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Dubis v. Town of East Greenwich

Superior Court of Rhode Island

February 11, 2016

MICHAEL DUBIS, STEPHEN BIANCO, JOHN DUBIS, ROBERT VESPIA, SCOTT MILLETTE, PETER HENRIKSON, BRIAN GARDINER, SUSAN HAWKSLEY, DAVID MILLER, JON LARSSON, ROLAND VESPIA, RICHARD DENICE, DAVID DREW, E. STEFAN COUTOULAKIS, SEAN BRENNAN, JAMES LORENSON, RODNEY HARVEY, PETER CUSICK, JOANNE BIANCO, MARY BRENNAN, PAMELA A. COUTOULAKIS, KRISTEN CUSICK, MARY BETH DENICE, SHARON DREW, PATRICIA E. DUBIS, TERRI ANN DUBIS, LORI M. GARDINER, KRISTEN HENRIKSON, KERRI L. LARSSON, SUSAN LORENSON, PAMELA B. MILLER, BELINDA J. MILLETTE, ELAINE M. VESPIA, and MICHELLE VESPIA, Plaintiffs,
v.
TOWN OF EAST GREENWICH, by and through its Finance Director, KRISTEN BENOIT, MICHAEL B. ISAACS, BRAD BISHOP, JEFFREY B. CIANCIOLO, MARK WATKINS GEE, MICHAEL S. KIERNAN, in their capacities as members of the East Greenwich Town Council, THOMAS E. COYLE III, in his capacity as Town Manager, Defendants.

Kent County Superior Court

ATTORNEYS:

For Plaintiff: William J. Conley, Jr., Esq. Deidre E. Carreno, Esq.

For Defendant: Peter A. Clarkin, Esq.

DECISION

TAFT-CARTER, J.

Before the Court for decision are Plaintiffs, Michael Dubis, et al. (Plaintiffs or Retirees), and Defendants', Town of East Greenwich, et al. (collectively, Defendants), cross-Motions for Summary Judgment pursuant to Super. R. Civ. P. 56. Plaintiffs seek a declaration that the Town of East Greenwich (Town) acted unlawfully and in derogation of Plaintiffs' constitutional rights when it unilaterally altered health insurance benefits Plaintiffs secured in accordance with certain collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) under which they retired. Plaintiffs also seek a permanent injunction enjoining Defendants from depriving Plaintiffs of their vested rights to receive health insurance under the CBAs under which each individual Retiree retired. Defendants also move for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiffs do not have a vested right to specific health insurance benefits. The Court exercises jurisdiction pursuant to G.L. 1956 §§ 8-2-14 and 9-30-1.

I

Facts and Travel

A

Parties

The Plaintiffs are former members of the East Greenwich Fire District who retired on or after January 1, 1995, their spouses, or former spouses of the Retirees.[1]

The current dispute between the Retirees and Defendants concerns multiple CBAs ranging from 1993–2016. Between 1995 and 2013 the members of the East Greenwich Fire District (the District) operated under several CBAs. Agreed-Upon Statement of Facts at ¶ 13. The East Greenwich Firefighters Association, Local 3328 (the Association) negotiated and entered into several CBAs with the District. Id. at ¶ 11.

In 2013, pursuant to an Act of the General Assembly, the District ceased to exist and the Town assumed responsibility and liability for all obligations of the District, including retiree benefits. Id. at ¶ 15.

On September 16, 2013, the East Greenwich Town Council ratified the current CBA (the Current CBA), which includes the changes in healthcare coverage that Plaintiffs now challenge. Id. at ¶ 50. The effective date of the change in the healthcare coverage was July 1, 2014. Id. at ¶ 51.

The Retirees were notified of the change in the benefits by letter dated November 7, 2013. Id. at ¶ 52. Subsequent correspondence dated March 6, 2014 advised the Retirees of a March 14, 2014 meeting to discuss the changes. Id. at ¶ 53. At the March 14, 2014 meeting, the Fire Chief, Russell McGillivray, informed the Retirees that the Town had negotiated a new CBA with the Association. Id. at ¶ 56. Fire Chief McGillivray explained that as a result of the negotiations, the Retirees would be receiving the same benefits as the current active employees. Id. At the March 14, 2014 meeting, the Retirees were given information outlining the impending change in their healthcare benefits. Id. at ¶ 57. Specifically, the handouts given to the Retirees detailed a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA). Id. at ¶ 58.

B

The CBAs

The CBAs provided that Retirees would receive their choice of the same medical and dental coverage offered to the active employees (Actives). Id. at ¶¶ 17, 21, 25, 29, 34, 37, 40, and 49.

Specifically, Section 32-2 of the 1993–1996 CBA, 1996–1999 CBA, 1999–2002 CBA, 2002–2005 CBA, 2005–2009 CBA, 2008–2010 CBA, 2010–2013 CBA, and 2013–2016 CBA provides that:

"In addition, employees who retire with twenty (20) or more years of service credits at any age up to age 65, shall receive their choice of the same medical and dental coverage which is offered to active employees subject to the provisions of section 30 of this agreement entitled 'medical and dental'. In no event shall medical and dental coverage for the spouse of a retired employee continue once said surviving spouse attains the age of sixty-five (65)." Id. at ¶¶ 17, 21, 25, 29, 34, 37, 40, and 49 (emphasis added).

Although the guarantee of the same medical and dental coverage remained throughout the years, the various types of health insurance provided by the Town fluctuated.

For instance, Section 30-2 of the 1993–1996 CBA and the 1996–1999 CBA states, in pertinent part:

"Each employee shall be given the opportunity to select a primary medical plan annually. The following medical plans are offered by the District, however, the District shall pay only an amount equal to the Blue Cross/Blue Shield premium, and the employee shall pay any amount in excess of the Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan.
"a. Blue Cross/Blue Shield
"b. Healthmate
"c. Rhode Island H.M.O
"d. United Health Plans of N.E.
"e. Harvard Comm. Health Plan of N.E. (formerly RIGHA)[.]" Id.
at ¶¶ 19, 23 (emphasis added).

With respect to the 1999–2002 CBA, a provision was added that specified that if another insurance carrier was chosen by the District, the Retiree would receive benefits that were at least equal to the previous healthcare plan. Following this change, Section 30-2 of the 1999–2002 CBA states, in pertinent part:

"Each employee shall be given the opportunity to select a primary medical plan annually. The following medical plans are offered by the District, however, the District shall pay only an amount equal to the Blue Cross/Blue Shield premium, and the employee shall pay any amount in excess of the basic cost of the Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan. Effective June 1, 1999 through May 1, 2002 if the District desires to insure such benefits with another insurance carrier, the benefits, which are listed in Exhibit A attached hereto, will be at least equal to those provided by the foregoing plan. In the event the premium from another carrier is less than that charged by Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the District may pay the lower amount. "a. Blue Cross/Blue Shield
"b. Healthmate
"c. Rhode Island ...

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