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Don Nowak v. the City of Country Club Hills

December 1, 2011

DON NOWAK,
APPELLEE,
v.
THE CITY OF COUNTRY CLUB HILLS,
APPELLANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Thomas

JUSTICE THOMAS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Freeman, Garman, Karmeier, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 This case presents the following question: When a police officer suffers a catastrophic injury in the line of duty, when does the officer's employer become statutorily obligated to pay the entire health insurance premium for the injured officer and his family? The circuit court of Cook County held that the obligation attaches upon a determination that the officer is permanently disabled and therefore never returning to work. The appellate court held that the obligation attaches when the officer sustains the actual injury. 406 Ill. App. 3d 837. We agree with the circuit court.

¶ 2 BACKGROUND

¶ 3 Plaintiff, Don Nowak, worked as a full-time law enforcement officer for the City of Country Club Hills (the City). He was also a member of the local police union, which had entered into a collective-bargaining agreement with the City. The collective-bargaining agreement provided that the City would offer a health insurance plan for all police officers and that officers choosing to participate in the plan would pay 20% of the applicable insurance premium. Plaintiff chose to participate in the plan, and the City regularly deducted 20% of the applicable premium from his paycheck.

¶ 4 On August 21, 2005, plaintiff was injured in the line of duty while attempting to make an arrest. He never returned to work as a police officer. For 12 months following the date of his injury, plaintiff received 100% of his salary, as required by section 1(b) of the Public Employee Disability Act (PEDA) (5 ILCS 345/1 (West 2004)). For a short time thereafter, he continued to receive his full salary and benefits through a combination of accrued sick and vacation time, two weeks' light duty, and temporary total disability payments under the Workers' Compensation Act (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 2006)). During the 12 months that plaintiff received his full salary under PEDA, the City continued to deduct 20% of the applicable health insurance premiums from his paycheck, in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement. After plaintiff's PEDA benefits expired, plaintiff continued to participate in the City's health insurance plan and continued to pay 20% of the applicable health insurance premiums to the City on a monthly basis.

¶ 5 In February 2008, plaintiff applied for disability benefits. On October 14, 2008, the City's police pension board (the Board) awarded plaintiff a line-of-duty disability pension under the Illinois Pension Code (See 40 ILCS 5/4-110 (West 2004)), effective September 1, 2006. The City immediately began paying 100% of plaintiff's health insurance premiums, as required by section 10(a) of the Public Safety Employee Benefits Act (PSEBA) (820 ILCS 320/10(a) (West 2006)).

¶ 6 Following the Board's decision, plaintiff requested reimbursement from the City for the health insurance premium contributions he had paid since the date of his injury. The City refused plaintiff's request. Plaintiff then filed a civil complaint seeking reimbursement of those contributions. The parties submitted a stipulation of facts and filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The circuit court denied plaintiff's motion and entered summary judgment in favor of the City.

¶ 7 Plaintiff appealed, and the appellate court reversed. 406 Ill. App. 3d 837. We granted the City's petition for leave to appeal. Ill. S. Ct. R. 315 (eff. Feb. 26, 2010). In addition, we allowed the Illinois Municipal League to file an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the City. Ill. S. Ct. R. 345 (eff. Sept. 20, 2010).

¶ 8 ANALYSIS

¶ 9 This case is governed by section 10(a) of PSEBA, which in relevant part provides:

"An employer who employs a full-time law enforcement *** officer *** who *** suffers a catastrophic injury or is killed in the line of duty shall pay the entire premium of the employer's health insurance plan for the injured employee, the injured employee's spouse, and for each dependent child of the injured employee until the child reaches the age of majority ***." 820 ILCS 320/10(a) (West 2004).*fn1 The parties here agree that plaintiff suffered a catastrophic injury in the line of duty. In addition, the parties agree that, in light of that injury, the City is obligated under section 10(a) to pay the entire health insurance premium for plaintiff and his family. The sole point of contention is, When did the City's obligation under section 10(a) attach? The City argues that it attached on October 14, 2008, when the Board determined that plaintiff would ...


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