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Mark Petersen v. Township of Raritan

February 9, 2011

MARK PETERSEN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF RARITAN, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hunterdon County, Docket No. L-446-08.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lihotz, J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION

Argued November 10, 2010

Before Judges Axelrad, Lihotz and J. N. Harris.

The opinion of the court was delivered by LIHOTZ, J.A.D.

We are asked to examine whether the terms of a collective bargaining agreement (CBA),*fn1 which was in effect upon the retirement of a municipal police officer, mandates that the retiree be vested in the specific insurance benefit plan offered at the time of retirement. Plaintiff Mark Petersen retired from the municipal police force of defendant Township of Raritan. At his retirement, plaintiff was provided health insurance, without cost, pursuant to the terms of the CBA then in effect between defendant and the Police Benevolent Association Local 337 (PBA). Several years after he retired, plaintiff was notified that defendant discontinued all municipal employee participation in the insurance plan in which plaintiff was enrolled. Because he and other retirees were afforded the same benefits as full-time employees, plaintiff was given the option of receiving free benefits under a different health plan or continuing his participation in the original plan, subject to his payment of a portion of the premium expense.

Plaintiff filed this action, asserting defendant's modification of the level and type of benefits granted at retirement violated the terms of the CBA. The Law Division disagreed, concluding the terms of the CBA did not entitle plaintiff to remain as a participant in the original plan at its sole expense, but only required that he be provided with the same benefits defendant offered all of its municipal employees. The court granted defendant's request for summary judgment dismissal of plaintiff's complaint.

On appeal, plaintiff urges the court erred, as he suggests disputes of material fact were presented precluding summary judgment. Additionally, he argues the court erred in its interpretation of the level and types of benefits provided by the governing CBA which, based upon the doctrine of equitable estoppel, cannot be modified. We disagree and affirm.

The facts are derived from evidence submitted by the parties in support of, and in opposition to, the summary judgment motion, viewed in a light most favorable to plaintiff. Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 523 (1995).

At the time of his retirement from the Raritan Township Police Department on August 1, 1999, plaintiff was a member of the PBA, which had negotiated the CBA for the period 1997-1999. Pursuant to the terms of the CBA, defendant provided and paid for medical and dental insurance benefits for member employees and certain retirees. Article XXIII, Section 1 provided:

The employer agrees to continue all insurance[]s currently in effect upon the signing of this agreement, for employees and their dependents, at the same levels of coverage enjoyed under the custom U.S. Healthcare Patriot V and X Plan, the Delta Dental Plan, and the Bollinger Prescription Plan. The Bollinger Prescription Plan will be modified to include a ($0) co-pay for a generic drug, and a ($6) co-pay for a name brand drug, effective in the calendar year 1998.

Also relevant to our review is Article XXIII, Section 5 of the CBA, which stated, "Any employee who retires after twenty-five (25) or more years of service, . . . shall continue to receive all health and medical benefits provided by the employer for the remainder of his life. Such coverage shall be provided at the expense of the employer."

When plaintiff retired, defendant offered its employees a choice of two health plans: a traditional indemnity plan (traditional plan) and a point of service plan (POS plan). ...


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