Supreme Court rules for church-affiliated hospital in pension case

Supreme Court rules for church-affiliated hospital in pension case

The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday in Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton [SCOTUSblog materials] that a church-affiliated hospital’s pension fund is exempt from the federal pension law. The court held that under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) [materials], a defined-benefit pension plan maintained by a church-affiliated organization qualifies as a “church plan,” even though it was established by the healthcare facility, not the church. Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the court:

ERISA provides (1) that a “church plan” means a “plan established and maintained … by a church” and (2) that a “plan established and maintained … by a church is to “include[] a plan maintained by” a principal-purpose organization. Under the best reading of the statute, a plan maintained by a principal-purpose organization therefore qualifies as a “church plan,” regardless of who established it.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor filed a concurring opinion.

The case was consolidated with Saint Peter’s Healthcare System v. Kaplan and Dignity Health v. Rollins [dockets]. The court heard arguments [JURIST report] in March after granting certiorari in December.