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Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton

Justia Summary

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) obligates private employers offering pension plans to adhere to rules designed to ensure plan solvency and protect plan participants, 29 U.S.C. 1003(b)(2). ERISA exempts “A plan established and maintained for its employees . . . by a church . . . [which] includes a plan maintained by an organization . . . the principal purpose . . . of which is the administration or funding of [such] plan . . . for the employees of a church . . . , if such organization is controlled by or associated with a church,” section 1002(33)(C)(i). Defendants, church-affiliated nonprofits that run hospitals, offer their employees defined-benefit pension plans, which were established by the hospitals themselves, and are managed by internal employee-benefits committees. Current and former employees filed class actions alleging that the hospitals’ plans did not fall within ERISA’s "church plan" exemption because they were not established by a church. The lower courts agreed with the employees. The Supreme Court reversed. A plan maintained by a principal-purpose organization qualifies as a “church plan,” regardless of who established it. In amending ERISA, Congress deemed the category of plans “established and maintained by a church” to “include” plans “maintained by” principal-purpose organizations.

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