Thursday, June 19, 2014

Employer provided retirees with the health benefits to which they were entitled upon retirement under the collective bargaining agreement



Employer provided retirees with the health benefits to which they were entitled upon retirement under the collective bargaining agreement
Non-instruction Adm'rs & Supervisors Retirees Assn. v School Dist. of City of Niagara Falls, 2014 NY Slip Op 04299, Appellate Division, Fourth Department

18 retired employees of School District of City of Niagara Falls (District), and their retirees association commenced a breach of contract/declaratory judgment action seeking a declaration that the individual retirees are entitled to the health insurance benefits provided in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in effect at the time each individual retired.

Supreme Court granted the District's motion to dismiss the complaint and the retirees appealed. The Appellate Division modified the Supreme Court’s ruling in part, declaring that the individual retirees are not entitled to the health insurance coverage provided in the CBA in effect at the time each individual retired.

The Appellate Division agreed with the District that the language in the CBAs at issue is clear and unambiguous and thus that extrinsic evidence may not be considered.

The contract provision at issue stated: The District "shall assume the full cost of health insurance coverage and major medical . . . for each employee in the negotiating unit covered by this Agreement lawfully retiring in the future." The CBAs further state that "[t]he coverage so provided shall be the same type that the employee would have had if he/she had continued employment.When the retiree reaches his/her sixty-fifth (65th) birthday and qualifies for Medicare . . . , the type of health insurance and major medical coverage shall be changed to cover his/her new circumstances" (emphasis by the court).

The retirees contended that this provision provided that retirees are "entitled to the benefits they received at the time they each retired" (emphasis added by the court). Such an interpretation, said the court, “contravenes the plain meaning of the contractual language.”

The Appellate Division concluded that the plain meaning of the language set out in the collective bargaining agreement is that, upon retirement, a retiree will receive health insurance coverage of the same type received by active employees at that point in time. Thus, if health insurance for active employees changes over the years based on rising health care costs and successive collective bargaining agreements, the health insurance provided to retirees also will change because the health insurance of the retirees would be subject to the same changes if they had continued employment.

The Appellate Division explained that “Rather than fixing retiree coverage as of the date of retirement, the use of the word "would," a conditional verb indicating the consequence of an imagined or theoretical event or situation, expressly contemplates that the coverage provided to retirees will mirror the coverage provided to active employees.”

A retiree of the District is therefore entitled to the type of health insurance that he or she would have had if the retiree had never left the District's employ, i.e., the health insurance coverage negotiated by the active employees and the District at any given point in time 

As the retirees conceded that the individual retirees receive the same health insurance coverage as active employee, the Appellate Division concluded that they were receiving the health care benefits to which they were contractually entitled.
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