Las Vegas POA

Walking To Car After Testifying Not ‘Act Of Duty’ For Pension Purposes

Written on 04/30/2021
Will Aitchison

Paul Griffin was a detective with the Village of New Lenox Police Department in Illinois. On September 7, 2016, Griffin worked from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. He was wearing his service revolver, handcuffs, and police radio. Griffin’s supervisor informed him that he was to testify before a grand jury pursuant to a subpoena at the county courthouse. Griffin drove his vehicle assigned by the police department with his partner, Jeff Furlong, to testify. He parked the vehicle and carried paperwork, police reports, and a subpoena related to his testimony into the courtroom while Furlong waited for him.

After testifying, Griffin and Furlong exited the building and walked toward the vehicle to return to the police department. While getting into the vehicle, Griffin slipped off the curb, hyperextended his knee, and grabbed the door to prevent himself from falling. Griffin immediately felt pain in the front and rear of his left knee but returned to the police department.

Griffin filed a claim with the Village’s pension plan contending that the injury caused him to be permanently disabled, and that it was the result of an “act of duty.” Independently, Griffin resigned from his job during an internal investigation unrelated to his testimony and injury that occurred on September 7, 2016.

Under the Illinois pension code, police officers are entitled to an enhanced line-of-duty disability pension if they are disabled “as the result of sickness, accident or injury incurred in or resulting from the performance of an act of duty.” The issue Griffin’s case posed for the Illinois Court of Appeals was whether Griffin’s testimony met the test for an “act of duty.”

The Court found that the testimony did not meet the higher standard. The Court noted that “a police officer is not always performing an act of duty within the meaning of the Code just because he is on duty. There has to be something more than just being on duty to receive a line-of-duty pension.

“The crux of the issue in these sorts of cases is the capacity in which the officer was serving at the time of the injury and whether that capacity involved special risks. There are two different capacities Griffin could have been serving: a testifying witness in a criminal investigation or a pedestrian that is essentially on call. As to the testifying capacity, it presents the question of when that capacity ceases.

“However, we need not answer that question because we find that Griffin was not exposed to special risks not ordinarily assumed by a citizen in the ordinary walks of life in either capacity. Griffin was merely walking from the courthouse to his vehicle with papers in hand following his subpoenaed testimony. He was not looking for crimes, no one contacted him on his department phone or radio to respond to any emergency call or service, and he completed all his duties related to the grand jury at the time he slipped.

“Griffin also suggests that the act of carrying the police report and subpoena is unique to him as an officer because the documents were not available to the general public. We fail to see how the content of the document changes Griffin’s risk. Even assuming that the documents were confidential or unique to policework, this does not defeat the fact that Griffin was carrying the documents while merely walking to his vehicle. Thus, the content of the documents alone does not render his act of walking to his vehicle an act of duty.”

Griffin v. Village of New Lenox Police Pension Fund, 2021 IL App (3d) 190557 (Ill. App. Ct. 2021).

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