The San Benito County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to appeal a court ruling that ordered the county to pay 100% health insurance benefits to two former employees. County Counsel Barbara Thompson announced the county’s move following closed session at a March 9 meeting. The case, Rose et. al v. County of San Benito, will be reviewed by the California Sixth Appellate District.
Though San Benito County officially announced its decision at the meeting, it filed a notice of appeal on Dec. 30. Former employees Normandy Rose and Margie Riopel filed their lawsuit in 2017.
Rose worked for the county as the director of Integrated Waste Management between 1999 and 2015. Riopel served in various positions between 1986 and 2012. They wrote a public letter outlining their claim that the county offered employees 100% health coverage through retirement as a tool to attract employees.
According to court records, Judge Robert O’Farrell ruled in favor of Rose and Riopel because they “entered into an implied contract wherein respondent agreed to provide petitioners with a vested right to receive the same health insurance premium contributions as respondent provides its active, unrepresented employees.”
Supervisor Mark Medina told BenitoLink that he has not spoken to Rose or Riopel about the case, but that he has been approached by other retirees concerning their health insurance. He said he could not comment on any aspects of the lawsuit.
“I think once everything is settled then there will be a clearer picture,” Medina said. “Unfortunately it’s hard to talk about it when there is ongoing litigation.”
Supervisors Kollin Kosmicki, Bea Gonzales and Bob Tiffany said they could not comment on the appeal and directed BenitoLink to Thompson. Supervisor Peter Hernandez did not respond to a request for comment.
The county has also not responded to BenitoLink’s March 11 request for comment, and has yet to provide BenitoLink with information on how much it spends annually on retiree health plans and how many retirees are receiving benefits.
According to the county’s online budget tool, San Benito has significantly decreased its spending on “other postemployment benefits” (OPEB) since 2015-16, when it spent $828,000 followed by $320,000 in 2016-17, $250,000 in 2017-18 and $241,000 in 2018-19.
San Benito County has spent $531,000 on outside legal services fighting the case for invoices paid through 2020.
In a joint statement to BenitoLink, Rose and Riopel said, “The decision is not surprising and unfortunately consistent with past board actions where they did not communicate with and therefore did not allow public comment about actions affecting retirees.”
According to the California Supreme Court website, two things are considered by three judges presiding on an appeals case: whether the trial judge made a mistake about the law and whether that mistake affected the final decision.
“An appeal is not a new trial,” a video in the court of appeals website states about the process. It goes on to note that parties are not allowed to submit new evidence or witnesses for the court to consider. During an appeal process, parties are still required to follow the trial judge’s ruling unless they request a “stay.”
Parties still have the option to settle or to mediate even after a court’s ruling. The appeal process can take just months, or years. The court can also fine those who file appeals with no legal grounds.
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