the intent of the legislature, courts must first look to the plain language of the statute and interpret the language according to its plain and ordinary meaning. People v. Hicks, 164 Ill. 2d 218, 222 (1995); Billman v. Crown-Trygg Corp., 205 Ill. App. 3d 916, 923 (1990), citing County of Du Page v. Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, Inc., 109 Ill. 2d 143 (1985). A term that is undefined in a statute must be given its ordinary and properly understood meaning. Villarreal v. Village of Schaumberg, 325 Ill. App. 3d 1157, 1162 (2001), citing Gem Electronics of Monmouth, Inc. v. Department of Revenue, 183 Ill. 2d 470, 477-78 (1998).

Where the words themselves are unambiguous, there is no need to resort to external aids of interpretation. Hicks, 164 Ill. 2d at 222; People v. Pullen, 192 Ill. 2d 36, 42 (2000). The appellate court cannot restrict or enlarge the plain meaning of an unambiguous statute. Stewart v. Industrial Comm'n, 135 Ill. App. 3d 661, 666 (1985), citing People v. McCray, 116 Ill. App. 3d 24, 26 (1983). A court may not declare that the legislature did not mean what the plain language imports. Stewart, 135 Ill. App. 3d at 666, citing Hetterman v. Weingart, 120 Ill. App. 3d 683, 690 (1983). The court's only function, where the statutory language is unambiguous, is to enforce the law as enacted by the legislature. Stewart, 135 Ill. App. 3d at 666, citing Harvey Fireman's Ass'n v. City of Harvey, 75 Ill. 2d 358, 363 (1979). Rules of construction in interpreting a statute are to be used only where there is doubt as to the meaning of the statute. Stewart, 135 Ill. App. 3d at 667, citing Sickler v. National Dairy Products Corp., 67 Ill. 2d 229, 235 (1977).

When the language used is susceptible to more than one equally reasonable interpretation, the court may look to additional sources to determine the legislature's intent. Hicks, 164 Ill. 2d at 222. Where the language is ambiguous, it is appropriate to examine the legislative history. People v. Boykin, 94 Ill. 2d 138, 141 (1983), citing People ex rel. Hanrahan v. White, 52 Ill. 2d 70 (1972). "This court has previously looked to the debates on the floor of the General Assembly to ascertain the legislative intent underlying specific legislation." Morel v. Coronet Insurance Co., 117 Ill. 2d 18, 24 (1987). Statements of the legislation's sponsor are particularly helpful in determining the intent of the statute. Spinelli v. Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Congregation, Inc., 144 Ill. App. 3d 325, 330 (1986).

The relevant section of the Act ...

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