What kinds of arrangements are plans for purposes of Title I of ERISA?

To be an employee pension benefit plan covered by Title I of ERISA, an arrangement must be a plan. Neither Title I nor its regulations define "plan." Nonetheless, for purposes of Title I of ERISA, a plan exists if a reasonable person could ascertain from the surrounding circumstances the existence of intended benefits, intended beneficiaries, a source of financing, and a procedure for receiving benefits. [Donovan v Dillingham, 688 F 2d 1367 (11th Cir 1982)] It is not always necessary to show all of those elements. One court held that a contract providing severance benefits was an ERISA plan even though the contract did not specify a source of funding. [Purser v Enron Corp, 10 EBC (BNA) 1561 (WD Pa 1988)] In determining whether an ERISA plan exists, the courts have generally refused to conclude that an ERISA plan does not exist because ERISA procedural requirements were not adhered to. [Purser v Enron Corp, 10 EBC (BNA) 1561 (WD Pa 1988)] One court has held that oral statements that an employee could expect a substantial pension on retirement were not sufficient to constitute a plan for ERISA purposes. [Harris v Arkansas Book Co, 794 F 2d 358 (8th Cir 1986)] Where an oral understanding met the requirements set out in {I}Donovan v. Dillingham{M}, however, the courts have found that there was a plan. [See, e.g., Hollingshead v Burford Equip Co, 747 F Supp 1421 (MD Ala 1990) (the intended benefits, the beneficiaries, and source of funding were clear)] Individual employment contracts have been found not to be ERISA plans. [Jervis v Elerding, 504 F Supp 606 (CD Cal 1980)] Yet the Eleventh Circuit has concluded that a letter from an employer to a single employee promising retirement benefits was a plan covered by ERISA. [Williams v Wright, 927 F 2d 1540 (11th Cir 1991)]