Anderson v Niagara Falls City School Dist., 2015 NY Slip Op 01098, Appellate Division, Fourth Department
After the Niagara Falls City School District [Niagara Falls] transferred its retirees from a Blue Cross/Blue Shield Traditional Plan [Traditional Plan] to a Blue Cross/Blue Shield Forever Blue Medicare Plan [Forever Blue Plan] the retirees [Anderson] sued contending that the transfer resulted in a reduction in their health insurance benefits while Niagara Falls failed to effectuate a similar reduction in benefits for its active employees.
The relevant collective bargaining agreement [CBA] did not address what kind of health insurance plan would be available to retirees during retirement but prior to July 1, 2011, the Traditional Plan was available to Anderson. After June 30, 2011 Niagara Falls discontinued offering the Traditional Plan to retirees, including Anderson, and transferred its then retired former employees, Anderson included, to the Forever Blue Plan.
Anderson, a pre-July 1, 2011 retiree, alleged that Niagara Falls' actions were arbitrary, capricious, and unlawful, and in violation of Chapter 504 of the Laws of 2009, the so-called moratorium statute,, and sought to compel the School District to make the Traditional Plan available to Niagara Falls retirees once again.
Niagara Falls, on the other hand, contended that the coverage provided under the Forever Blue Plan was the "exact same coverage" as the Traditional Plan, with the exception of "one difference: there was “a minor increase in the co-pays under the new current plan." In order to compensate the retirees for that increase, Niagara Falls would deposit $600 per year into a medical reimbursement account for each retiree, including Anderson.
Supreme Court granted Anderson’s petition in its entirety and the Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling.
The Appellate Division explained that although Niagara Falls argued that the Anderson did not have a viable cause of action under the moratorium statute, relying on Kolbe v Tibbets, 22 NY3d 340, the Appellate Division rejected its contention indicating that the moratorium statute relied on by the school district “sets a minimum baseline or ‘floor’ for retiree health benefits, and that ‘floor’ is measured by the health insurance benefits received by the school district’s active employees.”
In other words, said the court, “the moratorium statute does not permit an employer to whom the statute applies to provide [its] retirees with lesser health insurance benefits than [its] active employees.”
Anderson alleged that health insurance benefits available to retirees have been diminished below the "floor" of the corresponding benefits for Niagara Falls’ active employees. This, said the court, is the “precise trigger” that permits Anderson to assert a cause of action under the moratorium statute.
Further, said the court, the issue in Kolbe was whether the employer could reduce or eliminate retiree benefits regardless of the language in the governing CBAs, so long as they made the same modification to active employees, and resolving that issue involved an interpretation of the contractual provisions of the governing CBAs. In rejecting the employer’s position in Kolbe, the Court of Appeals held that the moratorium statute was "not meant to eviscerate contractual obligations."
Here, however, Anderson did not allege that Niagara Falls had violated a provision of the CBA and, thus, no issue of contract interpretation is presented here. In Kolbe the petitioners were “attempting to vindicate the negotiated rights bestowed on them in the governing CBAs” while in this action Anderson is attempting to vindicate the rights bestowed on retirees under the moratorium statute.
As to the merits of the Anderson case, the Appellate Division said that Supreme Court “properly determined that [Niagara City School District’s] actions were arbitrary, capricious, and unlawful, and in violation of the moratorium statute, because there was a substantial reduction in health insurance benefits for the retirees or their dependents without a corresponding reduction of benefits for active employees.”
The decision is posted on the Internet at: