August 09, 2022

Parol evidence may not be used in challenging a written agreement that is complete, clear and unambiguous on its face

The relevant collective bargaining agreement [CBA] between Plaintiff's union [CSEA] and the County provided "[a]ny employee who retires on or after 1/1/08 and who is eligible for retiree health insurance benefits, and who opts out of such retiree health insurance due to other coverage, shall receive a cash payout equivalent to fifty (50%) percent of the value of Individual Coverage for the plan with the most active employee enrollees."

Prior to his retirement the Plaintiff in this CPLR Article 78 action had opted out of the County's health insurance benefits as he had other coverage and upon his retirement applied for the appropriate "cash payout equivalent".

The County denied Plaintiff's request for the payout equivalent contending that the Plaintiff was not eligible for retiree health insurance benefits because the NYSHIP Manual for Participating Agencies [NYSHIP] "provided that only an employee enrolled in the NYSHIP program or another employer-sponsored health plan at the time of retirement was eligible to continue coverage in retirement." The County argued that because the Plaintiff had opted out of the County's health insurance benefits prior to his retirement, he was not entitled to the payout for opting out of retiree health insurance benefits pursuant to the CBA.

Supreme Court granted Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and County appealed.

The Appellate Division sustained the Supreme Court's ruling explaining that "[t]he fundamental, neutral precept of contract interpretation is that agreements are construed in accord with the parties' intent and the best evidence of what parties to a written agreement intend is what they say in their writing". Further, said the court, a written agreement that is complete, clear and unambiguous on its face must be enforced according to the plain meaning of its terms", citing Kolbe v Tibbetts, 22 NY3d 344 and other decisions.

Plaintiff, said the Appellate Division, had "established his prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law by submitting, among other things, a copy of the relevant pages of the CBA" and the County failed to raise a triable issue of fact by submitting a copy of materials set out in the NYSHIP manual.

Click HERE to access Appellate Division decision posted on the Internet.

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