A retired Slidell building inspector has won a two-year legal battle to keep his health benefits, thanks to a state Supreme Court ruling that could have ramifications for other retirees and for the city’s finances.
Dean Born sued the city over an ordinance adopted in 2008 that requires retirees to switch from the city’s health care plan to a Medicare Advantage plan when they turn 65.
Born, who retired in 2008 after working for the city for 24 years, argued that the ordinance, adopted less than a month after he retired, amounted to a breach of contract. He sued in 2013, when he turned 65.
Slidell mounted a two-pronged attack on Born’s case, saying that he had run out of time because he sued more than three years after the ordinance was adopted, and also that Slidell had an obligation only to provide a program of insurance, not a specific program.
But Born prevailed in 22nd Judicial District Court and at the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal, which upheld the lower court a year ago. The city continued to fight, seeking a rehearing before the 1st Circuit, which was denied, and then asking the state Supreme Court to review the appellate court’s decision.
The Supreme Court ruled that Born’s suit was filed in time and that the city’s ordinance cannot be applied retroactively to the plaintiff because it would take away vested rights in benefits “which he was owed under this contract” with the city.
The ruling was handed down Wednesday, and Slidell has 14 days to request a rehearing. But Normand Pizza, the private attorney the city hired, said that since only one justice dissented, a successful rehearing “will be very difficult.”
The benefit that Born sought to keep is a generous one: It allows retirees and family members who are covered on the retirees’ health insurance to remain on the city’s plan, with the city paying their premiums.
Slidell was facing a sales-tax slump at the time that it passed the ordinance reducing the benefit, Pizza said, and it was looking to save money by reducing health care costs.
Born’s victory marks the second time that a retiree has successfully fought Slidell’s attempt to change the health-care benefit. Alvin Singletary, who served for many years on the Slidell City Council, was the first to challenge the ordinance in court. He lost in district court, but the 1st Circuit reversed the lower court, saying Slidell couldn’t apply its ordinance retroactively and that the rules in effect when the councilman retired amounted to a contract.
Based on the rulings, any retirees in the same circumstances as Born and Singletary would likely be able to retain the city health care coverage if they want to do so, Pizza said.
Dean and Connie Born declined comment on the Supreme Court ruling.
Slidell Mayor Freddy Drennan also declined comment, saying he would need to consult with the city’s legal team.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.