The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a trial court dismissal of former Tennessee State Representative Jeremy Durham’s case against the Tennessee Commerce and Insurance Commissioner, the Director of Legislative Administration and the State Treasurer and Ordered the case to proceed on its merits. The Tennessee Star noted last week that a ruling was likely imminent.
In 2016 Connie Ridley, Director of Legislative Administration for the Tennessee General Assembly, specifically confirmed that State Representative Jeremy Durham was entitled to retain his health insurance benefits even if removed from the Legislature. Nevertheless, the State of Tennessee subsequently terminated his health insurance access after he was expelled in a vote of the State House in Special Session.
Durham’s lawsuit seeks to reverse what he and his lawyers have termed an “unlawful” termination of his vested health insurance benefits. The case was dismissed by the trial court for “lack of standing.”
Unlike other former lawmakers who have been convicted of felonies and retained their health insurance benefits, Durham has never been charged with nor convicted of any crime. Nor was any complaint ever filed by any alleged “victim.” As noted by the Tennessean, former Sens. Ward Crutchfield (D-Chattanooga) and Roscoe Dixon (D-Memphis) were enrolled in the plan even after they were convicted of crimes related to the “Tennessee Waltz” bribery scandal. Crutchfield died in April, 2016.
State Representative Roger Kane (R-Knoxville), who joined with legislators who voted to expel Durham previously told the Tennessee Star that he was among those who were told that Durham would keep his vested benefits, such as health insurance access, prior to casting his vote.
“We were told before the vote that he would keep his health insurance like other former legislators,” Kane said, “and there was never any discussion of some distinction between voluntary or involuntary retirement that I was aware of. If I had been informed that he would be denied his health insurance as a result of the expulsion vote, it would have changed by vote from a yes to either a no or an abstain – which would have had the effect of a no vote.” Kane added that he didn’t know whether, or how many, other legislators would have voted differently if they had been told how the insurance issue was going to be handled.
Another legislator who served with Durham, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid reprisals by the Leadership, said that they are confident that several Legislators who voted to expel Durham did so based on the assurance that he and his wife would continue to receive the vested benefits earned through his service. “Legislators were told he would keep those benefits in order to get the votes to expel him,” the legislator told the Tennessee Star. “Enough of those votes would have been ‘abstain’ and prevented the expulsion if we had been told what the State actually intended to do.”
Durham has sued in Federal Court (Durham v. Larry Martin, et al.) to compel the State of Tennessee to reinstate his health insurance benefits. The State responded with a Motion to Dismiss his claim, asserting in part that Legislators are eligible to elect to retain their health insurance benefits upon “retirement” — which the State argues means “voluntary” withdrawal. However, the State has not denied legislators who are defeated in reelection bids, and therefore have their time in office “involuntarily terminated” by voters, from continuing to receive health insurance and retirement benefits.
With the Order of the Court of Appeals reinstating the case, the matter will now proceed towards discovery and a trial on the merits.
Read the opinion: