The opinion of the court was delivered by: WILLIAMS
Plaintiff Robert F. Mansfield ("Mansfield") brings this lawsuit against his former employer, the Chicago Park District, and the Chicago Park District Group Plan (collectively "the Park District"). Mansfield alleges that the Park District violated the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act ("COBRA") amendments to the Public Health Service Act ("PHSA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 300bb-1 to -8. Both parties move for summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, the court denies both motions.
The court takes the following uncontested facts from Defendants' and Plaintiff's Statements of Material Facts. Mansfield was an employee of the Chicago Park District and a participant in the Park District's group health plan. (See Defs.' 12(M), PP 1-3.)
In May 1993, Mansfield became eligible to retire. (See id., PP 4.) On May 4, 1993, Mansfield met with Josephine Rankins, the Park District's Plan administrator, to discuss his planned retirement. (See id., P 5.) At this meeting, Mansfield signed a form acknowledging that his medical benefits would expire on June 30, 1993. (See id., P 11.) Rankins did not inform Mansfield of his COBRA rights to continued medical coverage. (See id., P 5; Pl.'s 12(N), Add. Facts P 4.) Furthermore, the Park District never informed Mansfield, either orally or in writing, of his COBRA rights. (See Defs.' 12(M), P 11.) Mansfield retired on May 31, 1993. (See id., P 6.
On October 3, 1993, Mansfield suffered a serious heart attack while in Honduras, Central America. (See id., P 13.) Mansfield's heart attack caused him to be hospitalized in Honduras, then transported to a hospital in Tampa, Florida. (See id., PP 14-15.) Mansfield's condition required him to remain in the Tampa hospital throughout October and November 1993 to undergo various medical and surgical procedures. (See id., PP 15-16.) Since November 1993, Mansfield has remained in the care of physicians in Tampa as an outpatient and must travel there regularly to receive medical care. (See id., P 16.) Because Mansfield has had no health insurance coverage since June 30, 1993, he has had to bear the costs of his medical treatment. (See id., P 17.)
Both Mansfield and the Park District move for summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The court will render summary judgment only if the factual record shows "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Bratton v. Roadway Package Sys., Inc., 77 F.3d 168, 173 (7th Cir. 1996) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). The court will not render summary judgment if "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Sullivan v. Cox, 78 F.3d 322, 325 (7th Cir. 1996) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986)). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court views the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Bratton, 77 F.3d at 171 (citation omitted); Sullivan, 78 F.3d at 325 (citation omitted).
On a motion for summary judgment, the moving party "bears the initial burden of showing that no genuine issue of material fact exists." Hudson Ins. Co. v. City of Chicago Heights, 48 F.3d 234, 237 (7th Cir. 1995) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986)). Then the burden shifts to the nonmoving party, which "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 (e); accord NLFC, Inc. v. Devcom Mid-America, Inc., 45 F.3d 231, 234 (7th Cir.) (citations omitted), cert. denied, 515 U.S. 1104, 132 L. Ed. 2d 257, 115 S. Ct. 2249 (1995).
According to Mansfield, the Park District violated the PHSA when it failed to give him notice of potential post-retirement health care benefits. Under the PHSA, employees "who would lose coverage under [their health] plan as a result of a qualifying event, [are] entitled, under [COBRA], to elect, within the election period, continuation coverage under [their health] plan." 42 U.S.C. § 300bb-1(a). COBRA requires that employers offer continuation coverage for up to thirty-six months after a qualifying event. See 42 U.S.C. § 300bb-2(2). Furthermore, health plans must provide "written notice to each covered employee . . . of the rights provided under [COBRA]." 42 U.S.C. § 300bb-6(1). Mansfield alleges that his retirement was a "qualifying event" and should have triggered a COBRA notice. (See Pl.'s Mot., PP 2-3.) He requests damages of $ 61,656.37 to cover his post-retirement medical bills. (See id., PP 6, 10.)
The Park District acknowledges, for purposes of its summary judgment motion, that Mansfield did not receive a COBRA notification. (See Defs.' Mot. at 2.) The Park District argues, however, that no notice was required because Mansfield did not experience a qualifying event. (See id. at 6.) Alternatively, the Park District argues that Mansfield would not have been eligible for COBRA benefits when he resided in Honduras, and therefore, the Park District is liable for no more than nominal damages. (See id. at 3.)
The resolution of both summary judgment motions depends on whether Mansfield experienced a qualifying event. If Mansfield's retirement constituted a qualifying event, the Park District violated the PHSA's COBRA provisions that required it to notify Mansfield of his right to continued health care coverage. On the other hand, if Mansfield's retirement did not constitute a qualifying event, summary judgment in the Park District's favor is appropriate. Therefore, the court first addresses the issue of whether Mansfield's retirement constituted a "qualifying event."
In 1986, Congress found a "growing number of Americans without any health insurance coverage" and enacted COBRA "to provide continued access to affordable private health insurance for some of these individuals." H.R. Rep. No. 99 -241, at 44 (1986), reprinted in 1986 U.S.C.C.A.N. 42, 622. See also Williams v. New Castle County, 970 F.2d 1260, 1264 (3rd Cir. 1992). "The option of electing continuation coverage [is] offered during a period that begins when the individual otherwise would lose coverage under the group health plan." H.R. Rep. No. 99-241, at 44 (1986), reprinted in 1986 U.S.C.C.A.N. 42, 622. "The health care continuation rules generally require that employers provide [covered employees] with the opportunity to participate for a specified period in the employer's health plan despite the occurrence of a qualifying event that otherwise would have terminated such participation." H.R. Rep. No. 101-247, at 1452 (1989), reprinted in 1989 U.S.C.C.A.N. 1906, 2922 (emphasis added).
The term "qualifying event" means, with respect to any covered employee, any of the following events which, but for the continuation coverage required under [COBRA], would result in the loss of coverage of a qualified beneficiary: . . . (2) the termination (other than by reason of such employee's ...