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Matter of Aeneas McDonald Police Benevolent Association v. City of Geneva – Case Brief Summary (New York)

In Matter of Aeneas McDonald Police Benevolent Association v. City of Geneva, (92 NY2d 326, 703 N.E.2d 745, 680 N.Y.S.2d 887 [1998]), the Court of Appeals applied these principles to a claim brought by retired municipal employees who sought to continue the City's long-standing practice of providing health care benefits to retirees.

From 1972 to 1996, pursuant to a resolution of the City council, the City had furnished health benefits to all retired city employees through a series of health care plans that maintained a consistent level of benefits. In 1996, the City advised its retirees that it was changing its health care plan to one that afforded lesser coverage (id. at 329-330).

Challenging the determination in a CPLR article 78 proceeding, the retirees conceded that none of the collective bargaining agreements between the police department and the City addressed the issue of health care benefits for retirees, but argued that longstanding practice established a right to continuation of the same level of benefits (id. at 330).

The Court observed that health benefits for retirees is a permissive, not mandatory, subject of collective bargaining, and that unless there is some ambiguity on the face of the collective bargaining agreement, it could not look to the City's past practice of providing health care coverage or other parol evidence to find a continuing obligation to provide the same level of coverage (id. at 333).

The Court concluded that absent any entitlement expressly conferred upon retirees in a collective bargaining agreement, "there is no legal impediment to the municipality's unilateral alteration of the past practice" (id. at 330-331).