The city of Slidell is taking its legal tussle with retired building inspector Dean Born over health care benefits to the next level, asking the state Supreme Court to review a ruling made in Born’s favor by the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal.
Born, who worked for the city for 24 years, sued Slidell over an ordinance that requires retirees to switch from the city’s health care plan to a Medicare plan upon turning 65. The ordinance was adopted in August 2008, less than a month after Born retired.
But Born didn’t challenge the law until 2013, when he turned 65. He sued the city in 22nd Judicial District Court and won, arguing in Judge Martin Coady’s courtroom that Slidell’s actions to force him onto the Humana Group Medicare Plan amounted to a breach of contract.
The city filed for a writ of review last week. It argues the appellate court erred in upholding a trial court judgment in Born’s favor and in finding that Born had not run out of time to file his claim.
The law requires such challenges to be filed within three years, and the city argues that the clock started ticking when the ordinance was adopted in 2008. Born argued, successfully, that the three-year window began when he turned 65.
The 1st Circuit upheld the trial court in October and denied the city’s application for a rehearing in November.
In its writ to the Supreme Court, Slidell argues that its actions were legitimate and that the city had an obligation only to provide a program of insurance — not a specific program. Moreover, it is free to change the plan and made modifications 11 times before Born sued, it said.
“Mr. Born has never batted an eye at these changes and rightly so. Insurance changes,” the city argued in its filing.
The city also has the right to amend its plan “to provide bare minimum coverage with substantial co-pays to eligible retirees like Mr. Born and extravagant coverage with no co-pays to its employees,” the writ said.
The city’s actions were aimed at protecting the city’s fiscal health and preventing Slidell from falling into “the dire financial straits in which other municipalities across the country find themselves,” the writ says, pointing out that the unfunded liability for retiree benefits went from $43 million to $26 million because of this very change.
If the Supreme Court does not intervene, the city said, it will be forced to incur benefit obligations that were never contemplated “in its benefit contract with Mr. Born and which Mr. Born failed to even timely request.”
Slidell has been challenged on the issue of retiree health care before. Former City Councilman Alvin Singletary, who sued the city over the same issue, lost his case in 22nd Judicial District Court but appealed. The 1st Circuit reversed the lower court, handing Singletary a victory.
Slidell asked the state Supreme Court to review that ruling, too. But Normand Pizza, an attorney Slidell has hired to handle the Born case, said the state Supreme Court denied the writ of review in the Singletary matter.
It could be weeks or months before the city learns what the high court will do in this case, he said.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.