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Englum v. City of Charleston

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

June 13, 2017

STEVEN C. ENGLUM, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
THE CITY OF CHARLESTON, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from Circuit Court of Coles County Nos. 14-CH-5, 14-CH-6 Honorable Brien J. O'Brien, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE STEIGMANN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Harris and Knecht concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          STEIGMANN JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 In December 2008, plaintiff, Steven C. Englum, was employed as a police officer by defendant, the City of Charleston (City)-a non-home-rule municipality-when he was injured while exiting his police cruiser. Englum was eventually awarded line-of-duty pension benefits because of the injury. Englum v. Board of Trustees of the Police Pension Fund, 2013 IL App (4th) 120982-U (reversing the pension board's decision denying Englum line-of-duty pension benefits).

         ¶ 2 In November 2013, Englum sent the City a letter requesting health insurance benefits under section 10 of the Public Safety Employee Benefits Act (Safety Benefits Act) (820 ILCS 320/10 (West 2012)). In December 2013, the City enacted an ordinance establishing local administrative procedures to determine applicants' eligibility for section 10 benefits. The City sent Englum notice of a hearing pursuant to those procedures, at which Englum's eligibility would be determined.

         ¶ 3 In February 2014, Englum filed two actions in the trial court. The first (case No. 14-CH-5) was a complaint for declaratory relief, asking the court, instead of the City's administrative entity, to determine Englum's eligibility for section 10 benefits. The second (case No. 14-CH-6) was a complaint for injunctive relief, seeking to enjoin the City from conducting an eligibility hearing under the City's ordinance.

         ¶ 4 The trial court determined that the proper procedure for determining section 10 benefits eligibility was for the court to decide Englum's complaint for declaratory relief. The court later held a hearing on Englum's complaint for declaratory relief and determined that he was entitled to section 10 benefits.

         ¶ 5 The City appeals, arguing that the trial court erred by (1) deciding Englum's eligibility based on his complaint for declaratory relief instead of allowing the City to determine eligibility under its procedural scheme and, alternatively, (2) concluding on the merits that Englum qualified for section 10 benefits. We agree with the City on its first point. We therefore reverse the trial court's judgment denying the City's motion to dismiss Englum's complaint for declaratory relief (case No. 14-CH-5; appeal No. 4-16-0747). We dismiss for lack of jurisdiction the City's appeal in No. 4-16-0748 (case No. 14-CH-6).

         ¶ 6 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 7 A. Englum's Injury

         ¶ 8 On December 7, 2008, Englum was on duty as a patrol officer for the City. Around 12:30 p.m., he received a dispatch informing him that the chief of police had requested an officer to respond immediately to the Casey's gas station. Dispatch did not provide Englum any other information. Englum responded and arrived at Casey's approximately one minute later. He noticed nothing suspicious at Casey's; nor did he see the chief of police. Unable to determine why he was dispatched, Englum returned to the police station in hopes of speaking to the chief. On his way into the station, Englum slipped and fell on ice in the parking lot, injuring his hand and shoulder.

         ¶ 9 B. Proceedings on Englum's Claim for a Disability Pension

         ¶ 10 In February 2010, Englum applied to the Board of Trustees of the Police Pension Fund of the City of Charleston (Board) for a disability pension under the Illinois Pension Code (40 ILCS 5/3-101 to 3-152 (West 2008)). The Board denied him a line-of-duty disability pension but awarded him a not-on-duty disability pension. In May 2013, this court determined that the Board's decision to deny Englum a line-of-duty pension was clearly erroneous. Englum, 2013 IL App (4th) 120982-U, ¶ 25.

         ¶ 11 C. Proceedings on Englum's Claim for Health Insurance Benefits Under Section 10 of the Safety Benefits Act

         ¶ 12 In November 2013, Englum sent the City a letter asserting that his injuries entitled him to health insurance benefits under section 10 of the Safety Benefits Act (820 ILCS 320/10 (West 2012)) and requesting the City to award him those benefits.

         ¶ 13 1. The City's Ordinance

         ¶ 14 In December 2013, the City enacted Title I, Chapter 11, Section 7 of the Charles- ton City Council Code, entitled "Administrative Hearings To Determine Eligibility Under the Public Safety Employee Benefit Act" (Ordinance). The Ordinance established administrative procedures to determine whether City employees, such as Englum, were eligible for section 10 health insurance benefits under the Safety Benefits Act. The Ordinance provided for an administrative hearing procedure overseen by a hearing officer appointed by the mayor of the City.

         ¶ 15 In January 2014, the City sent Englum notice of a February 2014 hearing pursuant to the Ordinance, where Englum's eligibility for benefits under section 10 of the Safety Benefits Act would be determined.

         ¶ 16 2. Englum's Complaints

         ¶ 17 a. Englum's Complaint for Declaratory Relief (Case No. 14-CH-5)

         ¶ 18 In February 2014, Englum filed a complaint requesting the trial court to enter a declaratory judgment deeming him eligible for section 10 benefits.

         ¶ 19 b. Englum's Complaint for Injunctive Relief (Case No. 14-CH-6)

         ¶ 20 On the same day, Englum filed a complaint for injunctive relief, arguing that the City's administrative scheme was unauthorized by state statute and requesting the trial court to enjoin the City from using the Ordinance's procedures to determine Englum's section 10 eligibility.

         ¶ 21 3. The City's Filings

         ¶ 22 In March 2014, the City filed answers in both cases. Both answers included identical arguments raising the City's "first affirmative defense" of "choice of remedy." The City's choice-of-remedy defense argued, in both cases, that "this matter is not yet ripe" because Englum had not exhausted the administrative procedures available to him under the Ordinance. In June 2014, the City filed identical briefs in both cases supporting its "first affirmative defense."

         ¶ 23 In its briefs, the City argued that it had authority under the Illinois Municipal Code (65 ILCS 5/1-2-1, 10-4-1 (West 2012)) to establish the administrative scheme created by the Ordinance. Therefore, the City claimed, Englum was required to exhaust the procedures created by the Ordinance, and his "claim for eligibility to benefits" was not yet ripe for review by the trial court. (We note that the answer and brief filed in Englum's injunctive relief action (case No. 14-CH-6) raised arguments addressing the ripeness of Englum's claim for declaratory judgment ("claim for eligibility to benefits") and not his claim for injunctive relief.)

         ¶ 24 4. The December 2014 Hearing

         ¶ 25 In December 2014, the trial court held a joint hearing in both cases. At the begin- ning of the hearing, the court accepted the parties' request to treat the City's answers in both cases as motions to dismiss Englum's respective complaints. The parties then presented arguments, and the court took the matter under advisement.

         ¶ 26 5. The Trial Court's January 2015 Orders

         ¶ 27 In January 2015, the trial court entered identical orders in both cases denying the City's motions to dismiss. The court determined that the supreme court's decision in Gaffney v. Board of Trustees of the Orland Fire Protection District, 2012 IL 110012, 969 N.E.2d 359, precluded the City from establishing the procedural scheme created by the Ordinance. The court ordered that Englum's eligibility for section 10 benefits should be determined by the court in response to Englum's complaint for declaratory judgment in case No. 14-CH-5. (Although the ...


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