Fort Halifax Packing Company, Inc. v. Coyne

PETITIONER: Fort Halifax Packing Company, Inc.
RESPONDENT: Coyne
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Charlotte Division

DOCKET NO.: 86-341
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-1987)
LOWER COURT: Maine Supreme Judicial Court

CITATION: 482 US 1 (1987)
ARGUED: Mar 24, 1987
DECIDED: Jun 01, 1987

ADVOCATES:
John C. Yavis, Jr. - on behalf of Appellant
Thomas D. Warren - on behalf of Appellee

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Fort Halifax Packing Company, Inc. v. Coyne

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 24, 1987 in Fort Halifax Packing Company, Inc. v. Coyne

William H. Rehnquist:

You may proceed whenever you're ready, Mr. Yavis.

John C. Yavis, Jr.:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court: This case presents for decision the conflict between ERISA and a Maine statute upheld by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

ERISA makes employee benefit plans a subject of exclusive federal concern.

And expressly preempts any and all state laws that relate to such plans.

While the Maine statute requires payment of severance pay benefits included within ERISA coverage.

In summary, our position is, first, that ERISA Section 514 preempts state mandated or state created plans.

And second, that the Section 4(B)(3) exemption does not extend to the Maine severance pay law.

We submit that Maine may not impose a severance pay plan any more than it might impose a pension plan.

Briefly with respect to the facts of this case, Fort Halifax is part of a larger group of companies headed by Corbett Enterprises, Inc. which in 1981 had operations in approximately 11 states.

These were poultry operations and Fort Halifax operated its plant in Maine from 1972 until May of 1981 when the plant closed because of adverse market conditions.

Fort Halifax had a collective bargaining agreement in force at the time of the plant closing and pursuant to that plan it had provided a retirement plan to its production workers and various employee welfare benefit plans including life insurance, combination life and health, major medical and accident and sickness as well as other employee benefits.

The collective bargaining agreement however did not call however, for the payment of severance pay.

And in this action, the Maine Department of Labor, sought to enforce that Maine Severance Pay Statute which covers establishments with basically 100 or more employees that relocate or close, that is the establishment relocates or closes, the statute requires payment of severance pay to eligible employees.

Antonin Scalia:

Mr. Yavis, is the employer's compliance with that statute subject to ERISA?

Do ERISA regulations govern anything that occurs in order to comply with that statute.

John C. Yavis, Jr.:

I don't believe that the ERISA regulations would apply because ERISA in our opinion would preempt the application of the statute.

Antonin Scalia:

Make believe it doesn't.

Would, in implementing that statute, the employer have to comply with ERISA regs?

John C. Yavis, Jr.:

The statute does not call for that.

The Maine statute does not call for that.

Antonin Scalia:

But does ERISA call for it?

John C. Yavis, Jr.:

ERISA does--

Antonin Scalia:

If it's not preempted by ERISA,--

John C. Yavis, Jr.:

--Yes, ERISA then--

Antonin Scalia:

--would there have to be compliance with any ERISA regulations?

John C. Yavis, Jr.:

--ERISA does cover severance pay plans expressly and that's in 3(1)(A) where some courts have held that ERISA covers severance benefits as benefits as benefits in the event of unemployment.

Antonin Scalia:

Which means what?

What would ERISA require to be done with respect to this plan?

John C. Yavis, Jr.:

There would be, for example, disclosure to employees, reporting, there would be fiduciary standards, there would be access to federal courts, there would be potential intrusion by the Federal Department of Labor.

Various protective measures to assure that the benefits were received.