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Bremer v. City of Rockford

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Second District

April 27, 2015

WILLIAM BREMER, Plaintiff-Appellee Cross-Appellant,
v.
THE CITY OF ROCKFORD, Defendant-Appellant Cross-Appellee

Page 2

         As Corrected.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County. No. 08-MR-437. Honorable J. Edward Prochaska, Judge, Presiding.

         Paul A. Denham, of City of Rockford Department of Law, of Rockford, for appellant.

         Thomas G. Ruud, of Thomas G. Ruud & Associates, P.C., of Rockford, for appellee.

         JUSTICE BURKE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice Jorgensen concurred in the judgment and opinion. Justice McLaren concurred in part and dissented in part in the judgment, with opinion.

          OPINION

         BURKE, JUSTICE.

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          [¶1] Defendant, the City of Rockford, appeals from the entry of summary judgment in favor of plaintiff, William Bremer, and the denial of Rockford's cross-motion for summary judgment, on Bremer's claim for health care benefits under the Public Safety Employee Benefits Act (Benefits Act) (820 ILCS 320/1 et seq. (West 2008)). In another proceeding, Bremer, a firefighter suffering from a heart condition, obtained an occupational disease disability pension under section 4-110.1 of the Illinois Pension Code (Pension Code) (see 40 ILCS 5/4-110.1 (West 2008)). In this case, the trial court ruled that the pension qualified him for benefits under section 10 of the Benefits Act. On appeal, Rockford argues that the trial court erred in granting Bremer summary judgment on his claim under section 10, because (1) his eligibility for the occupational disease disability pension does not mean that he suffered a " catastrophic injury," which is required for health care benefits (see 820 ILCS 320/10(a) (West 2008)), and (2) Bremer's injury did not result from his " response to what is reasonably believed to be an emergency," which is also required (see 820 ILCS 320/10(b) (West 2008)). We hold that an occupational disease disability pension granted under section 4-110.1 of the Pension Code satisfies the " catastrophic injury" element of section 10(a), but that a question of fact regarding section 10(b) precludes summary judgment for Bremer on his claim for health care benefits under the Benefits Act.

          [¶2] Bremer cross-appeals from the trial court's orders denying his claim under the Attorneys Fees in Wage Actions Act (Wage Actions Act) (705 ILCS 225/1 et seq. (West 2008)) and dismissing portions of his claim for damages arising out of unpaid health insurance premiums and medical expenses that he incurred while uninsured. We agree with the trial court that, as a matter of law, Bremer is not entitled to recover attorney fees under the Wage Actions Act, because, even if he were to prevail on his claim for postemployment health care benefits under the Benefits Act, those benefits would not qualify as " wages earned and due and owing according to the terms of the employment." 705 ILCS 225/1 (West 2008). We further hold that Bremer's claim for unpaid health insurance premiums and medical expenses is not ripe for adjudication, because there is no longer a judgment requiring Rockford to pay health insurance premiums for Bremer or his wife.

          [¶3] In sum, we affirm the trial court's order denying Bremer's request for attorney fees. We reverse the entry of summary judgment for Bremer on his claim brought under section 10 of the Benefits Act. We vacate the rulings on Bremer's claim for unpaid health insurance premiums and medical expenses, and we remand the cause for further proceedings on that claim.

         [¶4] I. BACKGROUND

          [¶5] Rockford hired Bremer as a firefighter in 1976. On May 12, 2004, Bremer filed an application with the City of Rockford Firefighters' Pension Board (Board), seeking an occupational disease disability pension pursuant to section 4-110.1 of the Pension Code (see 40 ILCS 5/4-110.1 (West 2008)). Bremer presented evidence that his cardiomyopathy rendered him unable to work as a firefighter.

          [¶6] On February 1, 2007, the Board granted Bremer's application for an occupational disease disability pension under section 4-110.1 of the Pension Code. The Board found that Bremer was a firefighter

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with more than five years of creditable service who was rendered disabled as a result of a disease of the heart, cardiomyopathy, which resulted from service in the fire department. The Board found that Bremer had been exposed to chemicals and toxins while fighting fires and that he had experienced heavy to very heavy exertion during emergency calls when he entered fires, lifted people and equipment, overhauled fire scenes, and responded to ambulance calls. The Board also found that Bremer's disability was permanent. Bremer's pension was effective January 5, 2005.

          [¶7] Pursuant to a city ordinance, Rockford paid health insurance premiums as a benefit for Bremer and his wife, Sally, from January 2005 through February 2008. On February 21, 2008, Rockford informed Bremer that, on March 1, 2008, Rockford would no longer pay the premiums, which were approximately $1,100 per month. Rockford directed Bremer to pay the premiums himself, from his pension checks, if he wished to maintain the benefits.

          [¶8] On March 20, 2008, Bremer applied to Rockford for the payment of health insurance premiums pursuant to the Benefits Act. Bremer supplemented the application with the Board's finding that he was disabled and entitled to an occupational disease disability pension.

          [¶9] Following an informal meeting with Bremer, Rockford denied the application on the basis that Bremer had not suffered a " catastrophic injury" as required by section 10(a) of the Benefits Act (see 820 ILCS 320/10(a) (West 2008)). Rockford determined that, although a line-of-duty pension under section 4-110 of the Pension Code is synonymous with a " catastrophic injury," the occupational disability pension that Bremer received under section 4-110.1 is not.

          [¶10] On June 1, 2008, Bremer filed a two-count complaint for a declaratory judgment and attorney fees in the trial court. Count I sought a declaratory judgment that the meaning of " catastrophic injury," as used in section 10(a) of the Benefits Act, includes " the line-of-duty disability Occupational Diseases under Section 4-110.1 of the Illinois Pension Code." Bremer also sought a declaration that Rockford was obligated to pay future health insurance premiums for him and Sally and reimburse Bremer for any premiums he paid in 2008. Count II sought attorney fees under the Wage Actions Act.

