In 2003 a group of retired
The retirees sued in 2017, and, this past January, a
So they won, right? Not really.
That’s because although Judge
“What we’re looking for is for someone … to explain to us why we won a court decision and yet there seems to be no penalty for the other party in any way,” said
“This is not about us looking for public sympathy,” said Williams, acknowledging that the lifetime health benefits package enjoyed by the retirees and their spouses is much better than most people have. “But what does it mean for the court system, not only here in
The city denies it broke the 2003 ruling or should be found in contempt. Deputy Hartford Corporation Counsel
“They didn’t win the ruling,” she said. “Contempt has to be a willful and egregious violation. ... Essentially, the name on the insurance card is different, but the benefits are the same.”
Now the dispute has landed in the Connecticut Appellate Court, with no decision expected until next year.
It was Cohn, himself, who issued the 2003 “stipulated judgment” by giving his official blessing to an agreement worked out by the city and the retirees to settle an earlier lawsuit over medical coverage.
Cohn said in his January ruling that although the city violated the 2003 order by switching to Cigna without the retirees’ consent, he would need evidence of intent by city officials to make a contempt finding. The judge held additional hearings on that point and other issues such as “whether the Cigna plan is factually identical to the replaced
After those hearings, Cohn issued a May decision saying that the retirees had acknowledged in court that the city has developed a “written protocol” through which “all claims had been paid.” Cohn quoted a prior court decision to the effect that “failure to comply with [a court order or judgment, by itself] will not support a finding of contempt. ... Rather, to constitute contempt, a party’s conduct must be willful [and not the result of] a good faith dispute or legitimate misunderstanding.”
And so, Cohn ruled, “the city is not presently in contempt.”
Williams and his fellow plaintiffs have taken their case to the Appellate Court to determine if Cohn erred by not making a contempt finding. He said there’s no guarantee that all city administrations in the future will honor claims as now and, besides, there have been time-consuming and anxiety-raising hassles for some retirees under Cigna. The city corporation counsel’s office denies that, pointing to the retirees’ admission in court that they haven’t been harmed by the new setup. The city has filed a “cross-appeal” of its own to the Appellate Court, challenging Cohn’s January finding that the city violated the terms of the 2003 judgment.
Each side will file legal briefs in anticipation of oral arguments sometime in 2020. If the Appellate Court rules against the city, the case would likely be remanded to the
The opposing parties likely will be making arguments about the definition of the words “change” and “diminish” when it comes to medical benefits, and how the city’s unilateral switch from an
The switch from
Their medical coverage includes an unlimited prescription plan with a
Of the 150 or so affected firefighter retirees, about 28 are currently plaintiffs in the Appellate Court action, known as
Their attorney is his son,
(c)2019 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)
Visit The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) at www.courant.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.