UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
ALINA VAZQUEZ, individually and on
behalf of all others similarly situated,
MARRIOTT INTERNATIONAL, INC.,
CASE No.: 8:17-cv-00116-MSS-MAP
NOTICE OF PENDENCY OF CLASS ACTION
A court authorized this Notice. This is not a solicitation from a lawyer.
This Notice of Pendency of Class Action provides important information regarding your right to participate in or to opt out of a class action lawsuit. Plaintiff, Alina Vazquez (“Plaintiff”), filed a lawsuit against Defendant Marriott International, Inc. (“Defendant” or “Marriott”) in which she alleges that the COBRA Notice she received from Marriott was deficient and did not comply with the notice requirements of COBRA because it failed to include a physical election form; failed to identify the Plan Administrator; and, finally, the notice was not calculated to be understood by the average plan participant. Marriott denies and contests the Plaintiff’s allegations and has raised defenses against Plaintiff. The Court has not made any decisions as to the merits of the Plaintiff’s allegations. There is no settlement or monetary recovery at this time, and there may not be any settlement or monetary award to Plaintiff because the Court may rule in Defendant’s favor and against Plaintiff. The case is pending in the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, Case No.: 8:17-cv-00116-MSS-MAP.
- The notice at issue is referred to as a “COBRA Notice and the continuation of health insurance coverage after separation of employment is called “COBRA continuation coverage,” after the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985. COBRA notice is designed to provide qualified beneficiaries who were covered under an employer-sponsored group healthcare plan with information and details regarding their right to continue their healthcare plan coverage and the terms and conditions of that COBRA continuation coverage. 29 U.S.C. §1166(a)(2), (a)(4), (c).
- Plaintiff alleged in her Amended Complaint that the COBRA Notice provided to her by Marriott was deficient under the law because it failed to include a physical election form; failed to identify the Plan Administrator; and, finally, the notice was not calculated to be understood by the average plan participant. Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint includes claims brought under 29 U.S.C. § 1166(a) and 29 C.F.R. § 2590.606-4.
- Defendant denies any wrongdoing. The Court has not decided whether Defendant did anything wrong, and this Notice is not an admission by Defendant or an expression of any opinion of the Court concerning the merits of the Action. There is no settlement or monetary recovery at this time.
- Membership in the Class will be determined based upon Defendant’s records reflecting who received the specific COBRA Notice at issue which, by definition, includes the following persons: “All participants and beneficiaries in the Defendant’s Health Plan who: (1) were sent a COBRA notice by Defendant, in the form attached to the Motion [for Certification] as Exhibit A, during the applicable four-year statute of limitations period as a result of a qualifying event, as determined by Defendant, and (2) did not elect continuation coverage.”
- There are approximately 19,000 class members.
- You received notice by mail which directed you to the website with this long form notice because Defendant’s records indicate that you are a class member.
- Your rights and options—and the deadlines to exercise them—are explained herein.
YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS AND OPTIONS
If you do nothing you will remain a class member.
Ask to be Excluded by
APRIL 2, 2019
If you do not want to be included in the case, you must take action to exclude yourself. This is called “opting out.” To opt out, you must state in writing that you have elected to opt out of the case, and send your written notice to the Class Administrator, whose mailing information is available below in paragraph 7, within 60 days of the date the short form notice in this case is mailed, or APRIL 2, 2019. If you elect to opt out, you may pursue your own action against Defendant for the claims raised in this case if you choose to do so.
- Why did I receive a notice and who is included in this class?
You received this Notice because the Court has certified a Class in this lawsuit and you were identified as a potential Class Member whose rights may be affected. This Notice explains that the Court has allowed, or “certified,” a class action lawsuit that may affect you. For ease of reference the class is defined again as follows:
All participants and beneficiaries in the Defendant’s Health Plan who: (1) were sent a COBRA notice by Defendant, in the form attached to the Motion [for Certification] as Exhibit A, during the applicable four-year statute of limitations period as a result of a qualifying event, as determined by Defendant, and (2) did not elect continuation coverage.
A class action is a type of lawsuit in which one or several individuals or entities prosecute claims on behalf of all members of a group of similarly-situated persons, i.e., the class members, to obtain monetary or other relief for the entire group. Class actions avoid the necessity of each member of a class having to file his or her own separate lawsuit to obtain relief.
