Michigan top court backs Macomb in retiree health care case

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

The Michigan Supreme Court overturned a Court of Appeals decision Thursday involving health care benefits for Macomb County retirees and ordered it sent back to a circuit court for disposition.

In March 2010, retiree Rita Kendzierski and a closed class of co-defendants sued in Macomb Circuit Court, alleging Macomb County’s decision to change their health care coverage from traditional Blue Cross Blue Shield to another carrier violated collective bargaining agreements.

The matter found its way to the state Court of Appeals, which ruled that the plaintiffs were entitled to lifetime health care coverage that could not be unilaterally altered. Macomb County appealed that ruling to the state's highest court.

“Obviously we are very pleased with this decision,” said John Schapka, Macomb County corporation counsel. “This opinion means the county is free to go on the market to get better rates (for retirees).

“The county has never sought to limit or reduce retirement benefits; that was never an issue,” said Schapka, adding that tens of millions of dollars was set aside in an account to handle county retiree health care. “That was never an issue. We just wanted to be able to provide the same consistent benefits to retired employees at the best rates possible.”

Attorney Christopher Legghio, who represented Kendzierski and a closed-class of about 1,600 co-defendants, said Thursday he had not read the opinion and could not predict what the next step — if any — might be for his clients.

In its 4-2 decision released Thursday, the state Supreme Court said: “Because we conclude that the CBAs did not grant plaintiffs a vested right to lifetime and unalterable retirement healthcare benefits in lieu of granting leave to appeal we reverse the judgement of the Court of Appeals and remand to the Macomb Circuit Court for entry of an order granting summary disposition to defendant consistent with the opinion.”

Judge Stephen J. Markman wrote the majority opinion, which was joined by justices Brian K. Zahra, David F. Viviano and Elizabeth T. Clement.

Dissenting were Judges Bridget Mary McCormack and Richard H. Bernstein.

The matter will be remanded back to Macomb Circuit Judge Diane M. Druzinski.


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