Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Michael P. Gaffney v. the Board of Trustees of the Orland Fire Protection District et al

February 17, 2012

MICHAEL P. GAFFNEY,
APPELLANT,
v.
THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE ORLAND FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT ET AL.,
APPELLEES.
BRIAN J. LEMMENES,
APPELLEE,
v.
THE ORLAND FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT ET AL.,
APPELLANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Justice Kilbride

CHIEF JUSTICE KILBRIDE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Justices Freeman, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

Justice Garman concurred in part and dissented in part, with opinion, joined by Justices Thomas and Karmeier.

OPINION

¶ 1 Plaintiffs Michael P. Gaffney and Brian J. Lemmenes were injured in the line of duty as firefighters and sought continuing health coverage benefits under section 10 of the Public Safety Employee Benefits Act (820 ILCS 320/10 (West 2006)). In Gaffney, the appellate court affirmed the denial of the plaintiff's application for benefits. In Lemmenes, the appellate court affirmed summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff on his complaint for declaratory judgment.

¶ 2 We allowed petitions for leave to appeal in both Gaffney and Lemmenes (Ill. S. Ct. R. 315 (eff. Feb. 26, 2010)) and consolidated the appeals for review. We also allowed the filing of several amicus curiae briefs. Ill. S. Ct. R. 345 (eff. Dec. 6, 2005). For the following reasons, we reverse the appellate court's judgment in both Gaffney and Lemmenes.

¶ 3 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 4 A. No. 110012, Michael P. Gaffney

¶ 5 Gaffney filed a two-count complaint against the defendants, the board of trustees of the Orland Fire Protection District, Board President Patrick Maher, Board Secretary Patricia Corcoran, and the Orland Fire Protection District, seeking payment of health insurance benefits under section 10 of the Act (820 ILCS 320/10 (West 2006)). Section 10, in pertinent part, requires employers of full-time firefighters to pay health insurance premiums for the firefighter and his or her spouse and dependent children if the firefighter suffers a catastrophic injury under specified circumstances. 820 ILCS 320/10 (West 2006). The circumstances triggering eligibility for section 10 benefits include when a firefighter is injured as a result of a "response to what is reasonably believed to be an emergency." 820 ILCS 320/10(b) (West 2006).

¶ 6 In his complaint, Gaffney alleged that he was employed by the District as a firefighter. On July 27, 2005, he participated in a live-fire exercise and was instructed by the battalion chief to treat it as an actual emergency. He was wearing "full turnout gear." During the exercise, a fire hose became hooked around a "loveseat type chair." Gaffney moved the loveseat with his left arm to free the hose, suffering a catastrophic career-ending injury to his shoulder. He was awarded a line-of-duty disability pension.

¶ 7 Gaffney demanded payment of health insurance premiums under section 10 of the Act. The board of trustees responded with a "Decision and Order" stating it would not provide those benefits. Gaffney attached a copy of the board's decision and incorporated it by reference into his complaint.

¶ 8 The board's decision indicates that Gaffney filed an application for section 10 benefits, asserting that the exercise involved a live fire on the third floor of the building. His crew responded with the engine's lights and siren activated. The hose became entangled while his crew was advancing from the second floor to the third floor with "no visibility" through smoke and obstacles. Gaffney followed the hose back to where it was entangled in the loveseat. He moved the loveseat by flipping it backward, injuring his shoulder. Gaffney asserted his catastrophic injury occurred while he was responding to what he reasonably believed to be an emergency.

¶ 9 Gaffney was given notice that his application would be considered at a "special meeting of the Board of Trustees." He was accompanied by counsel at the special meeting and gave a statement adding that prior to the exercise his crew was instructed to advance a hose line to the seat of the fire and to search for victims along the way. After injuring his shoulder, Gaffney went back up the hose line. When he reached the third floor, an officer noticed Gaffney was having trouble breathing because of the pain and the drill ended immediately. Gaffney had not worked as a firefighter since that day. In its decision, the board emphasized that Gaffney knew he was participating in a training exercise and the exercise was terminated after he was injured. The board concluded that Gaffney was not responding to what was reasonably believed to be an emergency and, therefore, denied his application for benefits under section 10 of the Act.

