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Howe v. The Retirement Bd. of the Firemen's Annuity and Ben. Fund of Chicago

Court of Appeals of Illinois

September 9, 2013

Patrick J. HOWE, Plaintiff-Appellant,

Page 665

Sugarman & Horwitz, of Chicago (Stephen B. Horwitz, of counsel), for appellant.

Burke Burns & Pinelli, Ltd., of Chicago (Mary Patricia Burns and Vincent D. Pinelli, of counsel), for appellee.


DELORT, Justice.

[374 Ill.Dec. 970] ¶ 1 fro the perspective of the parties, this administrative review case is about whether a Chicago fire department (CFD) employee should receive a disability pension. From our viewpoint, however, the disability issue must wait for another day, because the pension board made several procedural errors which rendered its decision invalid.

¶ 2 Defendant, The Retirement Board of the Firemen's Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago (Board), voted on a motion to grant the application of plaintiff, Patrick J. Howe, for a duty disability benefit under section 6-151 of the Illinois Pension Code (Pension Code) (40 ILCS 5/6-151 (West 2010)). The motion failed, as five Board members voted " no" and only two members voted " yes." Thereafter, the Board never adopted, by majority affirmative vote, any motion whatsoever disposing of the application and approving a written decision as required by the Open Meetings Act (5 ILCS 120/1 et seq. (West 2010)). Nonetheless, the Board thereafter issued a written decision denying Howe his application for a duty disability benefit. The circuit court addressed the merits of the underlying claim and affirmed the Board's decision to deny benefits to Howe. Because we find the Board never validly took final action on the application, we vacate its decision and remand this cause with instructions for the Board to take valid final action by conducting a proper affirmative vote on a specific written decision.


¶ 4 Because we do not reach the merits of the case, we will only briefly summarize the facts. They are largely uncontested and are set forth in the administrative record. Howe became an employee of the City of Chicago (City) on June 16, 1977. In 1996, after a series of promotions, Howe accepted a CFD managerial position, commonly referred to as an " exempt rank" [374 Ill.Dec. 971]

Page 666

position. In the new role, Howe worked on personnel and employee relations matters in the department's administrative services division. Howe negotiated contracts, performed grievance resolution, and developed department examinations. Eventually, he became deputy district chief of employee relations.

¶ 5 In 2002, the CFD assigned Howe to work at its headquarters located at 10 West 35th Street in Chicago. His regular working hours were from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. As deputy district chief of employee relations, his duties did not include mitigating any emergency in the City nor commanding emergency incidents.

¶ 6 On February 25, 2002, Howe was serving his periodic turn as the CFD's designated media affairs officer. After leaving CFD headquarters at the end of his regular workday, Howe proceeded on his route home, driving his CFD-issued vehicle southbound on the Dan Ryan Expressway (Ryan). At approximately 5 p.m., a call came over the CFD radio in his vehicle announcing that a man had fallen from a platform onto the rail tracks at the train station located at 63rd Street and the Ryan.

¶ 7 Although Howe was not ordered by the CFD or the office of emergency management communication to go to the scene of the incident, Howe chose to self-dispatch and exited the Ryan at the off-ramp. According to Howe, he chose to respond because this type of an incident " always attract[s] media attention," and he thought it would be best to respond to the dispatch. He also chose to respond because he is a licensed paramedic and wanted " to see if [he] could help with this patient as well."

¶ 8 Howe grabbed a " quick response bag" (QRB) from the trunk of his vehicle, which was stocked with emergency supplies that a paramedic would carry as a first responder. He observed that the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) attendant was on the rail tracks assisting the man who had fallen. Because the attendant was not nearby to open the ticket booth or unlock the turnstile, Howe decided to leap over the turnstile in the same manner a gymnast would leap over a vault. He pressed his hands down on either side of the turnstile and boosted his body weight up, throwing his legs up and over the turnstile. At that point, Howe felt a " pop" in his right shoulder with extreme pain. After the CTA incident was mitigated, Howe drove himself to Little Company of Mary Hospital rather than call an ambulance because he " knew there was no need for [him] to tie up an ambulance for an injured shoulder."

¶ 9 Howe returned to duty 8 to 10 days after sustaining the injury. He underwent physical therapy and received steroid injections. When his shoulder failed to respond to treatment, Howe underwent a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test, which revealed a torn rotator cuff. Howe underwent shoulder surgery to repair the injury. He returned to duty on October 31, 2002 and continued to work at the CFD for the next six years. His shoulder continued to bother him with increasing pain and weakness. He received injections for the pain.

¶ 10 In 2008, Howe underwent a second surgical procedure on his right shoulder. He returned to duty in March 2009, but continued to have shoulder pain. In 2010, his shoulder was operated on for the third time. According to Howe, the restrictions recommended by his physician prevented him from performing all the physical requirements of a paramedic. Howe testified that he could ...

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