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Cole v. Trinity Health Corp.

United States District Court, Eighth Circuit

January 21, 2014

BONNIE COLE and LYLE COLE, individually and as next friends of P.C., a minor, Plaintiffs,
v.
TRINITY HEALTH CORPORATION, Defendant.

Not To Be Published

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

MARK W. BENNETT U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND .............................................. 2

A. Factual Background ............................................................... 2

B. Procedural Background ........................................................... 5

II. LEGAL ANALYSIS ........................................................................ 6

A. Summary Judgment Standards ................................................... 6

B. COBRA Notice And Civil Penalty ............................................... 9

III. CONCLUSION ............................................................................ 15

The continuation of health insurance coverage is an important concern to employees facing the loss of employment. Congress recognized this in the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1986 (“COBRA”), by amending the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) to require that covered group health plans “provide . . . that each qualified beneficiary who would lose coverage . . . as a result of a qualifying event is entitled . . . to elect . . . continuation coverage under the plan.” 29 U.S.C. § 1161(a). Termination of employment is a “qualifying event” for purposes of this COBRA requirement. See 29 U.S.C. § 1163(2). Plaintiffs allege that Bonnie Cole’s former employer, defendant Trinity Health Corporation (“Trinity Health”), failed to give them timely notice of their right to elect continued health insurance as required by 29 U.S.C. § 1166(a)(4). Trinity Health does not dispute that it did not provide plaintiffs with timely notice of their COBRA rights. Trinity Health, however, claims that a statutory penalty for its notice violation is inappropriate because plaintiffs’ alleged damages are of considerably less value than the free health care insurance coverage they received over an extended period as a result. This issue, and others, is presented by Trinity Health’s motion for summary judgment.

I. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

I set out only those facts, disputed and undisputed, sufficient to put in context the parties’ arguments concerning the defendant’s motion for summary judgment and resistance to it. At least for the purposes of summary judgment, the facts recited here are undisputed. I will discuss additional factual allegations, and the extent to which they are or are not disputed or material, if necessary, in my legal analysis.

Plaintiff Bonnie Cole was previously employed by Mercy Medical Center. She began working at Mercy Medical Center in 2007. Bonnie transitioned to be an employee of defendant Trinity Health in July 2010. Trinity Health provides its employees and their families with benefits, including participation in an employer-sponsored group health plan (“the Plan”). Only current employees and their spouses or dependents are eligible to participate in the Plan. Bonnie enrolled in the Plan with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (“Blue Cross”), with an effective date of July 11, 2010. Plaintiff Lyle Cole is Bonnie’s husband and plaintiff P.C. is Bonnie and Lyle’s minor son (collectively, “the ...


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