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Springborn v. Village of Sugar Grove

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Second District

September 25, 2013

CHRISTOPHER SPRINGBORN, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
THE VILLAGE OF SUGAR GROVE, Defendant-Appellant Brent Eichelberger, Individually and in His Official Capacity as Village Administrator, Defendant. JOSEPH CECALA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
THE VILLAGE OF CARPENTERSVILLE, Defendant-Appellant Mark Rooney and Linda Morgren, Defendants.

Held [*]

In consolidated appeals by defendant villages challenging the entry of summary judgments for two policemen on their claims for benefits under the Public Safety Employee Benefits Act for the injuries they suffered while removing obstructions from roadways, chunks of asphalt in one case and a felled signal pole in the other case, the appellate court affirmed the awards of benefits, since both officers reasonably believed they were facing an emergency when they came upon the obstructions, the situations were not foreseeable for purposes of section 10(b) of the Act, and their attempts to remove the obstructions manually were appropriate “responses.”

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County, Nos. 12-MR-73, 11-CH- Review 3712; the Hon. Thomas E. Mueller, Judge, presiding. Judgment Affirmed.

Charles E. Hervas, Michael D. Bersani, and Zrinka Rukavina, all of Appeal Hervas, Condon & Bersani, P.C., of Itasca, for appellants Village of Sugar Grove and Brent Eichelberger.

James W. Fessler and James A. Rhodes, both of Klein, Thorpe & Jenkins, Ltd., of Chicago, for appellant Village of Carpentersville.

Craig S. Mielke, of Foote, Mielke, Shavz & O'Neil, of Geneva, and Ryan P. Theriault, of Foote, Meyers, Mielke & Flowers, LLC, of St. Charles, for appellees.

Panel JUSTICE BIRKETT delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Presiding Justice Burke and Justice McLaren concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 In these consolidated appeals, the Village of Sugar Grove and the Village of Carpentersville challenge awards of benefits under section 10 of the Public Safety Employee Benefits Act (Act) (820 ILCS 320/10 (West 2012)). For the following reasons, we affirm.

¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 3 A. General Background

¶ 4 Plaintiffs, Christopher Springborn and Joseph Cecala, were police officers with, respectively, Sugar Grove and Carpentersville. In separate instances, they were injured while clearing roadway obstructions in the course of their duties. Plaintiffs petitioned their respective employers for insurance benefits under section 10 of the Act, which provides in relevant part:

"(a) An employer who employs a full-time law enforcement, correctional or correctional probation officer, or firefighter, who, on or after the effective date of this Act 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 .

(b) In order for the law enforcement, correctional or correctional probation officer, firefighter, spouse, or dependent children to be eligible for insurance coverage under this Act, the injury or death must have occurred as the result of the officer's response to fresh pursuit, the officer or firefighter's response to what is reasonably believed to be an emergency, an unlawful act perpetrated by another, or during the investigation of a criminal act. Nothing in this Section shall be construed to limit health insurance coverage or pension benefits for which the officer, firefighter, spouse, or dependent children may otherwise be eligible." 820 ILCS 320/10(a), (b) (West 2012).

The municipalities declined the requests for benefits. Each plaintiff then brought a complaint in the trial court for a declaratory judgment that he was entitled to the benefits. Each alleged that he cleared the roadway obstructions in response to what he reasonably believed was an emergency. Springborn additionally alleged that his injury resulted from "an unlawful act perpetrated by another" (820 ILCS 320/10(b) (West 2012)). Cecala made no allegation of an unlawful act by another. ¶ 5 In both cases, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. In the sections that follow, we recount the subsequent proceedings in each case.

¶ 6 B. Background in No. 2-12-0861–Springborn

¶ 7 Attached to the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment were Springborn's discovery deposition and his testimony from two appearances before the Board of Trustees for the Police Pension Fund of Sugar Grove. From these sources we compile the following account, noting any significant disparities between the deposition testimony and the hearing testimony.

¶ 8 Springborn was on patrol on August 27, 2009, when, at 9:30 or 10 a.m., he received a dispatch that an off-duty police officer was attempting to stop a Meyer Paving truck on Route 47 between Bliss Road and Kedeka Road. Responding to the dispatch, Springborn proceeded north on Route 47. In the area of Route 47 and Kedeka Road, Springborn came across chunks of asphalt on Route 47. That section of Route 47 has two southbound lanes and two northbound lanes. The asphalt chunks covered the "whole [inside, or west, northbound] lane." There was a lesser quantity of chunks in the outside, or east, northbound lane. There were 10 to 15 chunks in all, each weighing "between 20 and 40 pounds." In his deposition testimony, Springborn stated that the chunks "ranged in size from about the size of a softball to about the size of–little bigger than a piece of paper, about three inches thick." In his hearing testimony, Springborn described the size of the chunks as "a foot and a half to two feet long by anywhere from three to six inches thick."

¶ 9 Springborn testified that Route 47 is "a major highway" in Kane County, with "heavy traffic, " and that it was "rush hour" when he encountered the asphalt. The speed limit for that section of Route 47 was 45 or 55 miles per hour. Springborn stated that, upon spotting the asphalt, he asked the public works department in Sugar Grove for assistance in removing the asphalt. The department replied that the Illinois Department of Transportation had responsibility for clearing Route 47. Believing that the asphalt chunks presented an "emergency" and an "immediate safety hazard, " Springborn activated his emergency lights and parked his squad car in the west northbound lane, where the majority of the asphalt chunks were located. He then removed the asphalt chunks by hand, tossing them onto the shoulder or the median. Springborn believed that the police department's "police and procedure manual" required officers to remove roadway debris that might endanger motorists. Springborn suffered no injury or discomfort in removing these pieces of asphalt.

ΒΆ 10 Springborn testified that, as he continued driving on Route 47, he encountered a second mass of asphalt chunks. In his deposition testimony, Springborn stated that the "numbers were about the same" as the first debris field but that "there were a few bigger pieces." In his hearing testimony, however, Springborn described the second debris field as "much larger" than the first debris field and opined that it presented an "even greater hazard" than the first because it was "actually protruding into both lanes." Most of the pieces, however, were in the west northbound lane. According to Springborn, the pieces in the second field "ranged in size from softball size to two to three feet [wide], anywhere from three to six inches thick." As with the first field, Springborn activated his emergency lights and parked behind the pieces in the west northbound lane. Observing that some of the chunks in the west lane were too large for him to lift, Springborn notified the dispatcher that he would need ...


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