Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Franklin
Argued January 6, 2015.
Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on November 21, 2012.
The case was heard by John A. Agostini, J., on motions for summary judgment.
The Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative transferred the case from the Appeals Court.
Patricia M. Rapinchuk for the defendants.
Eric Lucentini ( Sandra Lucentini with him) for the plaintiff.
Present: Gants, C.J., Spina, Cordy, Botsford, Duffly, Lenk, Hines, JJ.
[28 N.E.3d 472] Duffly, J.
Charlene Galenski retired in 2012 after six years of service as a school principal in the town of Erving (town); she previously had been a long-time public school teacher in other municipalities in the Commonwealth. Galenski then sought continued health insurance coverage and contribution by the town to the cost of her group health insurance premiums. In 2001, the town had voted to adopt G. L. c. 32B, § 9E, which required it to contribute over fifty per cent of the health insurance premiums of all of its retirees. Before employing Galenski, however, the town had enacted a policy stating that it would contribute only to the group health insurance premiums of retired employees who had
retired after a minimum of ten years of employment with the town. Although Galenski was permitted to remain a member of the town's group health insurance plan after she retired, the town determined she was not eligible for any contribution by the town to her health insurance premiums.
Galenski filed a complaint in the Superior Court contending that the town had violated her right to payment by the town of a portion of her group medical insurance premiums, as required under G. L. c. 32B, § 9E; she sought declaratory and injunctive relief, and also raised a claim of estoppel based on detrimental reliance. A judge of the Superior Court allowed Galenski's motion for summary judgment on the first two claims, denied the town's cross motion for summary judgment, and issued a permanent injunction prohibiting the town from enforcing its policy. The town appealed, and we transferred the case to this court on our own motion. We conclude that, because the town had voted to accept G. L. c. 32B, a local option statute that governs group health insurance for municipal employees, the terms of the statute govern whether and in what amounts the town must contribute to the cost of a retiree's health insurance premiums. Accordingly, the town's retirement policy imposing a minimum term of service as a prerequisite to premium contributions from the town is invalid.
1. Factual background. We recite the facts as set forth in the judge's decision, supplemented by undisputed facts in the [28 N.E.3d 473] record. In 1956, the town voted to accept G. L. c. 32B; by accepting certain local option provisions of that statute, the town was required to make group health insurance coverage available to retired employees. In 2001, the town's voters chose to accept G. L. c. 32B, § 9E. General Laws c. 32B, § 9E, requires municipalities to contribute to the group health insurance premiums of retired employees at a rate determined by the municipality, but that rate must exceed fifty per cent of the cost of the insurance
In February, 2006, the town enacted a retirement policy restricting participation in its group health insurance plan to those employees who retired from the town " after a minimum of ten (10) years of employment by the [t]own." The policy further provided that " [a]n eligible retiree with less than ten (10) years of employment with the [town] may choose to continue health insurance ...