Click here for a short summary of the issue. Click here for a detailed timeline.
See also the Pension Rights Center website.
Click here for ex-St. Peter's CEO John Matuska's 2011 letter to the IRS.
Click here for ex-St. Peter's VP of HR Bruce Pardo's 2011 letter to the IRS.
Haga clic aqui para verun resumen del problema en español.


Friday, March 24, 2017

Saint Peter's CEO Resigns as Supreme Court Hearing Nears

This past Wednesday, March 22, news emerged that Ronald Rak had resigned as Saint Peter's CEO. A terse, undated announcement in employees' email from Vincent J. Dicks, chairman of the board of governors, announced that Rak had resigned "for personal reasons" and that company president Leslie Hirsch had assumed the additional role of interim CEO. The statement did not mention whether Rak would remain at Saint Peter's in any capacity.

The news comes as the scheduled date nears for Saint Peter's hearing before the US Supreme Court in its ERISA church exemption appeal. Oral argument in the three consolidated cases is scheduled for one hour this coming Monday, March 27.

There is no indication, and we have no idea, whether the timing of the Rak announcement is any more than coincidence. We will relay any news we can about Monday's court hearing as we get it.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Oral Argument Scheduled in Supreme Court Case

Oral argument before the Supreme Court in the three consolidated ERISA "church plan" cases is now scheduled for Monday, March 27. It seems likely that the court's vacant seat will still be unfilled as of that date.

Documents in the case can be found on the page for Saint Peter's Healthcare System v. Kaplan at the SCOTUSblog website. (Documents pertaining to the Supreme Court hearing can be found on dates after December 2, 2016, when the court granted the hospitals' petition for a hearing.)

In addition to briefs filed by the petitioners (the hospitals) and respondents (retirees), numerous organizations have filed amicus briefs on both sides of the argument. Church and church health organizations have filed, declaring, among other things, that the term "church" should be construed as broadly as possible, to encompass any entity with any conceivable connection to a church. As in the prior incarnations of these cases, they declare that subjecting church-affiliated organizations to regulations that govern other pension plans will infringe on the liberty of the church to act on its religious mission. (Interestingly, the United States—specifically the Treasury Department, the IRS, the Labor Department, and PBGC—has also filed on behalf of the hospitals.)

The Pension Rights Center's brief, by Drexel law professor Norman Stein and Karen Ferguson of the PRC, is a strong corrective. It gives several examples of organizations that have taken advantage of the church exemption, at the urging of benefits consultants like KPMG and Ernst & Young, and reaped a financial windfall. Many, like Saint Peter's, operated for decades as ERISA plans, only to retroactively claim church status in order to receive refunds of their PBGC insurance premiums (the predecessor of the petitioner in the related Dignity Health case received over $1.4 million in premium refunds after operating for 19 years as an ERISA plan). In addition, the lax funding and reporting requirements allow the organization to underfund the plan and keep its health secret from its members, often until it is abandoned in a buyout or bankruptcy. They note that in all these cases, the church disavows any financial responsibility for the affiliated organization's pension plan.

As in previous briefs (in cases the retirees won at the district and appellate level), PRC relates the history of the church plan exemption and explains how both the clear language of the ERISA statute and its legislative history make clear that the exemption was never intended as a broad exemption for church-related agencies. We hope the Court agrees that the church's "good work" should not include depriving workers of their promised retirement benefits.