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In re Sanborn

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

December 8, 2017

IN THE MATTER OF EMILY SANBORN AND TIMOTHY E. SANBORN

          Submitted: June 21, 2017

          Springer Law Office, PLLC, of Portsmouth (Jonathan S. Springer on the brief), for the petitioner.

          Timothy E. Sanborn, self-represented party, by brief.

          LYNN, J.

         In these consolidated appeals, the petitioner, Emily Sanborn, and the respondent, Timothy E. Sanborn, appeal orders of the Circuit Court (Foley, J.) ruling upon the respondent's post-divorce motions. The petitioner argues that the court erred by ordering that the respondent is entitled to continuation coverage under the petitioner's dental insurance plan pursuant to RSA 415:18, XVI (2015). The respondent cross-appeals, arguing that the court erred by denying his request for attorney's fees. We reverse in part and affirm in part.

         The relevant facts are as follows. The parties' final divorce decree was issued in 2009. The respondent appealed, and we affirmed the trial court's decree in March 2011. Our mandate issued on April 21, 2011. Section 6 of the final divorce decree provided that "[e]ach party shall be responsible for his or her own health and dental insurance and his or her own uninsured medical and dental expenses."

         In December 2012, the respondent moved to amend the divorce decree to allow him to be put on the petitioner's dental plan "as a dependent for the 3 year continuation coverage period, " retroactive to April 2011. The petitioner agreed that the decree should be amended to allow for three years of continuation of dental insurance coverage for the respondent from April 2011 to April 20, 2014. Subsequently, the Circuit Court (Ashley, J.) issued an order amending section 6 of the divorce decree, per the parties' agreement, to read, in relevant part:

Each party shall be responsible for his or her own health insurance and his or her own uninsured medical and dental expenses. Regarding dental insurance, [the respondent] shall be kept on [the petitioner's] group dental insurance policy, through her employment, as a dependent for the three year continuation coverage period which continuance coverage period will expire on April 20, 2014. This obligation shall continue only so long as [the petitioner] is employed at the same employer and the employer offers the group dental insurance as a benefit.

         The petitioner was employed as the plan administrator for Breed's Hill Insurance Agency (Breed's Hill) from September 1, 2006 through March 1, 2014. Through this employment, she received dental insurance from Principal Insurance Group (Principal). In March 2014, a third-party insurance agency acquired Breed's Hill, and Breed's Hill was thereafter effectively defunct. The petitioner received the same dental insurance benefits through April 30, 2014. On May 1, 2014, the petitioner received new insurance coverages through her employment with the third-party insurance agency, including dental coverage through Aetna. In April 2015, the petitioner left that employment, and her dental coverage was no longer effective as of the end of August 2015. The petitioner started new employment on August 24, 2015, and received dental insurance through this employment starting October 1, 2015.

         At some point in late 2015, the respondent sought a further ruling on dental insurance coverage. He argued that, pursuant to RSA 415:18, VII-b and XVI, the petitioner had the responsibility to notify him of the expiration of the dental insurance coverage. He further contended that he should have been "offered continuation of coverage" before April 2014. He contended that it was her responsibility to notify him because he claimed that she was the plan administrator for Breed's Hill at the time that his coverage ended. He further argued that, because he turned 55 during the period of coverage that ended in April 2014, he was entitled to coverage pursuant to RSA 415:18, XVI(c)(5), which provides that "[w]hen the . . . divorced spouse . . . is 55 years of age or older and loses coverage because of the . . . divorce, " coverage shall continue under RSA 415:18, XVI "until such time as the spouse becomes eligible for participation in another employer-based group plan or becomes eligible for Medicare."

         The petitioner countered that the respondent received all of the coverage to which he was entitled under RSA 415:18. She further argued that her employment with Breed's Hill ended on March 1, 2014, when Breed's Hill was acquired by the third-party insurance agency and, therefore, pursuant to the amended divorce decree, the respondent was no longer entitled to benefits under her plan because she was no longer employed by the "same employer." Nonetheless, she maintained that any burden to notify the respondent prior to the expiration of coverage in April 2014 was attributable to the carrier, Principal, and not to her. In addition, she contended that the respondent is not entitled to coverage under RSA 415:18, XVI(c)(5) because he was not 55 at the time the divorce decree became final.

         Following a hearing on offers of proof presented through counsel, the trial court ruled in favor of the respondent. The court treated the coverage the respondent obtained pursuant to the 2013 amendment to the divorce decree as continuation coverage governed by RSA 415:18, XVI rather than coverage under RSA 415:18, VII-b (2015). It then ruled that, although both parties' interpretations of RSA 415:18, XVI(c)(5) appeared to be reasonable, the respondent's interpretation "better reflect[ed] legislative intent" and, therefore, the respondent was eligible for continuation coverage under RSA 415:18, XVI(c)(5).

         Because the respondent was eligible for continuation coverage, the court found that he was entitled to notification of termination of coverage pursuant to RSA 415:18, XVI(f)(5). Under RSA 415:18, XVI(f)(5), "[t]he carrier shall notify the individual of the right to continue coverage within 30 days of receiving notice from the plan administrator or employer of the loss of coverage." The court found that, at the time that the respondent lost coverage in April 2014, the petitioner "was still the plan administrator" and, thus, she was responsible for notifying Principal of the respondent's loss of coverage, which, in turn, would have triggered Principal's obligation to notify the respondent of his eligibility for coverage under RSA 415:18, XVI(c)(5). See RSA 415:18, XVI(e)(1).

         The court ordered the petitioner to add the respondent "to her insurance as a dependent or former spouse, for a period of time long enough to trigger continuation coverage when she removes him from her group plan as a result of their divorce." The court stated that it would "accept proposed orders amending the [divorce] decree, if necessary, to supply [the respondent] with coverage for the period when he was without dental insurance." It further ordered that "[a]ny unpaid dental care expenses falling within [the period when the respondent was without dental insurance] should be addressed in the proposed orders, or will otherwise be the responsibility of the" petitioner. The respondent subsequently sought attorney's fees, which the court declined to award. This appeal and cross-appeal followed.

         We note that the respondent has filed a "supplemental dental appeal brief" and the petitioner has moved to strike that brief. (Bolding and capitalization omitted.) Following submission of the case on the briefs, the respondent filed a separate motion to accept the supplemental brief. We grant the respondent's motion to accept and deny the ...


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