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Tirado v. United States Postal Service

United States District Court, Third Circuit

July 8, 2013

GENEVIEVE TIRADO, Plaintiff
v.
UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, Defendant

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

CYNTHIA M. RUFE, J.

July 8, 2013 Plaintiff, the widow of Angel L. Tirado and beneficiary of his Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance Program (FEGLI) policy, brings this suit seeking life insurance benefits to which she believes she is entitled. Mr. Tirado’s former employer, Defendant the United States Postal Service (USPS), maintains that when Mr. Tirado entered retirement status, he elected to continue carrying basic life insurance, which provided a payment equal to his annual salary upon his death (approximately $48, 000), and “Option A, ” which provided an additional $10, 000, but elected not to continue “Option B, ” which would provide five times his salary upon his death. Therefore, the USPS contends that Plaintiff received all life insurance benefits to which she is entitled when she received approximately $58, 000 in benefits. The USPS filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that Plaintiff has failed to establish that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Mr. Tirado elected to continue the Option B life insurance he had carried during his employment after his retirement. For the reasons which follow, the Court finds genuine issues of material fact, and will deny the Motion.[1]

In June 2005, while still working for the USPS, Mr. Tirado was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer.[2] He requested twelve months of unpaid leave, which was approved, [3] and August 11, 2005, was his last day in paid employment status.[4] USPS employees continue to receive full life insurance coverage, including all previously elected optional life insurance coverage, for up to twelve months while on unpaid leave, even if no premiums are paid by the employee.[5] Mr. Tirado died on May 3, 2006, less than twelve months after entering unpaid leave status. It is undisputed that Mr. Tirado elected Option B life insurance coverage, which would provide a lump sum payment of five times his salary to his beneficiary upon his death, during his employment with the USPS.[6] Therefore, had Mr. Tirado died while on unpaid leave status, his widow, as beneficiary, would have received the Option B coverage.[7] However, while on unpaid leave, Mr. Tirado applied for disability retirement.

As part of his application for disability retirement, Mr. Tirado was required to fill out a Continuation of Life Insurance Coverage Form (“Form SF 2818”). The Instructions for Completing Form SF 2818 state: “If you don’t want to have Optional insurance in retirement, mark “No” in Item 9 for Option A, Item 10 for Option B . . . You will not have that option in retirement, but you will have it for 31 days after your life insurance coverage as an employee stops.” Mr. Tirado completed this form on November 16, 2005, signing and dating each election on that form.[8] The Form SF 2818 provided to the Court indicates that, despite his diagnosis with Stage IV lung cancer, Mr. Tirado elected not to carry Option B coverage in retirement.[9]

OPM officially approved Mr. Tirado’s disability retirement application, and notified him of the approval, subject to certain prerequisite conditions, on March 3, 2006.[10] The same day, OPM also sent letter notification to the USPS, informing the USPS as employer that Mr. Tirado was approved for disability retirement, but indicating that Mr. Tirado had not yet been separated from the USPS and that his retirement annuity would not begin until final retirement papers were submitted by the USPS.[11] However, these two letters do not necessarily establish that Mr. Tirado entered retirement on March 3, 2006. The USPS attached a letter to its Answer, sent from Assistant United States Attorney Annetta Foster Givhan to Plaintiff’s counsel, which states that “Mr. Tirado’s retirement was completed on April 20, 2006.”[12] Neither party has provided a personnel action form or other document indicating when Mr. Tirado’s disability retirement actually began.[13]

The Court cannot grant summary judgment because it finds a genuine issue of disputed material fact as to the date on which Mr. Tirado entered retirement status. The government asserts that Mr. Tirado’s retirement was effective on March 3, 2006, relying upon the two letters from OPM, but points to no evidence on the record indicating that his retirement was finalized on that date. Because the timing of his retirement will govern whether his pre-retirement life insurance elections or his post-retirement elections were operative, [14] the Motion for Summary Judgment will be denied.[15] An appropriate Order follow

ORDER

AND NOW, this 10th day of July 2013, upon consideration of Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 20], Plaintiff’s response [Doc. No. 21], and Defendant’s Reply [Doc. No. 24], and for the reasons set forth in the accompanying Memorandum Opinion, it is hereby ORDERED that the Motion is DENIED.

It is further ORDERED that counsel for the parties shall confer as to whether the parties wish to attempt to resolve the remaining claim through alternative dispute resolution. The parties shall report to the Court in writing with respect to whether the case is settled on or before July 26, 2013. The joint report may be faxed to Chambers (267-299-5077), and need not be filed. In the event the case is not settled, counsel shall include in their joint report a statement as to whether they believe a settlement conference before a magistrate judge, mediation under Local Civil Rule 53.3, or some other form of alternative dispute resolution might be of assistance in resolving the case and, if so, on what form of alternative dispute resolution they agree and by what date they will be prepared to commence such proceedings. If the parties do not wish to engage in alternative dispute resolution, the July 26, 2013 report shall provide the Court with a joint proposed schedule for trial.

It is so ORDERED.


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