¶ 10 In the first count of his complaint, Gaffney sought a declaratory judgment compelling the defendants to pay health insurance premiums under the Act. The second count was labeled "in the alternative." In that count, Gaffney sought review of the board's decision under the Administrative Review Law (735 ILCS 5/3-101 et seq. (West 2006)). Gaffney alleged the second count was included "purely for prophylactic reasons" and he did not agree or stipulate that the board's decision was subject to review under the Administrative Review Law. He further alleged that the board was not an administrative agency authorized to render a decision reviewable under the Administrative Review Law.

¶ 11 The defendants moved to dismiss the declaratory judgment count of the complaint under section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2006)). The defendants asserted that Gaffney's factual allegations did not fit within the plain language of the Act requiring a response to what was reasonably believed to be an emergency. The defendants also claimed that the board's decision was a final administrative action subject only to administrative review or review under a common law writ of certiorari. The defendants attached a copy of an ordinance adopted by the board on May 14, 2003, providing a "policy regarding continuation of insurance benefits under the Public Safety Employee Benefits Act." The policy required employees seeking health insurance benefits to complete an application form that would be "reviewed to determine if the requirements of the Act have been met." The application form required the employee to describe the injury and the circumstances resulting in the injury.

¶ 12 With his response to the motion, Gaffney included an affidavit asserting that a "dummy" victim was discovered on the second floor of the building while his crew was advancing the hose line. Gaffney and his crew removed the victim and then proceeded to the stairwell to find the source of the fire on the third floor. The hose became entangled in an unseen object on the second floor. Without any visibility, Gaffney crawled and followed the hose line back to a large obstruction that he moved with his left arm. Plaintiff asserted that if he had lost contact with the hose line, "he would have become disoriented in the building and perhaps unable to find his way out." After the smoke cleared from the building, Gaffney discovered that the obstruction was a loveseat.

¶ 13 A transcript of a tape recording of the board's meeting was also filed. The transcript indicates that Gaffney's attorney stated he was "concerned by the term hearing" because it implied that the Act "permits a District or municipality or anyone to create some sort of factual hearing process subject to the administrative review act." The board's attorney responded, "It does not[,] *** but your concern is noted for the record." Gaffney was then allowed to present evidence. He submitted a copy of the decision awarding a line-of-duty disability pension and reiterated his account of the events leading to his injury. Gaffney also testified about his medical treatment. Gaffney's attorney presented a brief argument in support of the application for section 10 benefits. At the end of the meeting, Gaffney's attorney again addressed the board's attorney, asking, "[T]hen I am not to worry that this is being some sort of formal hearing[.] [T]his is simply an investigatory proceeding for the Board to consider whether to grant him voluntarily or not." The board's attorney responded, "Right. That's exactly the understanding I want you to have."

¶ 14 The trial court ruled that the board's order entered under the process adopted by its ordinance was a final administrative decision subject only to administrative review. Accordingly, the trial court granted the motion to dismiss the declaratory judgment count. As for the remaining count seeking administrative review, the trial court ruled that the Administrative Review Law did not apply because it was not expressly adopted by the Fire Protection District Act (70 ILCS 705/0.01 et seq. (West 2006)). The trial court noted that the standard of review under a common law writ of certiorari is essentially the same as under the Administrative Review Law. The trial court, therefore, determined that it would treat the request for administrative review as a petition for a common law writ of certiorari.

¶ 15 The parties filed briefs addressing whether Gaffney's injury resulted from a response to what he reasonably believed to be an emergency under section 10 of the Act. The trial court determined that the issue was purely a question of statutory construction subject to de novo review. The trial court concluded that the plain meaning of the statutory language could not include participation in a training exercise. Thus, as a matter of law, Gaffney could not have reasonably believed he was responding to an emergency given the undisputed facts of this case. The trial court, therefore, affirmed the Board's denial of the application for health insurance benefits.

¶ 16 The appellate court agreed that the Board's decision was subject to review under a common law writ of certiorari. Relying on DeRose v. City of Highland Park, 386 Ill. App. 3d 658 (2008), the appellate court held that a situation is an "emergency" under section 10 of the Act when it is "urgent and calls for immediate action." The facts established that Gaffney believed he was responding to a training exercise, not an emergency. Gaffney was not entitled to continuing health insurance benefits under section 10 of the Act because he did not reasonably believe he was responding to an emergency. Accordingly, the trial court's judgment was affirmed. Gaffney, 397 Ill. App. 3d 679.

