LORI A. LELIS, Plaintiff-Appellant,
THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE CICERO POLICE PENSION FUND, THOMAS KURATKO, KENNETH BENSON, JOSEPH FEULNER, CHARLES HERNANDEZ, KENNETH LYONS, in Their Official Capacity, and THE CICERO POLICE PENSION FUND, Defendants-Appellees.
Plaintiff was entitled to an opportunity to pursue her 2011 claim for “line of duty” disability benefits arising from the back injury she suffered in her work as a police officer, notwithstanding the fact her 1999 claim for benefits based on a back injury she suffered while lifting a body was denied on the ground that she was not disabled at that time, since the 1999 claim did not mention the lupus diagnosis that was raised in the 2011 claim, the 2011 claim was not a request for reconsideration of the denial of the 1999 claim but rather was a new claim seeking benefits based on the aggravation of the earlier injury by the lupus diagnosis, and neither collateral estoppel nor res judicata applied.
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, No. 11-CH-43037; the Hon. Rita M. Novak, Judge, presiding.
Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym, Ltd., of Chicago (Terence J. Moran, Karyn L. Bass, and Mark A. Cisek, of counsel), for appellant.
Atwell & Atwell Law Offices, of Aurora (Charles H. Atwell, of counsel), for appellees.
Presiding Justice Neville and Justice Sterba concurred in the judgment and opinion.
¶ 1 Plaintiff Lori Lelis filed an application for "line of duty" disability benefits on March 5, 2011 pursuant to section 3-114.1 of the Illinois Pension Code (the Code). 40 ILCS 5/3-114.1 (West 2010). The Board of Trustees of the Cicero Police Pension Fund (the Board) did not hear the merits of Lelis's 2011 application. Instead, the Board found as a preliminary basis that it did not have jurisdiction over her 2011 application. The Board characterized her application as a request to reconsider a previously adjudicated application for benefits which was denied in 2000. The Board also ruled that the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel barred consideration of her 2011 request.
¶ 2 Lelis filed a complaint in the circuit court of Cook County against the Board and its individual members (collectively the Board) seeking administrative review of the Board's decision. On June 5, 2012, the circuit court dismissed her complaint. The circuit court found that it did not have jurisdiction to hear the matter presented and found that the Board's refusal to hear the application was "not against the manifest weight of the evidence, clearly erroneous or contrary to the law." In this appeal Lelis argues: (1) the Board erred in refusing to hear the merits of her 2011 application where a new factual basis was asserted in support of her claim; (2) the circuit court erred in affirming the Board's order refusing to hear the merits of the 2011 application where new allegations were asserted; and (3) the Board erred in refusing to hear the application, finding it was barred by the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel. Lelis filed a timely notice of appeal on July 5, 2012 pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 303(a)(1) (eff. May 30, 2008). For the following reasons, we reverse the Board's and circuit court's decisions and remand this matter to the Board for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
¶ 3 BACKGROUND
¶ 4 Plaintiff, Lori Lelis, was hired as a police officer and became a vested member of the Cicero Police Pension Fund on October 16, 1986. On March 10, 1999, Lelis filed an application for "line of duty" pension benefits with the Board (the 1999 application). Plaintiff alleged in that matter that she was injured on March 28, 1998, while lifting a dead body onto a stretcher while in the course of her police duties. The Board denied her application for "line of duty" pension benefits on March 30, 2000, finding her not disabled at that time.
¶ 5 Subsequently, Lelis filed a complaint in the circuit court of Cook County for administrative review in April of 2000. The circuit court sustained the Board's March 30, 2000 administrative decision to deny "line of duty" benefits sought in the 1999 application. Plaintiff did not appeal the circuit court's ruling.
¶ 6 Eleven years later, on January 11, 2011, Lelis sent a letter to the Board requesting "line of duty" disability benefits. In completing the Board's interrogatories and request for production, plaintiff wrote that her injuries occurred on March 28, 1998 and January 2010. Plaintiff described her injury and illness as "physical–lower back" and "lupus–internal disease." In her 2011 application and correspondence with the Board, plaintiff stated that she worked for the police department on light duty assignments from May 2000 through to the date of the application, asserting the light duty assignment was not a permanent assignment.
¶ 7 Thereafter, the Board held several meetings where the 2011 application was placed on the agenda. Lelis was present at those meetings. On November 18, 2011, the Board denied her application. The Board, without hearing evidence, concluded her 2011 application was a request to reconsider her 1999 application and, therefore, it did not have jurisdiction to reconsider the March 20, 2000 decision which denied benefits for the 1998 injury. ...