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Don Nowak v. the City of Country Club Hills

December 27, 2010



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hoffman

JUSTICE HOFFMAN delivered the opinion of the court: The plaintiff, Don Nowak, brought this action against the defendant, the City of Country Club Hills (City), seeking reimbursement, pursuant to the Public Safety Employee Benefits Act (PSEBA)(820 ILCS 320/1 et seq. (West 2006)), of his proportionate share of health insurance premium payments incurred after he sustained a disabling injury. The circuit court entered summary judgment in favor of the City, and the plaintiff has appealed.

The record establishes the following undisputed facts. In August 2005, the plaintiff was a full-time law enforcement officer for the City and also was a member of the local police union, which had entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the City. The terms of the collective bargaining agreement provided that the City would offer health insurance coverage for all police officers and that those officers who chose to participate in the plan were obligated to contribute 20% of the applicable insurance premium.

The plaintiff was a participant in the plan, and his 20% proportionate share of the insurance premium was regularly deducted from his paycheck.

The plaintiff was injured in the line of duty while attempting to make an arrest on August 21, 2005, and never returned to work as a police officer. For the 12-month period from the date of his injury to August 21, 2006, Nowak received 100% of his salary as required by section 1(b) of the Public Employee Disability Act (PEDA) (5 ILCS 345/1 (West 2004)). In addition, he also received his full salary and benefits until September 1, 2006, through a combination of accrued sick and vacation time, two weeks' light duty, and temporary total disability payments pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Act (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq.(West 2006)). During the period that the plaintiff was receiving his salary under the PEDA, the City continued to deduct his 20% share of his health insurance premium from his paycheck, in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement. The total amount of the plaintiff's health insurance premium contributions during that period was $3,083.88.

After the expiration of the one-year PEDA entitlement period in August 2006, the plaintiff continued to participate in the City's health insurance plan and paid his 20% premium contribution to the City on a monthly basis. The plaintiff's payments of his share of the health insurance premiums after expiration of his PEDA salary benefits totaled $4,945.88.

In February 2008, the plaintiff applied for disability benefits, and on October 14, 2008, the City's police pension board awarded him a line-of-duty disability pension, effective September 1, 2006. After the pension board determined that the plaintiff was entitled to a disability pension, the City began paying 100% of his health insurance premium costs, as required by section 10(a) of the PSEBA (820 ILCS 320/10(a) (West 2006)). Thereafter, the plaintiff requested that the City reimburse him for that portion of the health insurance premium paid by him prior to the issuance of the pension board's decision, but the City refused.

The plaintiff then brought this action seeking reimbursement for his health insurance premium contributions from the date of his injury to and including the date he was awarded a disability pension, which included the contributions that were deducted from his paychecks while he was receiving the PEDA benefits and the contributions paid by him after the PEDA benefits expired.

The parties submitted a stipulation of the material facts and filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Following briefing and argument, the circuit court denied the plaintiff's motion and entered summary judgment in favor of the City, finding that the PSEBA "does not authorize retroactive payment of health insurance benefits prior to the Pension Board's determination." This appeal followed.

The plaintiff argues that the circuit court erred in granting summary judgment for the City and in denying his cross-motion for summary judgment because the stipulated facts and applicable statutory provisions establish that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. On appeal, a grant of summary judgment is reviewed de novo. Murray v. Chicago Youth Center, 224 Ill. 2d 213, 228, 864 N.E.2d 176 (2007). Further, the propriety of the circuit court's decision turns upon a question of statutory construction, which is also subject to de novo review. See Acme Markets, Inc. v. Callanan, 236 Ill. 2d 29, 35, 923 N.E.2d 718 (2009); Senese v. Village of Buffalo Grove, 383 Ill. App. 3d 276, 278, 890 N.E.2d 628 (2008).

The fundamental issue presented by this appeal is the date on which the plaintiff's entitlement to the health insurance benefit provided in section 10(a) of the PSEBA was triggered. The plaintiff contends that his right to benefits under that provision accrued on August 21, 2005, the date of his disabling injury. The City, on the other hand, asserts that the plaintiff's right to the health insurance benefits did not accrue until the police pension board found him to be disabled on October 14, 2008. We observe that section 10(a) of the PSEBA does not specify when its benefits become effective, and we have found no Illinois cases that have considered the matter. Consequently, we address this issue as one of first impression. In resolving this question, we are called upon to construe the language contained in two separate and distinct statutes that relate to special benefits afforded to law enforcement officers and other public safety employees who sustain disabling injuries in the performance of their duties.

When interpreting a statute, the primary goal is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature, and the most reliable indication of the legislature's intent is the plain language of the statute. Metzger v. DaRosa, 209 Ill. 2d 30, 34-35, 805 N.E.2d 1165 (2004). Where the language of the statute is clear and unambiguous, it is to be given effect without resort to other aids of statutory construction. Metzger, 209 Ill. 2d at 35. Each word, clause and sentence of the statute should be given reasonable meaning and not rendered superfluous or meaningless. In re Marriage of Kates, 198 Ill. 2d 156, 163, 761 N.E.2d 153 (2001). A reviewing court will not depart from the plain language of a statute by reading into it exceptions, limitations or conditions that conflict with the express legislative intent. Town & Country Utilities, Inc. v. Illinois Pollution Control Board, 225 Ill. 2d 103, 117, 866 N.E.2d 227 (2007). Moreover, we are mindful that the legislature enacts laws with full knowledge of existing laws and of the construction those laws have been given by the courts.

Illinois Dept. of Healthcare and Family Services ex rel. Wiszowaty, 394 Ill. App. 3d 49, 58-59, 913 N.E.2d 680 (2009).

The two statutes at issue in this case are the PSEBA and the PEDA. The PSEBA is designed to guarantee, inter alia, the health benefits of public safety employees who have suffered a career-ending injury, and section 10(a) of that Act provides that the employer of a full-time law enforcement officer who suffers a "catastrophic injury" in the line of duty shall pay the "entire premium" of the employer's health insurance plan for the injured employee, his spouse, and his dependent children. 820 ILCS 320/10(a) (West 2006). The supreme court has interpreted the term "catastrophic injury" as used in this provision to be synonymous with an injury resulting in a line-of-duty disability pension under the Illinois Pension Code (40 ILCS 5/1-101 et seq. (West 2006)). Krohe v. City of Bloomington, 204 Ill. 2d 392, 398-400, 789 N.E.2d 1211 (2003). Section 10(b) of the PSEBA specifically provides that ...

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