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Smith v. City of St. Gabriel

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

July 6, 2017

RONALD SMITH
v.
CITY OF ST. GABRIEL

          RULING AND ORDER

          JOHN W. deGRAVELLES JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         This matter comes before the Court on the City of St. Gabriel's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 25) filed by the Defendant, City of St. Gabriel (“Defendant” or “St. Gabriel”). Plaintiff Ronald Smith (“Plaintiff” or “Smith”) opposes the motion. (Doc. 25.) No reply was filed. Oral argument is not necessary. The Court has carefully considered the law, the facts in the record, and the arguments and submissions of the parties and is prepared to rule.

         This motion presents three main issues. Plaintiff's first claim concerns whether the Plaintiff received the required notice under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (“COBRA”) amendment to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1161-1168. The Court finds that, as a matter of law, the Defendant provided timely and sufficient notice of the Plaintiff's COBRA rights by mailing such notice via first class mail within 14 days of the date on which the administrator was notified. Thus, summary judgment is warranted on this claim.

         Plaintiff's second claim is that the Defendant violated Section 510 of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1140, by terminating the Plaintiff for his and his wife's exercise of rights under ERISA and/or by interfering with their attainment of ERISA rights. The Court finds that the Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact that his termination was pretextual. As a result, the Defendant is entitled to summary judgment on this claim as well.

         The third issue, connected with the other two, is whether the Court should defer ruling on this motion because of the need for further discovery. The Court finds that the Plaintiff has, for a number of reasons, failed to satisfy the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d). Thus, the Court finds no reason to delay ruling on this motion.

         For all of these reasons, Defendant's motion is granted, and Plaintiff's claims are dismissed with prejudice.

         I. Relevant Factual Background[1]

         A. Relevant Individuals

         St. Gabriel became a Louisiana municipality in 1994 and was designated a City in 2001. (Doc. 25 at 3.) Plaintiff was an employee of St. Gabriel. (Docs. 1 at 3; 24 at 2.)

         Lehman Raphael has been the City Clerk for St. Gabriel since July 2011. (Doc. 25 at 3.) As City Clerk, he “exercise[s] authority over the custody and control of the personnel files for St. Gabriel's employees.” (Doc. 25 at 3.) Raphael's “administrative responsibilities include the notification of an employee's termination to [St. Gabriel's] Group Health Plan Administrator[.]” (Doc. 25 at 3.)

         Raphael also authenticates many of the documents relied upon by the Defendant. (Doc. 25 at 3-4.) He attests that all of the documents were contained in Plaintiff's personnel file. (Doc. 25 at 3-4.)

         B. Plaintiff's Group Health Plan: Signing Up, Termination, and Notice

         Raphael's affidavit includes as an attachment Plaintiff's “Employee Enrollment Form” for Health Coverage with St. Gabriel's Group Health Care Coverage. (Doc. 25 at 5-7.) Plaintiff executed this document on May 4, 2006, and, in it, Plaintiff enrolled in St. Gabriel's Group Health Insurance Plan. (Docs. 25 at 5, 7; 25-1 at 1.) On the form, Plaintiff lists a particular address in St. Gabriel for his Group Health Insurance Plan.[2] (Docs. 25 at 5; 25-1 at 1-2.)

         On December 3, 2014, Plaintiff canceled his insurance coverage, as reflected on a completed Coverage Cancellation signed by Raphael and attached to his affidavit. (Doc. 25 at 9.) This document describes Plaintiff's address as the same one as listed on the earlier enrollment form. (Doc. 25 at 9.) Plaintiff's requested termination date was December 31, 2014. (Doc. 25 at 9.)

         Within thirty days, on January 2, 2015, CobraHelp, St. Gabriel's Administrator, sent Raphael an email entitled “New Qualifying Event - Submission.” (Doc. 25 at 4, 10.) The correspondence states that “[t]he New Qualifying Event information has been submitted to CobraHelp for Smith, Ronald.” (Doc. 25 at 10.) Thus, on or about this day (or at the very least by this day), St. Gabriel notified its Group Health Plan Administrator of Smith's termination of employment. (Doc. 25-1 at 2.)

         Critical to this motion, Raphael attaches to his affidavit the following two items. First, Raphael includes a document entitled, “COBRAHELP NOTICE OF RIGHT TO ELECT COBRA CONTINUATION COVERAGE.” (Doc. 25 at 4, 11.) This document is addressed to Ronald Smith at the same address Smith had provided on his other forms and reflects that the notification date was January 6, 2014. (Doc. 25 at 11.) The attachment states that it “contains important information about [his] right to continue [his] health care coverage in the City of St. Gabriel Health Plan . . .” (Doc. 25 at 11.) The document also attaches an “Election Agreement” in which Plaintiff could elect continued coverage by completing the form and returning it to CobraHelp. (Doc. 25 at 15.)

         The second important document is a Certificate of Mailing CobraHelp, which, according to Raphael's affidavit, reflects that the “ ‘COBRAHELP NOTICE OF RIGHT TO ELECT COBRA CONTINUACTION COVERAGE' was mailed, via first class mail, to” Plaintiff at the same address listed on the other documents discussed above. (Doc. 25 at 4, 16.)

         C. Plaintiff's Termination

         Defendant also attaches a letter dated November 6, 2014, sent to Plaintiff from Chris Babin, Rehabilitation Counselor/Consultant of Cypress Vocational Services, LLC. (Docs. 25 at 4, 17; 25-1 at 2.) In the letter, Babin states that Cypress is “the vocational rehabilitation firm retained by [Plaintiff's] workman's compensation carrier to provide vocational rehabilitation efforts on [Plaintiff's] behalf.” (Docs. 25 at 17; 25-1 at 2.) Babin also advised Plaintiff “that the City of St. Gabriel has an available modified custodian position which Dr. Isaza has deemed medically appropriate.” (Docs. 25 at 17; 25-1 at 2.) Plaintiff was told to report to a particular individual on November 24, 2014 at 7:00 a.m. if he was “interest[ed] in returning to work in this capacity.” (Docs. 25 at 17; 25-1 at 2.)

         Defendant also includes a “Job Analysis” dated October 8, 2014, from Cypress. (Doc. 25 at 18.) Babin is the listed “Analyst, ” Plaintiff is the “Claimant, ” and the “Job Title” is “Modified Custodian.” (Doc. 25 at 18.) The “General Description” states that Plaintiff's “employer is willing to provide modified employment to ensure he doesn't lift over 20 lbs, ” and a description of the job duties are then provided, along with the physical demands and environmental conditions. (Doc. 25 at 18.)

         Lastly, Defendant provides the affidavit of Lloyd Snowten, who has been the Director of Public Services for the City of St. Gabriel since July 2011. (Doc. 25 at 19.) Snowten attests that, in his position, he “exercise[s] authority over the day to day operations of the Public Services Department for St. Gabriel, which includes the supervision of Ronald Smith.” (Doc. 25 at 19.) Snowten declares that Plaintiff “did not report to [him] for duty on November 24, 2014” and that Snowten notified the Mayor of Smith's “failure to report for duty” on this day. (Docs. 25 at 19; 25-1 at 3.) Subsequently, on December 1, 2014, Plaintiff's employment with St. Gabriel was terminated by letter from the Mayor. (Docs. 1 at 3; 24 at 3; 25-1 at 3.)

         D. ...


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