Ex-husband who declined COBRA coverage thinking he was still married is denied reinstatement

A temporary restraining order seeking the reinstatement of health coverage was denied to the ex-husband of the participant in the health plan. The ex-husband was only entitled to COBRA coverage, which he declined, a U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, explained.
According to Raymond L. Eichenberger, his ex-wife’s employer, Cardinal Health, Inc. (Cardinal) wrongfully terminated the dependent health insurance coverage he received as the spouse of a Cardinal employee. Eichenberger filed a motion, pro se, for a temporary restraining order in district court.
Eichenberger had been married to Maxine Irvine, who was employed by Cardinal since 2009. Eichenberger was covered under Irvine’s health insurance plan through the family health insurance policy that she obtained through Cardinal at the beginning of 2016.
The Cardinal Plan provided that divorce was a qualified change in status, allowing a participant to make a new election. Irvin notified Cardinal of the termination of her marriage and, on September 13, 2016, Eichenberger’s coverage was immediately terminated.
Irvin filed for divorce in late 2014, and on September 7, 2016, an Ohio state court issued a decree of divorce that, among other things, terminated the marriage.

Divorced stayed?

On October 5, 2016, Cardinal issued a COBRA notice to Eichenberger, informing him of his right to continue coverage for up to 36 months. Eichenberger’s written response on November 3, 2016 stated that he would not be electing COBRA coverage.
Eichenberger asserted in the letter that the divorce decree had been stayed and alleged that the effect of the stay was that “I am not legally divorced from Maxine.” Eichenberger, who is an attorney, warned Cardinal’s representative that “unless you are an attorney, you have no qualifications to be construing these court Orders.”

Decree of divorce appealed.

Eichenberger had in fact appealed the state court’s September 7, 2016 order. But that order was not a run-of-the-mill decree granting a divorce. The order recited at length the misconduct in which Eichenberger had engaged during the course of the divorce proceeding.

Stay of asset transfer.

On November 2, 2016 the state court issued a stay order that restrained the parties from encumbering or transferring their assets pending appeal. The stay order did not contain any language vacating, reversing or staying the termination of the marriage. Nor did the stay order (or the September 7 order) make any mention of entitlement to health insurance coverage or benefits. The appeal was still pending during the court’s hearing on Eichenberger’s motion for a temporary restraining order.

Cardinal seeks documentation.

On November 22, 2016, Cardinal sent a letter to Eichenberger stating that it would not reinstate his coverage unless he provided “documentation to confirm that the date of the divorce has been postponed.” The letter further stated that “[i]n the meantime, you have the right to submit claims under the Plan. If any claims are denied due to the termination of your coverage, you have the right to appeal the denial . . . .”
After receiving the November 22, 2016 letter, Eichenberger did not submit any claims for medical services received between September 7 and December 31, 2016.
In his motion for a temporary restraining order, Eichenberger requested that the court issue an order requiring Cardinal to reinstate his health insurance coverage. The court first noted that temporary restraining orders are extraordinary remedies governed by the following considerations: (1) whether the movant has a strong likelihood of success on the merits, (2) whether the movant would suffer irreparable injury absent an injunction, (3) whether issuance of the injunction would cause substantial harm to others, and (4) whether the public interest would be served by granting the requested injunction. The court added suggested that a finding of no likelihood of success on the merits would probably be fatal to Eichenberger’s motion.
The court then found that Eichenberger had not demonstrated a strong likelihood of success on the merits, and noted that his claim hinged entirely on his assertion that the termination of his marriage was somehow vacated or stayed by the state court’s stay order of November 2, 2016.
However, the court determined that the stay order said nothing about his divorce being vacated or stayed, and it added that there was no evidence that his appeal of the September 7, 2016 decree of divorce sought a reversal of the termination of the marriage. The stay order merely restrained the parties’ ability to distribute their assets and prevented them from dissipating the value of the marital estate, but did not change the marital status of the parties.

Implausible interpretation.

The court added that the statement in Eichenberger’s affidavit that “the Stay of the Divorce Decree of November 2, 2016, had the legal effect that the Plaintiff and Maxine Irvin were not divorced, but were still legally recognized as husband and wife” was not a true statement or plausible interpretation of the stay order.
The court stated that Cardinal, in contrast, had demonstrated that it had a strong likelihood of success in defending against Eichenberger’s claim for the following reasons: his marriage to Irvin was terminated by court order on September 7, 2016; Irvin timely notified Cardinal under the Plan that the divorce constituted a qualified change in status, and Eicheberger’s dependent coverage was accordingly terminated; Cardinal provided to plaintiff notice of his right to enroll in COBRA coverage, which he declined, meaning that Cardinal therefore extended to plaintiff the only coverage to which plaintiff had a right to elect to receive; Eichenberger had not demonstrated that he would suffer irreparable injury absent emergency relief.
The court also pointed out that, even if Eichenberger were correct that he was entitled to remain as a covered dependent because the state court stayed the termination of marriage, such an entitlement would be valid only for the duration of the 2016 Plan year. It was uncontroverted that Irvin did not enroll or attempt to enroll plaintiff as a dependent when she elected her health insurance coverage for 2017. Thus, at most, any alleged improper denial of benefits by Cardinal occurred during a three month period that ended on December 31, 2016, and plaintiff’s alleged injuries could be redressed through an award of monetary damages. Eichenberger’s motion for a temporary restraining order was, therefore, denied.
SOURCE: Eichenberger v. Cardinal Health, Inc., No. 2:17-cv-113, (DC OH), March 31, 2017.
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