Supreme Court to Hear Health Care Entities’ ‘Church Plan’ Suits

The question is whether, under ERISA, a church must establish a plan in order for it to be considered a ‘church plan.’

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review three cases in which federal appellate courts found health care institutions’ pension plans were not ‘church plans’ under the definition in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

The cases for which petitions for writs of certiorari were granted include Dignity Health v. Rollins, Saint Peter’s Healthcare System v. Kaplan and Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton.   

Advocate and Saint Peter’s first petitioned the Supreme Court questioning whether ERISA’s church plan exemption applies so long as a pension plan is maintained by an otherwise qualifying church-affiliated organization, or whether the exemption applies only if, in addition, a church initially established the plan. Appellate courts in both cases found that the health care systems’ pension plans were not church plans under ERISA because they were not established by a church

In September, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed a court’s mandate that Dignity Health get its pension plan in compliance with ERISA until a decision is made on the health care provider’s petition for writ of certiorari of its lawsuit.

In granting the petitions, the Supreme Court said the cases are consolidated and a total of one hour is allotted for oral argument.