The Court decided that this lawsuit can proceed as a class action because it meets the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, which governs class actions in federal district courts. You were sent notice by mail of this class action pendency because you are a member of the Class certified by the Court. Composition of the Class is based upon Defendant’s records.
United States District Court Judge Mary S. Scriven of the United States District Court for the District of Florida, Tampa Division, is presiding over this class action. The lawsuit is titled Vazquez v. Marriott International, Inc., Case No. 8:17-cv-00116-MSS-MAP. More information about why the Court is allowing this lawsuit to be a class action is in the Court’s Opinion certifying the class, which is available on this website.
- What is the lawsuit about and what has happened so far?
Plaintiff, on behalf of herself and the putative class identified above, filed this putative class action against Defendant for allegedly providing a defective COBRA notice to her and others. As set forth in the Amended Complaint, Defendant was the plan sponsor of a group Health Plan (“Plan”) in which Plaintiff participated during her employment. Upon Plaintiff’s separation of employment, Defendant provided a COBRA notice to Plaintiff which Plaintiff asserts is deficient in that it failed to include a physical election form; failed to identify the Plan Administrator; and, finally, the notice was not calculated to be understood by the average plan participant. Due to these alleged deficiencies, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant failed to provide participants and beneficiaries in the Plan with adequate notice of their right to elect continuation coverage, as required by COBRA.
Defendant disputes the Plaintiff’s allegations and denies all liability to Plaintiff and the Class. In the lawsuit, Defendant denied Plaintiff’s allegations and raised a number of defenses to the claims asserted. Defendant asserts that its COBRA notice in the form that Plaintiff received is compliant with all requirements.
Plaintiff filed her Amended Complaint on April 3, 2017. Defendant moved to dismiss it on April 24, 2017. The Court entered its Order on August 25, 2017 denying Defendant’s Motion. A copy of the Court’s Order is available at here. Defendant then answered the Amended Complaint, denying Plaintiff’s claims and asserting various affirmative defenses. Defendant Marriott’s Answer and Affirmative Defenses to the Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint are available here. Trial is set to begin on April 29, 2019, in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, 801 North Florida Avenue, Tampa, Florida 33602.
On November 30, 2017, Plaintiff filed her motion for class certification. The Defendant opposed the Plaintiff’s motion for class certification, a copy of the Defendant’s Opposition to Class Certification is available at available at here. Following briefing on the motion, on August 7, 2018, the Court issued an Order granting Plaintiff’s motion, certifying the Class, appointing Alina Vazquez as the Class Representative, and appointing Class Counsel. The Court’s Memorandum Opinion and the Court’s Order are available at here. Defendant subsequently filed a petition to appeal that Order, which the Eleventh Circuit denied.
- Why is this case a class action?
Class actions are lawsuits in which the claims and rights of many people are decided in a single proceeding. In a class action, as here, the Plaintiff (“Class Representative”) seeks to assert claims on behalf of herself and all members of a class of similarly situated individuals who received the same allegedly deficient COBRA notice. In a class action, individuals with similar claims are treated alike. The Court will supervise the prosecution of the class claims by Counsel for the Class to assure that all members of the class are adequately and fairly represented. Class Members are not individually responsible for the costs or fees of Class Counsel.
- Has the Court decided who is right?
The Court has not yet decided the claims and there has been no monetary recovery.
If a settlement of the lawsuit is reached, it will be subject to approval by the Court. If a proposed settlement is reached, Class Members will be sent additional notice of any proposed settlement and members of the Class who have not excluded themselves will have an opportunity to object to the proposed settlement and to submit a Proof of Claim form to demonstrate their entitlement to any payment. Similarly, the Court may also direct further notice to the Class following any judgment that may be entered after a trial of this case, or for any other reason that the Court may determine.
- Is there any money available now?
No money or any other benefits are available now because the Court has not yet made any decision on the merits of Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint, and the parties have not settled the case. There is no guarantee that money or any other benefit ever will be obtained. If there is a recovery, you will be notified about how to ask for your share.
- What happens if I am a class member and I do nothing?
