43 F.3d 941 (4th Cir. 1995), 94-1710, Hickey v. Digital Equipment Corp.

Docket Nº:94-1710.
Citation:43 F.3d 941
Party Name:Pete HICKEY; Timothy O'Leary; Charles H. McKnight; Aaron Adams; Brian Adams; Linda Adams; Tony Adams; Michael Adragna; Keith Dean Aldridge; David Aldridge; Thomas H. Altman; Sarah Anderson; Shirley Arms; Hassie Atkins; Frederick Babb; Vicki Babb; Katherine Renee Bailey; Nurudeen Balogun; John David Barton; Frank Batson; Rodney E. Beeks; Cliff Blois
Case Date:January 12, 1995
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
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Page 941

43 F.3d 941 (4th Cir. 1995)

Pete HICKEY; Timothy O'Leary; Charles H. McKnight; Aaron

Adams; Brian Adams; Linda Adams; Tony Adams; Michael

Adragna; Keith Dean Aldridge; David Aldridge; Thomas H.

Altman; Sarah Anderson; Shirley Arms; Hassie Atkins;

Frederick Babb; Vicki Babb; Katherine Renee Bailey;

Nurudeen Balogun; John David Barton; Frank Batson; Rodney

E. Beeks; Cliff Bloise; Deborah B. Benson; Betty S.

Boston; Hugh N. Brock, Jr.; Sheila Brooks; Sharon Brown;

Jerry W. Bryant; Carla Buchanen; Camelia M. Buckheister;

Donald R. Burton; Dianne Butler; Anita F. Byers; Rosie C.

Byrd; Debbie A. Cabe; Linda Campbell; James L. Chastain;

Jimmy D. Cisson; Kay R. Clay; Chandra Coker; Patricia Ann

Copeland; Patsy Cox; Steven W. Cox; Geraleen Crawford;

Gregory Cypert; Jerome Dames; Annette Davis; Anthony

Bryan Davis; Gail E. Davis; Michael Davis; Miriam C.

Davenport; Robert F. Deal; Shirley Dennis; Laura Dight;

William Downs; Dan R. Driver; George A. Durham; Brenda B.

Durrance; Toni Eaton; David Ellis; Lucy Fair; Larry M.

Faust; William Ferrel; Cheryl Filiberti; Shirley J.

Fisher; Edna M. Fowler; Kathie A. Gailey; Jane Gagnon;

Linda G. Garner; Carl Gerhiser; Teresa A. Gilliam; Brenda

Goldsmith; Rosemary Grant; Jimmy Gray; Wendy B. Gray;

Barbara Green; Evelyn Green; Linda Green; Polly Green;

Carolyn Griffin; R. Briggs Hamilton; Richard Mark Hanvey;

Benny J. Hart; Sandra B. Hatcher; Thomas L. Hendricks;

Daniel Holcombe; Gary C. Hooper; Martha Jane Hoover;

Wayne H. Horne; Larry Hough; Valerie Houston; Carolyn

Howell; Rick Huckaby; James Huff; Gail Hussey; Minnie I.

Jackson; Michael G. James; Arthur W. Johns; Janice D.

Johnson; Leroy C. Johnson; Shannon S. Johnson; Zonnie

Jones; Sandra F. Kelly; Jan Kestner; Satish Kinariwala;

Tony King; Keith G. Kitchens; Christopher B. Klugh;

Edward R. Knipple; Richard Kurtz; Steve Laforest; Matt

Lake; Terry M. Landers; Paulette Lane; Rickey Lanford;

Anthony Lark; Damon Lashley; Melanie B. Lay; Lee A.

Labarron; Helen C. Lee; Marlene Lee; Ray J. Lee; Yolanda

L. Lewis; Cynthia E. Lim; Emmanuel Lim; Brenda Lykes;

Alan Madewell; Steven R. Madison; Tony Marable; Glynis D.

Martin; Susan Martinez; David R. Massengale; Martha E.

Masters; Diane Mattox; Peter J. McCauley; Paula M.

McDonald; Barbara S. McDowell; Norma McMurray; Janice

Messer; Donna M. Mikulis; Deborah Lynn Miller; Nan Minot;

Karl Minton; Lorie J. Mitchell; John Monohan; Tina E.

Moon; A. Bernard Moore; Terri S. Moore; Donald H.

Morasco; Lonnie Mote; Zahoor Mukaddam; Rachel E. Mull;

Alma R. Murray; James H. Nabors; Jon O'Brien; Tracy

O'Brien; Janice O'Neil; Mavis H. O'Shields; Dave Oakley;

Debra Ann Oakley; Dennis W. Orren; Clarence Owens; Kathy

Owens; Barbara W. Paden; Dale Page; Edna Page; Ann T.

Patterson; James D. Pavluk; Ruby M. Perkins; James H.

