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Stimeling v. Peoria Public School District 150

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

July 27, 2018

STEVEN STIMELING, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
PEORIA PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT 150, a Municipal Corporation, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 10th Judicial Circuit, Peoria County, Illinois Circuit No. 12-MR-317 Honorable James A. Mack, Judge, Presiding.

          JUSTICE SCHMIDT delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Holdridge and Wright concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          SCHMIDT JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Plaintiff, Steven Stimeling, suffered an on-the-job injury while working as a "security officer" or "school resource officer" for defendant, Peoria Public School District 150 (District). When he returned to work three days later, he performed only clerical and administrative tasks. He continued working in a clerical and administrative role until the District terminated his employment approximately two years later. After his termination, plaintiff filed suit seeking benefits under the Public Employee Disability Act (Disability Act) (5 ILCS 345/1 (West 2016)) and Public Safety Employee Benefits Act (Benefits Act) (820 ILCS 320/10 (West 2016)). The parties filed and argued cross-motions for summary judgment. The motions disputed whether the District employed plaintiff as a "law enforcement officer" entitled to Disability Act and Benefits Act benefits. The trial court entered an order granting summary judgment in the District's favor. Plaintiff appeals this order. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 I. Plaintiff's Employment

         ¶ 4 The District hired plaintiff as a "security agent" in March 1994. Some of his job responsibilities included patrolling school hallways and restrooms, checking hall passes, clearing school buildings of unauthorized visitors, directing traffic in school parking lots, "assisting as directed by school authorities in stopping disturbances and undue distractions" on school grounds, and "assisting all law enforcement officers whenever possible."

         ¶ 5 The District arranged for plaintiff to receive police training and certification through the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board (ILETSB). He became certified as a police officer for the "Peoria Public School Police Department." Plaintiff utilized his training and certification to work as a police officer for the Peoria Park District, the Eureka Police Department, and the Marquette Heights Police Department.

         ¶ 6 In August 2011, the District imposed a new policy, titled "Board Policy on School Resource Officers" (Board Policy 5:400), which changed the name of "campus police officers" or "security agents" to "school resource officers." The policy characterized resource officers as "district truant officers" under the School Code (105 ILCS 5/26-5 (West 2016)). The policy explicitly authorized resource officers to "arrest" students only for truancy violations; resource officers lacked authority to issue citations or investigate any nontruancy crime.

         ¶ 7 In 2012, the ILETSB informed the District that school resource officers could no longer receive police training unless the District demonstrated its legal authority to maintain a police department. The District eventually conceded that it lacked such authority. The ILETSB thereafter designated the "Peoria Public School Police Department" inactive and discontinued police training for the District's resource officers.

         ¶ 8 II. Plaintiff's Injury and Termination

         ¶ 9 On November 17, 2009, plaintiff sustained an on-the-job injury when a student attacked him. The student elbowed plaintiff in the eye, which caused his neck to "snap back." Plaintiff returned to work on November 20, but he performed only clerical and administrative functions. He remained in this clerical and administrative role for the remainder of the 2009-10 school year and the entire 2010-11 school year.

         ¶ 10 Early in the 2011-12 school year, plaintiff took medical leave from the District pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. (2012)). He never returned to work. After plaintiff exhausted his allotment of paid and unpaid leave, the District terminated his employment.

         ¶ 11 Plaintiff filed this lawsuit after his termination. He sought a declaratory judgment as to whether the Disability Act and Benefits Act entitled him to disability benefits awarded to "law enforcement officers" who sustain injuries in the line of duty. See 5 ILCS 345/1(a) (West 2016); 820 ILCS 320/10 (West 2016). If so, the District would be responsible for funding these benefits. The parties disputed whether plaintiff ever worked as a law ...


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