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Gilliam v. Board of Trustees of City of Pontiac Police Pension Fund

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

April 5, 2018

SHAWNA GILLIAM, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE CITY OF PONTIAC POLICE PENSION FUND and THE CITY OF PONTIAC, a Municipal Corporation, Defendants-Appellants.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Livingston County No. 16MR120 Honorable Robert M. Travers, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE STEIGMANN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Harris and Justice Turner concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          STEIGMANN JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Defendants, the Board of Trustees of the City of Pontiac Police Pension Fund (Board) and the City of Pontiac (City), appeal from the circuit court's decision reversing the Board's decision to deny plaintiff, Shawna Gilliam, "line-of-duty" disability benefits. Defendants insist plaintiff failed to prove she was injured during an "act of duty." We disagree and affirm the decision of the circuit court.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 On April 3, 2012, plaintiff, a Pontiac police officer, was injured during a voluntary bicycle-patrol training session. As a result of this injury, three years later, on June 2, 2015, plaintiff filed an application with the Board requesting a "line-of-duty" disability pension pursuant to section 3-114.1(a) of the Illinois Pension Code (40 ILCS 5/3-114.1(a) (West 2010)). In the alternative, plaintiff requested a "non-duty" disability pension. In December 2015, the City filed a motion to intervene in plaintiff's application. Without objection, the Board allowed the City's motion.

         ¶ 4 A. The Administrative Hearing

         ¶ 5 In May 2016, the Board conducted a hearing on plaintiff's application. The Board heard testimony from plaintiff, the instructor of the bicycle-patrol training session, and the police chief and reviewed approximately 20 exhibits, most of which consisted of plaintiff's medical records.

         ¶ 6 Plaintiff testified she became a Pontiac police officer on January 1, 2002, and throughout her tenure, she was employed as a patrol officer. On April 2, 2012, she participated in a training program taught by Charlie Summers, an International Police Mountain Bike Association (IPMBA) instructor. Two other Pontiac police officers participated as well. The City provided the bicycle she used during training. Plaintiff was on duty and wore her bicycle-patrol uniform, equipped with her vest, duty belt, and service weapon during the course. According to plaintiff, she was participating in the training in order to be certified for police bicycle-patrol duties. Although she knew how to ride a bicycle, this course was intended to teach "tactics" specifically used by police officers while responding to calls and conducting traffic stops. On the day of her injury, plaintiff was being trained on how to conduct a felony pursuit. Specifically, she was engaged in a maneuver called "parallel curb ascending." She had successfully performed the maneuver approximately six times before she fell onto her right arm, injuring her forearm and wrist. She testified that her arm was smashed between the butt of her service weapon and the street.

         ¶ 7 Plaintiff, with Summers's assistance, immediately completed an injury report, but plaintiff participated in the remainder of the four-day training session. After the training, plaintiff sought medical treatment on April 5, 2012, and was diagnosed with a triangular fibrocartilage complex (TFCC) tear requiring three surgeries. The treating and examining physicians all agreed she was unable to carry out her duties as a patrol officer due to the injury. In December 2015, the Pontiac Police Department notified her she was being placed on nonpay status of employment.

         ¶ 8 Charlie Summers, a sergeant with the Illinois State University Police Department, testified on the City's behalf. He said while he was teaching the IPMBA basic course, he saw plaintiff fall while attempting a parallel curb ascent. He described the maneuver as one used to "rapidly get out of the roadway to get up on the curb. It can be a defensive movement or an offensive movement depending on what your role is at that time, but most of the time it's used to divert from getting into an accident with a car or something like that. It's a diversive action." He said he does not teach civilians this technique; he only teaches the "police part of it."

         ¶ 9 Chief James Woolford testified on behalf of the City. He explained that in order to become a bicycle-patrol officer, an officer can either request to attend the training class or wait until information about an upcoming training class is disseminated. Woolford said becoming a bicycle-patrol officer was entirely voluntary. The following exchange occurred:

"Q. And describe the nature of the class for us.
A. The nature of the class is a four-day class to learn basic police officer bicycle skills, to patrol in uniform and handle calls within your designated patrol area on a bicycle.
* * *
Q. Okay. Are there any educational or experience prerequisites before an officer can attend the class?
A. We don't have anything set in stone, but it's typically an officer off of probation, so we want an officer who is no longer overwhelmed by just learning their patrol job, so-
Q. Does there have to be any extensive pre-bicycle riding experience before they take the course?
A. We've-no, we've never said anything like that. It's useful to be a bike enthusiast or willing to do it, but we have never set any hard rules or any requisites.
Q. Okay. And have you taken the class?
A. I have.
Q. All right. Currently right now on the department, how many officers are there that have taken the class and that are available to ...

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