Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Amici Tell SCOTUS of Importance of ERISA Church Plan Cases

On Aug. 12 and 15 several amicus briefs were filed by religious advocacy groups with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting petitions for certiorari in two cases involving the question of whether ERISA's "church plan" exemption applies to retirement plans of religiously-affiliated healthcare organizations where the plans were not initially established by a church. If the exemption does not apply, the plans will be underfunded by some $3.5 billion.  The cases are Saint Peter’s Healthcare System v. Kaplan (see prior posting) and Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton (see prior posting).  BNA Daily Report for Executives (Aug. 18) [subscription required] describes arguments put forward by amici:
Several of the briefs emphasize the huge universe of workers that could be affected by a Supreme Court decision on this topic. According to the Thomas More Society's brief, this issue affects the retirement benefits of “millions of employees across the country who work for nonprofit religious organizations,” including the 750,000 people who work for Catholic hospitals alone.
Further, the groups argue that employees at other organizations, including schools, nursing homes and day care centers, could be affected by a high court ruling. That is because many of these organizations rely on the same statutory exemption in administering their pension plans.
First Amendment rights are a recurring theme in several briefs, which argue that the appellate court decisions against hospital pension plans infringe on religious liberty.... 
Taking a different approach, the Becket Fund also argues that forcing faith-connected hospitals to comply with federal pension rules could threaten their ability to “invest retirement funds morally” and use pension assets to “promote social justice” and “avoid supporting evils.”
In an unexpected twist, the Church Alliance predicts that denying religious exemptions to hospital pension plans could result in “cascading securities law violations” by forcing the plans into the purview of the Investment Company Act of 1940.
Links to all the amicus briefs are available from the SCOTUSblog case pages (case page for Advocate Health Care; case page for Saint Peter’s Healthcare).