Illinois Supreme Court Spanks North Chicago Police Pension Board. Doctor’s Evidence Fails Manifest Weight Standard

While assisting an arrest, Police Officer Lawrence Wade got into a scuffle with the prisoner. Wade injured his knee, which required surgery. Ultimately, his doctor declared that Wade could not return to full patrol duty. The Police Department did not have an inside position for him, so Wade’s options were to retire or apply for a disability pension.

Officer Wade applied for the pension. But the City of North Chicago Police Pension Board denied Wade a line-of-duty pension, ruling essentially that one doctor’s opinion [Milgram] that Wade “did not incur a disability from the performance of an act of duty” was more persuasive than the four whose opinions were otherwise.

The circuit court confirmed the board, and the court of appeals affirmed. The first time the Illinois Supreme Court got the case, it issued a supervisory order for the appellate court to reassess in view of recent supreme court rulings. The appellate court again affirmed the denial of the pension, although it did rule that Milgram’s opinion was not credible. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed, and sent the matter back to the pension board to award Officer Wade a pension.

The appellate issue concerned the standard of review of the Milgram testimony and the sufficiency of his evidence. The supreme court reiterated the standards for review of decisions of an administrative board. “Rulings on questions of fact will be reversed only if they are against the manifest weight of the evidence … ‘An administrative agency decision is against the manifest weight of the evidence only if the opposite conclusion is clearly evident’ … In contrast, we review questions of law de novo … and a mixed question of law and fact is reviewed under the clearly erroneous standard … That standard [manifest weight] applies here as well.”

The Illinois Supreme Court agreed that Milgram’s opinion was not credible. The court used the occasion to remind the pension board of its responsibility. “We feel compelled at this juncture to remind Board members that, under the Pension Code, a pension board owes a fiduciary duty toward its participants and beneficiaries … Even under the manifest weight standard applicable in this instance, the deference we afford the administrative agency’s decision is not boundless. We hold, as did the appellate court, that the Board’s decision was against the manifest weight of the evidence.”

Read the whole opinion, Wade v. City of North Chicago Police Pension Board, No. 101265 (11/1/07), by clicking here.