Court Finds No Evidence of COBRA Notification Delivery

July 15, 2004 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Plan sponsors must shoulder the burden of proof that Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) notifications have been mailed.

The US 1 st Circuit Court of Appeals found insufficient evidence that a COBRA notice was mailed to the terminated employee.   With the ruling, the Court overturned, and remanded, the original summary judgment in favor of the employer pertaining to the COBRA notification.

Plaintiffs-appellants, Efraín Claudio-Gotay and his parents, filed suit claiming his former employer failed to give Claudio notice of his right to continued medical coverage after he was allegedly wrongfully terminated.   The company contends that a COBRA notification letter was sent via certified mail, return receipt requested, to Claudio’s address on record on January 27, 1999, and that the mailing of this letter constituted adequate notice.

In the initial case, the employer – Becton Dickinson Caribe, Ltd. – argued before the US District Court for the District of Puerto Rico that a COBRA notification letter was sent via certified mail, return receipt requested,to Claudio’s address on record on January 27, 1999, and that the mailing of this letter constituted adequate notice.   To substantiate this claim, Becton provided a “sworn declaration,” which the court relied on it granting summary judgment in favor of the company.  

However, the appellate court found, “the district court erred by relying on this alleged sworn declaration because, as Becton has conceded on appeal, no such sworn declaration exists.”

To arrive at this determinate, the appellate court examined the two items of record submitted by Becton pertain to COBRA notification:   a COBRA notification letter dated January 27, 1999 and a note, “not a sworn affidavit,” dated March 18, 1999, from “JLKA” to Claudio stating that his COBRA letter “was sent certified with acknowledgment of receipt on January 27 of 1999. The certification number is 093820179. We have never received the acknowledgment.”

However, the court found no signature showing the form was ever received and no markings on this form showing that it was ever mailed.   Thus, the “evidence does not compel the conclusion that the letter was actually mailed; therefore, there is a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether Claudio was given adequate notice within the time period required by COBRA,” the court ruled.   “We therefore reverse the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Becton on this issue.”

The case is Claudio- Gotay v. Becton Dickinson Caribe , Ltd. , 2004 U.S. App. LEXIS 14315 (1st Cir. 2004).   A copy of the decision is available at  www.ca1.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/getopn.pl?OPINION=03-1752.01A .

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