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Tufano v. Riegel Transportation

February 11, 2006

ROBERT TUFANO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RIEGEL TRANSPORTATION, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James Orenstein, Magistrate Judge

FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

Plaintiff Robert Tufano ("Tufano") commenced this action against defendant Riegel Transportation, Inc. ("RTI") pursuant to the Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1985 ("COBRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1161 et seq. Tufano seeks compensation for damages sustained as a result of defendant's failure to provide him with notification required under COBRA upon his separation from employment with RTI. On March 9, 2005, the parties consented to my jurisdiction over the case including entry of judgment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 636 and the Honorable Leonard D. Wexler, United States District Judge, thereafter referred the matter to me. Docket Entry ("DE") 23. A bench trial was held on April 26 and May 12, 2005. As explained below, I now make certain findings of fact and conclusions of law as a result of which I award judgment in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $10, 232.90.

I. Findings Of Fact

A. Tufano's Employment With RTI

Tufano was employed by RTI as a general freight truck driver for approximately eight years ending on June 28, 2002. Transcript of Trial ("Tr.") 32, 34. At the time of his termination Tufano earned approximately fifty thousand dollars per year and had health insurance coverage provided by GHI, RTI's health insurance provider. Tr. 14, 35. Tufano claims that upon his separation from Reigel, he was not made aware of his rights under COBRA by mail or otherwise. Tr. 34. However, he did claim to receive his W-2 and 401(k) information sometime in July of 2003 after he no longer worked for RTI. Tr. 46-47.

B. Tufano's Surgery And Insurance Coverage

On December 6, 2002, Tufano was diagnosed with a gall bladder condition that required surgery. Tr. 37. Believing he was still covered, Tufano requested an authorization from GHI for laparoscopic surgery. Id. By letter dated December 11, 2002, Tufano received the authorization he sought from GHI to pay for the surgery. Tr. 38-39; Plaintiff's Exhibit ("PX") 14. However, the letter stated that "[t]his authorization is NOT a guarantee of coverage. Robert Tufano must be eligible for coverage at the time the actual services are rendered." PX 14.

Tufano believed at the time of his surgery that he was still covered under GHI. Tr. 39. GHI initially made payments on the medical bills associated with the surgery, but soon ceased such payments. Tr. 39-40. By letter dated January 1, 2003, GHI informed Tufano that his coverage had ended on October 1, 2002. PX 15. Tufano inquired of GHI and was told that his employment with RTI ended on June 28, 2002 and that his health insurance was subsequently cancelled on October 1, 2002. DE 38 at 5; Tr. 41. Dawn Salerno ("Salerno"), RTI's office manager, testified that it took three or four notifications before the insurance company terminated Tufano's coverage. Tr. 93.

In January 2003, GHI offered COBRA coverage to Tufano, who elected not to enroll due to ongoing litigation concerning his termination with RTI. Tr. 42; PX 33. Tufano planned to enroll for insurance coverage under his fiancé's policy once they were married. Tr. 43; PX 33-A.

Had Tunfano instead elected to enroll in COBRA through GHI in January of 2003, his coverage would have been retroactive to the termination date of his prior coverage. PX 33-A.

C. The Administration Of RTI's Health Insurance Policy

It was RTI's policy to provide health insurance for employees whose tenure surpassed 90 days. Tr.14. Robert Riegel ("Riegel"), as president of the company, was responsible for deciding which insurance RTI offered its employees and has changed insurance companies several times since 1999. Tr. 15, 24. RTI has offered GHI to its employees since 2002. Tr. 15.

The method by which employees received information regarding their health insurance varied. Sometimes there were meetings, sometimes information was placed in employee mailboxes or distributed with payroll, sometimes an insurance broker spoke to the employees, and sometimes the insurance companies mailed information directly to the employees. Tr. 15-16. Neither Riegel nor Salerno was able to specifically identify what documents were distributed or the means by which they were given to employees. Tr. 16, 105-06.

Salerno was responsible for payroll, human resources, customer service, and for mailing COBRA notices when appropriate. Tr. 80-81. Though RTI had no official "plan administrator," Riegel testified that Salerno was the contact person for employees who had any problems. Tr. 18, 21, 102. Salerno testified that she received some informal training from insurance brokers regarding ...


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