Winn-Dixie Retirees Lose Bankruptcy Committee Request

July 12, 2005 ( - A Florida bankruptcy judge has turned down a request by a group of retirees from Jacksonville-based supermarket chain Winn-Dixie to appoint a special committee to represent the retirees' interests.

US Bankruptcy Judge Jerry Funk ruled that retirees are already adequately represented by the existing Bankruptcy Court creditors committee and that appointing a separate group would be premature since the retirees are receiving their benefit checks, according to an Associated Press report.  The judge also said Winn-Dixie has not asked that payments to retirees be modified or ended.

“The Court finds that appointing an additional committee would not facilitate a more harmonious resolution of the cases but would instead engender discord, litigation and delay,” Funk wrote.

Winn-Dixie has consistently said it plans to continue funding two plans, representing 1,042 retirees, many of whom are former company executives. Under the existing plans, the retirees are owed about $105 million. Rank and file employees like checkers do not have a pension plan, only a 401(k), according to the news report.

The plans’ participants recently received new estimates of what they would receive because bankruptcy laws require Winn-Dixie to estimate the value of all claims, Michael Freitag, a Winn-Dixie spokesman, told the AP.  The new valuations are calculated to determine how much a retiree would receive in today’s dollars as a lump sum payment, Freitag said.  If Winn-Dixie liquidated its assets, the new figures would serve as the amount due to the former employees.

Attorney David McFarlin, who represented some of retirees, said his clients will be carefully watching the progress of the bankruptcy case and could again ask for a committee if the situation involving benefits changes.  “The concerns of the plans’ participants haven’t changed,” McFarlin told reporters.  “They haven’t gone away.”