WASHINGTON - General Motors retirees are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review a lower court decision upholding the company's right to reduce their health care benefits.
But benefit and legal experts say it is unlikely the high court will take the case because it involves factual issues rather than broad interpretations of federal law.
The class-action suit involves 84,000 retired GM workers and hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits.
'Based on its past record, the Supreme Court does not take on disputes over the terms of a contract,' said Nancy Ross, a retiree health care attorney and partner with the law firm of McDermott, Will & Emery in Chicago.
Robert D. Sprague et al. vs. General Motors Corp. - perhaps the largest suit ever in the highly litigious retiree health field - has been going on since 1989. That was when former GM employees who retired between 1974 and 1988 challenged GM health care benefit cuts in the giant automaker's retiree health care plan.
Among other things, GM imposed deductibles and copayment insurance requirements, violating what the retirees said was the company's promise to provide free lifetime retiree health care benefits.
After many twists and turns, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati said in January that GM had the right to amend its retiree health care program.
The appeals court said GM had notified the retirees in writing of its right to change the terms of the health plan, and therefore could change benefits even though statements in plan documents said the benefits would be provided free for life.