          [¶11] The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment as to count I. On April 19, 2011, the trial court granted Bremer's motion and denied Rockford's motion, declaring that the occupational disease disability pension that Bremer received under section 4-110.1 of the Pension Code qualified him and Sally for health care benefits under section 10 of the Benefits Act. The trial court ordered Rockford to reinstitute the health care benefits and to reimburse Bremer for the premiums he paid after Rockford's denial of his application.

          [¶12] Count II remained pending until January 23, 2013, when the trial court granted Rockford's motion for summary judgment, ruling that " [the Act's] post-employment health insurance benefits do not qualify as 'wages earned and due and owing according to the terms of employment,'" such that, as a matter of law, Bremer was not entitled to recover attorney fees under the Wage Actions Act.

          [¶13] Meanwhile, on May 25, 2011, the trial court granted Bremer leave to add a count III to the complaint. Bremer alleged that, during the period in which Rockford declined to pay the insurance premiums, Bremer could not afford to pay for health insurance for him and Sally, and

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they remained uninsured. During that period, Bremer and Sally allegedly incurred more than $39,000 in medical expenses, for which Bremer sought reimbursement. Bremer also sought $38,000 for " the premiums which ought to have been paid but were not," as he and Sally " were deprived of the value of these premiums and [Rockford] was unjustly enriched for failing to comply with its obligations under the law."

          [¶14] In May 2012, Rockford filed a combined motion to dismiss count III pursuant to sections 2-615 and 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-615, 2-619, 2-619.1 (West 2008)). On September 28, 2012, pursuant to section 2-615, the trial court dismissed the claim for $38,000 for unpaid premiums. See 735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2008). Pursuant to section 2-619, the court also dismissed Bremer's claim for approximately $36,000 in medical expenses relating to a one-car collision involving Sally. See 735 ILCS 5/2-619 (West 2008). Those expenses had been paid under Bremer's auto insurance policy, and the trial court determined that Bremer lacked standing to sue under the Rights of Married Persons Act, commonly known as the Family Expense Act. See 750 ILCS 65/15 (West 2008). Following a hearing on August 9, 2013, regarding health insurance premiums that Bremer actually paid and other out-of-pocket medical expenses, the trial court ordered Rockford to pay Bremer $6,381 plus court costs under count III.

          [¶15] Rockford filed a notice of appeal, seeking review of the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Bremer on count I. Bremer filed a cross-appeal as to the grant of summary judgment on count II and the dismissed portions of his damages claim under count III.[1]

         [¶16] II. ANALYSIS

         [¶17] A. The Benefits Act

          [¶18] Rockford contends that the trial court erred in granting Bremer's motion for summary judgment, and denying Rockford's cross-motion, on count I. Summary judgment is appropriate only when " the pleadings, depositions, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." 735 ILCS 5/2-1005(c) (West 2008). " A triable issue precluding summary judgment exists where the material facts are disputed, or where, the material facts being undisputed, reasonable persons might draw different inferences from the undisputed facts." Adams v. Northern Illinois Gas Co., 211 Ill.2d 32, 43, 809 N.E.2d 1248, 284 Ill.Dec. 302 (2004). The use of summary judgment is to be encouraged as an aid in the expeditious disposition of a lawsuit; however, it is a drastic means of disposing of litigation and should be allowed only when the right of the moving party is clear and free from doubt. Springborn v. Village of Sugar Grove, 2013 IL App. (2d) 120861, ¶ 24, 997 N.E.2d 643, 375 Ill.Dec. 332 We review de novo a trial court's grant of summary judgment. Springborn, 2013 IL App. (2d) 120861, ¶ 24.

          [¶19] " When parties file cross-motions for summary judgment, they agree that only a question of law is involved and invite the court to decide the issues based on the record." Pielet v. Pielet, 2012 IL 112064, ¶ 28, 978 N.E.2d 1000,

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365 Ill.Dec. 497 However, the mere fact that cross-motions for summary judgment have been filed does not establish that there is no issue of material fact, nor does it obligate a court to render summary judgment. Pielet, 2012 IL 112064, ¶ 28.

          [¶20] The parties dispute the interpretation of section 10 of the Benefits Act and sections 4-110 and 4-110.1 of the Pension Code. The fundamental objective of statutory construction is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature. Blum v. Koster, 235 Ill.2d 21, 29, 919 N.E.2d 333, 335 Ill.Dec. 614 (2009). The most reliable indicator of legislative intent is the statutory language, given its plain and ordinary meaning. Cinkus v. Village of Stickney Municipal Officers Electoral Board, 228 Ill.2d 200, 216, 886 N.E.2d 1011, 319 Ill.Dec. 887 (2008). When the statutory language is clear and unambiguous, it must be applied as written without resort to extrinsic aids of statutory interpretation. MidAmerica Bank, FSB v. Charter One Bank, FSB, 232 Ill.2d 560, 565, 905 N.E.2d 839, 329 Ill.Dec. 1 (2009). We will not depart from the plain statutory language by reading into it exceptions, limitations, or conditions that conflict with the expressed intent of the legislature. MidAmerica Bank, FSB, 232 Ill.2d at 565-66.

          [¶21] The trial court ordered Rockford to pay Bremer's health insurance premiums pursuant to section 10 of the Benefits Act, which provides in relevant part as follows:

" (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 (West 2008).

         [¶22] 1. Catastrophic Injury (Section 10(a))

         [¶23]a. Line-of-Duty Disability ...


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