If you are a Class Member and you do nothing, you will stay in the Class. This means you will be legally bound by all of the orders the Court issues and judgments the Court makes in this Action, whether favorable or unfavorable. If you stay in the Class and money is paid to the Class, either through a settlement with Defendant or a judgment of the Court after trial, you may be eligible to receive a share of that recovery. Keep in mind that if you do nothing now, regardless of whether Class Representative wins or loses the case, you will not be able to sue Defendant in any other lawsuit about the same claims that are the subject of this Action.
If you choose to remain a member of the Class, you do not have to do anything at this time other than retain your documents and records relating to any COBRA election notice received from Defendant, and any and all information related thereto.
- How do I exclude myself as a Class Member and what happens if I do?
If you want to pursue your own lawsuit or claims against Defendant about the conduct in this case, do not want to be bound by what the Court does in this case, or if you simply do not want to be part of the Class pursuing claims against Defendant, you must ask to be excluded from the Class. If you exclude yourself from the Class—which means to remove yourself from the Class and is sometimes called “opting-out” of the Class—you will not be legally bound by any past, present, or future Court orders or judgments in this Action, and will keep any right you may have to individually sue Defendant in the future. However, if you exclude yourself, you also will not get any money or any other benefits from this lawsuit, if there are any.
If you start your own lawsuit against Defendant after you exclude yourself, you may have to hire and pay your own lawyer for that lawsuit, and you will have to prove your claims. Please note that if you decide to exclude yourself from the Class, you should consult with an attorney and discuss whether your individual claim would be time-barred by the applicable statutes of limitations or repose.
Pursuant to Rule 23(e)(4) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, it is within the Court’s discretion whether to allow a second opportunity to request exclusion from the Class if there is a settlement or judgment in the Action.
If you wish to be excluded from the Class (“opt-out”), you must send a letter by first-class mail no later than APRIL 2, 2019. The letter should state that you would like to opt out of the “Vazquez v. Marriott” case, Civil Action No. 8:17-cv-00116-MSS-MAP, and should be mailed to Marriott COBRA Class Action, PO Box 23369, Jacksonville, FL 32241-3369. Include your full name, address, and telephone number.
You cannot exclude yourself from the Class by telephone or by email, and a request for exclusion will not be effective unless it contains all the information called for by this paragraph and is postmarked by the date stated above, or is otherwise accepted by the Court. Only request exclusion if you do not wish to participate in the Action and do not wish to share in any potential recovery that the Class may obtain.
- Do I have a lawyer in this case?
The Court has appointed Alina Vazquez as the Class Representative. The Court has appointed Wenzel Fenton Cabassa, P.A., and Black Rock Trial Lawyers, PLLC, as Counsel for the Class. Class Counsel’s contact information is as follows:
Luis A. Cabassa, Esq.
Brandon J. Hill, Esq.
WENZEL FENTON CABASSA, P.A.
1110 North Florida Ave., Suite 300
Tampa, FL 33602
Chad A. Justice
BLACK ROCK TRIAL LAWYERS, PLLC
201 S Westland Ave
Tampa, FL 33606
Counsel for the Class represent the interests of all of Class Members. You may hire your own attorney to advise you regarding this matter, but if you hire your own attorney, you will be responsible for paying that attorney’s fees and costs. Unless you hire your own personal lawyer (which you are free to do), as a Class Member you will not have any direct obligations to pay the costs of this lawsuit. In the event there is a recovery by the Class, all costs and expenses, including Class Counsel’s attorneys’ fees, will be paid from that recovery in an amount that is approved by the Court. If there is no recovery, Class Counsel will not receive any attorneys’ fees.
- Are there more details about the settlement?
For more details regarding the lawsuit, you may refer to the papers filed in this case during regular business hours at the Clerk of the Court’s office, United States District Court, Middle District of Florida, U.S. Federal Building and Courthouse, 801 North Florida Avenue, Tampa, Florida 33602, Clerk’s office, File: Vazquez v. Marriott International, Inc., Case No.: 8:17-cv-00116-MSS-MAP. You may also access papers filed in this case on-line through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (“PACER”) service at www.pacer.gov; however, you may need to create an account and certain fees may apply. You may also access certain pleadings filed in this case on this website here. Finally, you may also contact Class Counsel whose contact information is provided above in FAQ 8.