Anoka County District Court File No. C1-03-11622.
Minn. Stat. § 299A.465, subd. 1 (2004), requires the employer of a public-safety officer who is disabled in the line of duty to continue to pay health-care benefits for the dependents of that officer until the officer reaches the age of 65. When the officer dies prior to attaining the age of 65, the statute requires the employer to continue to pay health-care benefits for the officer's dependents until the 65th anniversary of the officer's birth.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Halbrooks, Judge
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge; Halbrooks, Judge; and Minge, Judge.
Richard Schmidt retired from the Columbia Heights police department after suffering a disabling injury in the line of duty. When Officer Schmidt later died of causes unrelated to his injury, appellant City of Columbia Heights (city) notified his family that it would no longer pay its contribution toward their health-care benefits. Respondents Clara L. Schmidt and her minor children, Angelia*fn1 and Melissa (collectively, the Schmidts) sued, arguing that Minn. Stat. § 299A.465, subd. 1 (2004), which requires the employer of a police officer or firefighter who is disabled in the line of duty to continue to contribute to the health-care coverage for the officer's or firefighter's dependents "until the officer or firefighter reaches the age of 65," obligated the city to pay its contribution until the date on which Officer Schmidt would have turned 65. The district court granted respondents' motion for summary judgment.
The city challenges the district court's grant of summary judgment, arguing that the plain meaning of the phrase "reaches the age of 65" conditions the payment on the officer still being alive. Because we conclude that such a reading would produce an unreasonable result and thwart the intent of the legislature, we affirm.
The material facts in this case were stipulated to by the parties and are not in dispute. Richard Schmidt began employment with the Columbia Heights police department in 1969 and was continuously employed full time as a police officer until March 24, 2000. During the course of his employment with the city, Officer Schmidt suffered a disabling injury on May 15, 1999. As a result of that injury, Schmidt applied to the Public Employees Retirement Association of Minnesota (PERA) for early retirement and disability benefits pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 353.656, subd. 1 (2004). His application was approved, and Officer Schmidt notified the city that he would be retiring.
After receiving notice of Officer Schmidt's retirement, the city notified him that it would continue paying its contribution for his family health coverage, which included Officer Schmidt's wife and two minor daughters, pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 299A.465, subd. 1 (2002).*fn2 The city paid its contribution for the health benefits provided to Officer Schmidt and his dependents through September 30, 2003.
On September 16, 2003, Officer Schmidt died from causes unrelated to his disability retirement. On September 24, the city notified the Schmidts that due to Officer Schmidt's death, the city's contribution toward their health benefits would terminate and that if the Schmidts wanted to continue coverage pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 62A.146 (2004) and the Consolidated Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), they would be required to pay the premium for family coverage.
The Schmidts subsequently filed a declaratory-judgment action, alleging that the city had violated Minn. Stat. § 299A.465, subd. 1, by failing to continue its contribution toward their health-care coverage. The parties stipulated to the facts, and both the city and the Schmidts moved for summary judgment. The district court filed an order granting the Schmidts' motion and denying that of the city on August 24, 2004. Summary judgment in favor of the Schmidts was entered on August 30. An amended order was filed on September 1 to correct clerical errors and an amended summary judgment was entered on September 13. In its order, the district court reserved the issue of arrearages. The parties subsequently stipulated to the amount of arrearages, ...