¶ 17 Justice Gordon dissented, asserting that the definition of "emergency" focused on a threat demanding immediate attention. Justice Gordon concluded that an emergency developed during the course of the training exercise when the hose became entangled, and Gaffney's injury resulted from his response to that emergency. He concluded that the trial court erred in affirming the board's decision. Gaffney, 397 Ill. App. 3d at 691 (Gordon, J., dissenting).

¶ 18 B. No. 110198, Brian J. Lemmenes

¶ 19 Lemmenes filed a one-count complaint for declaratory judgment against the Orland Fire Protection District and the board of trustees of the District, also seeking health insurance benefits under section 10 of the Act. Lemmenes alleged that the defendants had refused his demands to continue payment of his health insurance premiums and he sought an order requiring the defendants to pay those premiums.

¶ 20 The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. In support of their motions, the parties relied upon deposition testimony establishing that Lemmenes was a lieutenant with the District. On August 17, 2001, he injured his right knee while testing a fire hose. On September 17, 2002, he reinjured his right knee while participating in a training exercise at an abandoned factory.

¶ 21 During his discovery deposition, Lemmenes testified that he was required to participate in the training exercise and he would have been disciplined if he had refused to take part. The firefighters arrived at the abandoned building in "full turnout gear" with the fire engine's emergency lights activated. Lemmenes testified that the exercise was performed "under emergency circumstances" and the firefighters were instructed by the Mokena fire chief and deputy chief to "respond as if it were an actual emergency." The firefighters were also instructed that "there was a firefighter that was trapped inside of this building, *** he was running out of air, that his personal distress alarm was going off, and that [the firefighters] needed to locate him and rescue him or he would perish." The firefighters were told that the trapped firefighter would actually die if not rescued. Lemmenes testified that "the intent of the drill was to locate and rescue him before his air supply would run out."

¶ 22 Lemmenes injured his knee while "twisting and turning and pulling this individual trying to free him" from an unknown obstacle. Lemmenes removed his bunker pants and observed that he had sustained a large open wound to his knee and it was swollen. He then "went back and did more emergency training at this exercise." Lemmenes was unable to return to full-duty work as a result of his injury and he was subsequently awarded a line-of-duty disability pension.

¶ 23 In his deposition, Howard Stephens testified that he was assistant chief for the Mokena Fire Protection District. He designed the training exercise based on an actual fire that occurred in Phoenix, Arizona, where a Rapid Intervention Team of firefighters was unable to rescue a fellow firefighter from a supermarket fire. Stephens testified that the firefighters arrived in "full turnout gear." There was no live fire during the exercise, but the firefighters' masks were "blacked out" to simulate live fire conditions. The training exercise was timed with a stopwatch. If a firefighter's air supply ran out during the exercise, he or she would stop and take off the mask. Stephens testified that the "trapped" firefighter was not in any real danger during the exercise.

¶ 24 District Battalion Chief Bryant Krizik testified that the firefighters were instructed to advance a hose line into the building along a predetermined path and to rescue a "downed firefighter." The exercise was intended to simulate the supermarket fire that occurred in Phoenix to determine whether there were any techniques that could be used successfully in that scenario and, if not, to reinforce the firefighters' understanding that the tactics used in Phoenix would not be successful. The exercise was performed under "controlled conditions" and the firefighters knew they were going into a training drill.

¶ 25 The trial court determined that Lemmenes "was actively engaged as if he [were] responding to what could reasonably have been believed to have been an emergency situation because that is what the exercise required of him and he reasonably believed that he was responding to an emergency." The trial court, therefore, concluded that Lemmenes was eligible for health coverage benefits under section 10 of the Act. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Lemmenes and denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment.

¶ 26 As in Gaffney, the appellate court relied on DeRose and determined that an "emergency" occurs when a situation is "urgent and calls for immediate action." The facts presented a situation that was urgent and called for immediate action. The appellate court, therefore, affirmed the trial court's judgment because the injury occurred in response to what Lemmenes reasonably believed to be an emergency. Lemmenes, 399 Ill. App. 3d 644.

