Sunday, January 04, 2015

Illinois Health Care System Pension Plan Is Not Exempt From ERISA As A "Church Plan"

In Stapleton v. Advocate Health Care Network, (ND IL, Dec. 31, 2014), an Illinois federal district court held that the defined benefit pension plan of Illinois' largest health care provider is not exempt from ERISA as a "church plan." Advocate is  affiliated with the United Church of Christ and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  The court held that under ERISA a plan which is maintained merely by an organization associated with a church does not qualify for the exemption unless the plan was initially established by a church itself. In reaching its conclusion, the court refused to defer to a contrary opinion in an Internal Revenue Service private letter ruling issued to Advocate. Reporting on the decision, BNA Daily Report for Executives (Jan. 2) [subscription required] points out that this is the third district court to hold that this type of plan does not qualify for an exemption, while two district courts have held they are exempt.  Numerous other cases are pending.