EVANGELINE KIEWLEN et al. v. CITY OF MERIDEN et al., SC 19423

Judicial District of New Haven at Meriden

 

       Labor; Pensions; Municipalities; Whether Trial Court Properly Interpreted Stipulated Judgment and City Charter Provisions Governing Health Insurance Emoluments for Retired Firefighters and Police Officers.  A Meriden city charter provision states that a widow of a Meriden firefighter or police officer is entitled to a pension “equal to one-half the pension to which her husband was entitled or which he received at the time of his death.”  Another city charter provision and a 1982 stipulated judgment between the city and the Meriden Retired Police and Firefighter’s Association provide that a retired firefighter or police officer is entitled to a health insurance emolument as part of his pension in an amount equal to one half of the total premium attributable to the participation of the retired employee and his dependents in the defendant’s group health insurance plan.  The plaintiffs in this action are (1) widows of retired Meriden firefighters or police officers and (2) retired Meriden firefighters or police officers who became divorced or widowed after they retired.  The plaintiffs alleged that the defendant wrongfully reduced their health insurance emoluments by changing the basis for the underlying calculations from “member + 1” to “single” when they became divorced or widowed, even though the stipulated judgment and relevant city charter provisions entitle them to have their emoluments calculated on a fixed “member + 1” basis.   They sought a writ of mandamus and monetary and injunctive relief in connection with their claims.  After a bench trial, the trial court found in favor of the defendant on all of the plaintiffs’ claims.  The trial court rejected the plaintiffs’ interpretation of the stipulated judgment and relevant city charter provisions as “bizarre” because it would provide for an emolument to a deceased individual and allow a widow of a retired firefighter or police officer to receive a greater emolument than an active firefighter or police officer.  The trial court also determined that the plaintiffs’ interpretation contravened the plain language of the stipulated judgment and relevant city charter provisions, which make repeated references to “active members” and “participation” in defining the extent of a retired firefighter or police officer’s entitlement to a health insurance emolument.  The plaintiffs now appeal, claiming that the trial court erred in interpreting the stipulated judgment and city charter provisions, failed to consider conflicting legal memoranda that the city’s attorney wrote regarding health insurance emoluments and surviving spouses, and wrongly deferred to the defendant’s alleged practice of reducing a retiree’s health insurance emolument upon the death of a spouse.