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Hovious v. Stanley Black & Decker Supplemental Unemployment Benefit Plan

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green Division

September 11, 2014

ROGER HOVIOUS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
THE STANLEY BLACK & DECKER SUPPLEMENTAL UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFIT PLAN, Defendant.

ORDER

THOMAS B. RUSSELL, Senior District Judge.

This matter is before the Court upon Defendant The Stanley Black & Decker Supplemental Unemployment Benefit Plan's Motion for Summary Judgment, (Docket No. 13), and Plaintiffs' competing Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, (Docket No. 16). Plaintiffs have responded to Defendant's Motion, (Docket No. 17), and Defendant has replied, (Docket No. 18). Defendant's Reply, (Docket No. 18), also responds to Plaintiffs' Cross-Motion. Plaintiffs have replied in support of their Cross-Motion, (Docket No. 19). With leave of Court, Defendant also has filed a Sur-Reply in support of its Motion. (Docket No. 22.) Accordingly, these matters now are ripe for adjudication. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion will be DENIED, and Plaintiffs' Cross-Motion will be GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

This action arises out of the termination of certain operations at the Parker Kalon-Emhart Teknologies ("PKE Teknologies") plant in Campbellsville, Kentucky. The Plaintiffs, all former union employees at the plant, claim they are eligible for up to forty weeks of benefits following their permanent layoff. The Defendant claims that Plaintiffs are eligible for twenty-six weeks of benefits. The parties disagree how to interpret three contracts between the Plaintiffs' union and Stanley Black & Decker ("Black & Decker"), which controls PKE Teknologies.

First is the collective bargaining agreement ("CBA"). (Docket #13, Ex. B). The CBA discusses wages, work hours, seniority, strikes, and other labor-related issues. The CBA contains a grievance process culminating in arbitration.

Second is the Effects Bargaining Offer of Agreement ("Effects Offer"). (Docket #13, Ex. D). The Effects Offer was drafted by Black & Decker as an offer of benefits to union employees terminated at the PKE Teknologies plant. Although the union did not sign the Effects Offer, both parties agree it is valid. The Effects Offer incorporates the CBA's grievance process.

Third is Stanley Black & Decker's Supplemental Unemployment Benefit Plan ("Benefit Plan"). (Docket #13, Ex. C). The Benefit Plan is a company policy that defines unemployment benefits and who is eligible for them. The Benefit Plan only applies to Plaintiffs, as union members, if " the Employer has agreed to add this Plan through written agreement with the applicable union." (emphasis in original) (Docket #13, Ex. C). The parties agree that the Effects Offer is the separate agreement that qualifies Plaintiffs' for the Benefit Plan. Disputes arising under the Benefits Plan are resolved by the Plan Administrator.

On August 31, 2011, Black & Decker notified employees that it would cease manufacturing self-tapping screws at the PKE Teknologies plant. The parties disagree whether this was a workforce reduction or a "Full Plant Closing." Under the Benefit Plan, employees could receive up to twenty-six weeks of benefits for a workforce reduction and forty weeks of benefits following a "Full Plant Closing." A "Full Plant Closing" is defined as "a facility at which the Employer is no longer performing any type of manufacturing operation." (Docket #13, Ex. C).

Black & Decker informed employees that they were eligible for twenty-six weeks of benefits. Black & Decker's position is that distribution operations continue at the PKE Teknologies plant, thereby making the Plaintiffs' termination a "workforce reduction." (Docket #13, Ex. E). Black and Decker met to negotiate with the Plaintiff's union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 783 ("the Union"), on September 7, 2011. Black & Decker contends that the Union agreed to a maximum of twenty-six weeks benefits during negotiations.

The Plaintiffs argue that a Full Plant Closure had occurred. Plaintiffs also argue that the Effects Offer contains no cap on benefits, but instead incorporates the Benefit Plan's dichotomy of forty weeks for a "Full Plant Closing" and twenty-six weeks for a workforce reduction. The Plaintiffs sent several letters to the Plan Administration for an explanation as to why the Plaintiffs were not eligible for up to forty weeks of benefits. The Plan Administrator reaffirmed Black & Decker's position that a Full Plant Closing had not occurred and Black & Decker's belief that the Union had accepted a cap of twenty-six weeks during bargaining on September 7, 2011. Plaintiffs, all former union employees at the plant, brought this action pursuant to the Employee Retirement and Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. ยง 1132(a)(1)(B), seeking additional unemployment benefits.

STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate where "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). "[N]ot every issue of fact or conflicting inference presents a genuine issue of material fact." Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1477 (6th Cir. 1989). The test is whether the party bearing the burden of proof has presented a jury question as to each element in the case. Hartsel v. Keys, 87 F.3d 795, 799 (6th Cir. 1996). The plaintiff must present more than a mere scintilla of evidence in support of her position; she must present evidence on which the trier of fact could reasonably find for her. Id. (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986)). Mere speculation will not suffice to defeat a motion for summary judgment: "[T]he mere existence of a colorable factual dispute will not defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment. A genuine dispute between the parties on an issue of material fact must exist to render summary judgment inappropriate." Monette v. Elec. Data Sys. Corp., 90 F.3d 1173, 1177 (6th Cir. 1996), abrogated on other grounds by Lewis v. Humboldt Acquisition Corp., Inc., 681 F.3d 312 (6th Cir. 2012).

DISCUSSION

I. The unambiguous terms of the Benefit Plan govern whether Plaintiffs are eligible for up to ...


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