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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Claims for certain health insurance benefits and the liquidation of sick leave credits upon retirement rejected

Decision 1. Suttlehan v Town of New Windsor, 2012 NY Slip Op 07292, Appellate Division, Second Department [re: Health Insurance]
Decision 2. Suttlehan v Town of New Windsor, 2012 NY Slip Op 07293, Appellate Division, Second Department [re: Sick Leave Credits]
Town of New Windsor Town Justice Donald J. Suttlehan sued the Town, contending that it was in breach of contracts when it (1) eliminated his alleged entitlement, upon his retirement, to fully paid lifetime health care benefits for himself and his spouse [Decision 1] and (2) failing to pay him for his unused sick-leave credits upon his retirement [Decision 2].
On January 7, 2009, the Town adopted resolutions prospectively awarding Justice Suttlehan [a] “fully paid lifetime medical benefits for himself and his spouse” upon his retirement and [b] granted certain post-retirement health-care benefits to elected officials with eight years or more of service. On May 6, 2009 the Town adopted a resolution revoking its January 7, 2009 action with respect to providing “lifetime health care benefits” and Town modified its earlier “unused sick-leave” resolution in accordance with a new schedule.
Justice Suttlehan retired in July 2009. He then filed petitions in Supreme Court challenging the Town’s actions that he alleged truncated certain benefits to which he claimed he was entitled upon his retirement..
With respect to his claim to “lifetime medical benefits,” Justice Suttlehan alleged “breach of contract and promissory estoppel….” He argued that, among other things, that the Town’s January 7, 2009 resolution imposed a contractual obligation upon the Town to provide him with lifetime medical benefits or, in the alternative, that, by adopting the resolution, the Town became obligated to provide him with those benefits under the theory of promissory estoppel.
The Appellate Division sustained the Supreme Court’s dismissal of Justice Suttlehan’s petition, holding that the Town had met its “prima facie burden of establishing that [it was] not obligated to provide lifetime medical benefits to the plaintiff and his spouse, and the plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of fact in opposition.”
The Appellate Division said the resolution dated May 6, 2009, which revised Justice Suttlehan’s health-care benefits only with respect to coverage for claims made, or to be made, subsequent to his separation from Town employment, was not discriminatory as it was applicable to various elected officials -- the Town Supervisor, Town Clerk, Superintendent of Highways, Receiver of Taxes, Town Justices, and members of the Town Board -- as well as to the Town’s judiciary.
Rejecting Justice Suttlehan’s argument that the resolution violated his rights pursuant to the separation of powers doctrine or the compensation clause of the New York Constitution, the Appellate Division noted that the resolution addressed the prospective reduction of a municipal official's health benefits only after his or her retirement, not the reduction in the salary or benefits of a justice during his or her term in office.
In any event, said the Appellate Division, "[a] municipal resolution is, in general, a unilateral action that is temporary in nature and, thus, it does not create any vested contractual rights," citing Aeneas McDonald Police Benevolent Assn. v City of Geneva, 92 NY2d 326.
As to Justice Suttlehan’s cause of action to recover damages for breach of contract with respect to the liquidation of his unused sick-leave credits, Supreme Court held that he was entitled to payment for 397 unused sick days, The Town appealed the court’s decision.
The Appellate Division vacated the Supreme Court’s ruling, holding that "In general, a public employee whose employment has terminated may not recover the monetary value of unused . . . sick time in the absence of statutory or contractual authority."
The Town, said the court, had met its prima facie burden of showing its entitlement to judgment as a matter of law by demonstrating that there was no statutory or contractual authority for the relief sought by Justice Suttlehan and Supreme Court should have dismissed the Justice’s cause of action to recover damages for breach of contract with regard payment for his unused sick-leave credits.
The “health insurance” decision is posted on the Internet at:
The “sick leave” decision is posted on the Internet at:

http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2012/2012_07293.htm

Reprinted with permission New York Public Personnel Law

Mitchell H. Rubinstein

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/adjunctprofs/2012/12/claims-for-certain-health-insurance-benefits-and-the-liquidation-of-sick-leave-credits-upon-retirement-rejected.html

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