927 F.2d 539 (11th Cir. 1991), 90-7228, Barnes v. Lacy
|Citation:||927 F.2d 539|
|Party Name:||James L. BARNES, Jr., Plaintiff-Appellee, Leonard Grefseng, Roy R. Kimberly, Willie H. Little, Elliott H. Moore, Lillian Northington, Joseph D. Patrick, Lellwyn B. Lacey, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. A.S. LACY, D.C. Reynolds, Energen Benefits Committee, Energen Corporation, Energen Retirement Income Plan, G.C. Ketcham, G.C. Youngblood, J.A. Martin, R.|
|Case Date:||March 22, 1991|
|Court:||United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit|
Rehearing Denied May 9, 1991.
Jay Smith, Cooper, Mitch, Crawford, Kuykendall & Whatley, Jerome A. Cooper, Joe R. Whatley, Jr., Birmingham, Ala., for plaintiffs-appellants.
Bradley, Arant, Rose & White, Maynard, Cooper, Frierson & Gale, P.C., Birmingham, Ala., for defendants-appellees.
Steven Hymowitz, McCalla, Thompson, Pyburn & Ridley, Stefanie Allweiss,
Howard Shapiro, New Orleans, La., for Ala. Gas Corp., Energen Corp, Energen Corp. Retirement Income Plan, Energen Benefits Comm., Self, et al.
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.
Before FAY and JOHNSON, Circuit Judges, and PECK [*], Senior Circuit Judge.
FAY, Circuit Judge:
Plaintiffs James L. Barnes, Jr., Leonard Grefseng, Lila Faye Huey, Roy R. Kimberly, Willie H. Little, Elliott H. Moore, Lillian Northington, Joseph D. Patrick, and Lellwyn B. Lackey sued defendants A.S. Lacy, D.C. Reynolds, Energen Benefits Committee, Energen Corporation, Energen Retirement Income Plan, G.C. Ketcham, G.C. Youngblood, J.A. Martin, R.J. Patzke, W.D. Self, and Alabama Gas Corporation (hereinafter collectively referred to as "Alagasco"), alleging misrepresentation and violation of ERISA with respect to two early retirement plans that Alagasco had offered its employees. The district court granted judgment in favor of plaintiff Barnes, but held in favor of Alagasco with respect to the remaining eight plaintiffs. Seven of the eight plaintiffs who were defeated at trial appealed, and Alagasco cross-appealed the court's decision in favor of Barnes.
We find no clear error in the district court's factual findings. Accordingly, we AFFIRM the court's order granting judgment in favor of Alagasco with respect to the eight defendants other than Barnes. However, we hold that the court erred in finding Alagasco liable for misrepresentation. The court found Alagasco liable because Barnes misunderstood and detrimentally relied upon Alagasco's representations; yet it found, as a matter of fact, that Alagasco had made only truthful representations, in good faith, to its employees. We find that, based on the court's factual findings, its holding against Alagasco was erroneous as a matter of law. Accordingly, we REVERSE the district court's order granting judgment in favor of Barnes and REMAND with instructions to enter judgment in favor of Alagasco.
In November of 1985, Alagasco announced that it was forming a Voluntary Early Retirement Opportunity plan ("VERO"). The plan was adopted to provide additional incentives for employees, who already were eligible to take early retirement under Alagasco's Retirement Income Plan (the "Energen Plan"), to elect to do so. VERO was available only to those employees who either were already eligible for early retirement or would be by January 1, 1986.
About 80 persons were eligible under VERO. Over 50 percent of those eligible elected to retire on the basis of VERO. Nine of those persons who retired under VERO ultimately sued Alagasco asserting that, although they voluntarily and without coercion had elected to take that early retirement, they had been induced to do so by misleading or ambiguous statements provided to them concerning VERO.
This claim of misrepresentation essentially arose out of Alagasco's announcement in November of 1987, two years after VERO, of a new opportunity for early retirement. This second program, Voluntary Retirement Incentive Program ("VRIP"), provided various benefits that were greater than those which the plaintiffs had obtained under VERO. Plaintiffs asserted that the company misadvised them concerning the original plan...
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