Phillips; Linda J. Phillips; Wilma J. Phillips; Scott

Pinion; Ray Plunkett; Marcus L. Poore; Carolyn J. Poteat;

Sharon Tracy Powell; Yvonne L. Price; Laurie Pullen;

Sheila Rafkah; Cathy J. Reedy; Frank Regina; Richard W.

Reid; Virginia E. Reutzel; Jackie Revis; Gregory S.

Rhodes; John G. Rhodes; Freida Wyanette Rice; Joseph P.

Roach; Marilyn Roach; Jerome Robinson; Sandra Robinson;

Nancy Rothel; James E. Rousey; April Sanders; Wallace E.

Sanders; Darlene Sawitski; David H. Schartner; Mary

Scribner; Jim Seigo; William C. Servies; Daniel R.

Simard; Harold J. Simpson; Phyllis C. Simpson; Mary J.

Singleton; Ronda Smith; Rick Snyder; Ken Spencer; Dianne

Stewart; Mattie W. Stoddard; James Allen Stone; Larry

Strickland; C. L. Sullivan; William C. Theemling; Gary W.

Theis; Peggy H. Theis; John Theisen; Gwendolyn G. Thomas;

Lee E. Thomas; Nancy B. Thompson; Vicki Townsend; Gary

Turner; Lisa Turner; Rodney Turner; Sandra O. Van Gieson;

David L. Van Gieson; James A. Vaughn; John D. Waddell;

Harriet D. Waddell; Marica Denice Waddell; Patsy Walker;

Greg Walls; Lee L. Ware; Jammie Watson; Terry L. Wells;

David J. White; Diana White; Lucy B. Wilkins; Betty A.

Williams; Otis Williams; Patricia Ann Williams;

Clementine Williamson; Phyliss Wilmore; Carolyn Wilson;

Linda Wilson; Jimmie K. Wright; Jacquline Yeargin; Keran

Yeargin; Joseph M. Young; Nancy Blough; David J. Boiter;

Michelle Brown; Charles Carle; James S. Daniels; Laura J.

Dupree; Bill Earl; John R. Gallaspie; William Giambrone;

Gary L. Johnsen; Dan Kestner; Ben F. Lee; Sylvester C.

Lee; Wilfred Leon; Bill Line; Tina A. Mayes; Kendra E.

McAlister; Richard W. McCall; Shirley McDaniel; Irene C.

Meredith; Alma Lucille Moore; Shirley Y. Neely; Steven L.

Perkins; Joe Perry; Richard Reifenheiser; David A.

Russell; Kurt Stevens; Mike Strajna; Deborah Stroud;

Janice C. White; Pamela M. Williams; Vonda Wilson; Martha

Woody; Bernice Wright; David L. Wynn; Craig Rush; Karen

S. Walters; Carolyn Allen; Harold Durham; Patty Loftis;

Angie Bell-Smith; Bobbie Sanders; Inez Griffin,

Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

DIGITAL EQUIPMENT CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 94-1710.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

January 12, 1995

Argued Nov. 1, 1994.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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ARGUED: John Bowman McLeod, William David Conner, Haynsworth, Marion, McKay & Guerard, Greenville, SC, for appellants. C. David Vaughan, Vaughan & Murphy, Atlanta, GA, for appellee. ON BRIEF: L. Grey Geddie, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, Greenville, SC, for appellee.

Before HALL and MICHAEL, Circuit Judges, and PHILLIPS, Senior Circuit Judge.

Affirmed by published opinion. Judge MICHAEL wrote the opinion, in which Judge HALL and Senior Judge PHILLIPS joined.

OPINION

MICHAEL, Circuit Judge:

This is a case brought under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. Sec. 1001 et seq., against Digital Equipment Corporation (Digital) by a large group of its former employees who seek severance pay under Digital's 1991 Severance Pay and Benefits Plan (Plan). In 1992 Digital sold the plant where the employees worked, but the plant's operations were not disrupted by the sale. The employees either retained their same jobs or received severance pay from the buyer which was reimbursed by Digital under the purchase agreement.

The Plan's purpose is to provide severance pay to Digital employees who are terminated in workforce reductions undertaken by Digital. The former Digital employees here argued that they were eligible for benefits under a clause in the Plan which says an "employee of Digital shall be eligible to become a Participant in the Plan if his or her employment with Digital is terminated ... as a result of the closing of a Digital plant...."

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Digital's U.S. Employee Benefits Claim Appeal Committee (Committee) denied benefits, and the district court upheld that decision. The central issue is whether the Committee abused its discretion in concluding that, under the facts of this case, there was no "closing" of a Digital plant. Finding no error, we affirm.

I.

A.

Digital is an international supplier of networked computer systems, software, and services. In 1988 Digital had approximately 125,000 employees worldwide and, as of that year, had never laid off a single employee. Beginning in 1989, however, bad economic times forced Digital to reduce its workforce, both here and abroad. In connection with its downsizing efforts, Digital adopted the Plan in 1991.

The Plan, which is self-administered, was established "to provide severance pay and other benefits to certain employees described in...

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