¶ 27 II. ANALYSIS

¶ 28 A. No. 110012, Michael P. Gaffney

¶ 29 1. Procedural Issue

¶ 30 Gaffney first raises a procedural question that must be addressed prior to determining whether the trial court correctly ruled that he was ineligible for section 10 benefits. As noted previously, Gaffney filed a two-count complaint. Count I sought a declaration (see 735 ILCS 5/2-701 (West 2006)) that Gaffney was eligible for section 10 benefits as a matter of law. Count II, pled in the alternative, sought administrative review of defendants' decision denying Gaffney section 10 benefits. The trial court dismissed count I upon defendants' motion and treated count II as a common law writ of certiorari. As we detail below, however, the trial court was incorrect in proceeding in this manner.

¶ 31 Gaffney contends that section 20 of the Act prohibits a municipality or political subdivision from enacting any ordinance inconsistent with payment of section 10 benefits. Under section 20, the District did not have authority to decide his claim for continuing health coverage benefits. Gaffney argues his claim should have been decided under the declaratory judgment count of the complaint.

¶ 32 The defendants respond that Gaffney submitted without objection to the District's procedures and the trial court's review by writ of certiorari. Further, Gaffney initiated the administrative review process by filing his complaint in the trial court. Accordingly, Gaffney invited any error by taking one position before the District and the trial court and a different position on appeal. The defendants also contend that the board is an agency, the decision denying continuing health coverage benefits is an agency decision, and the common law writ of certiorari is the proper means of reviewing the District's decision in this case.

¶ 33 The rule of invited error or acquiescence is a form of procedural default also described as estoppel. In re Detention of Swope, 213 Ill. 2d 210, 217 (2004). The rule prohibits a party from requesting to proceed in one manner and then contending on appeal that the requested action was error. People v. Harvey, 211 Ill. 2d 368, 385 (2004). The rationale for the rule is that it would be manifestly unfair to grant a party relief based on error introduced into the proceedings by that party. In re Detention of Swope, 213 Ill. 2d at 217.

¶ 34 The record in this case does not support the defendants' argument that Gaffney acquiesced to the District's procedures. Gaffney's attorney asked twice for clarification on the nature of the board's meeting. Gaffney's attorney initially stated he was "concerned by the term hearing" because it implied that the Act allowed the District to "create some sort of factual hearing process subject to the administrative review act." The board's attorney responded, "It does not[,] *** but your concern is noted for the record." Again, at the end of the meeting Gaffney's attorney asked, "[T]hen I am not to worry that this is being some sort of formal hearing[.] [T]his is simply an investigatory proceeding for the Board to consider whether to grant him voluntarily or not." The board's attorney responded, "Right. That's exactly the understanding I want you to have." The record, therefore, shows that Gaffney raised his procedural concerns before the board. Contrary to the defendants' contentions, Gaffney did not submit without objection to the board acting as an administrative agency in deciding his claim for section 10 benefits.

¶ 35 Gaffney also raised his procedural arguments in the trial court. He filed a complaint seeking declaratory judgment and included a second count for administrative review "in the alternative" and "purely for prophylactic reasons." In his complaint, Gaffney asserted he did not agree or stipulate that the board's decision was subject to review under the Administrative Review Law. He further alleged that the Act does not provide for an administrative hearing or decision, and does not create an administrative agency. When the defendants moved to dismiss the declaratory judgment count contending that the board's decision was a final administrative action, Gaffney argued that the board lacked authority to conduct a hearing or issue a decision on his eligibility for section 10 benefits.

¶ 36 Gaffney did not acquiesce to the dismissal of his declaratory judgment count or the trial court's review by writ of certiorari. The record in this case shows that Gaffney has consistently challenged the District's authority to issue an administrative decision on his claim for section 10 benefits. Accordingly, we reject the defendants' argument that Gaffney invited error in this case.

ΒΆ 37 In support of their argument that the board's decision is an agency action, the defendants rely upon sections 1 and 6 of the Fire Protection District Act (70 ILCS 705/1, 6 (West 2006)). The defendants contend those statutory provisions gave them authority to enact ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.