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.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Class Action Lawsuit Progress

In the Documents section at right are links to documents from the class action lawsuit Kaplan vs. Saint Peter's Healthcare System: the original complaint, Saint Peter's motion to dismiss, and the plaintiffs' memorandum in opposition to the motion. Note that the motion and the memorandum are Zip bundles containing multiple PDF files. Note also that in the opposition bundle, the amended versions of Exhibits C and D in the separate files supersede the versions in the file "Memorandum in Opposition." (We tried stripping out the old versions, but this would have resulted in a much larger download.)

The plaintiff's opposition is on multiple fronts which we will not attempt to summarize here (perhaps in a future post). Most interesting, however, is the argument that Saint Peter's claim that the Bishop of Metuchen exercises complete control over SPHS, made under penalty of perjury in accompanying affidavits by SPHS personnel, appears to contradict statements made by Saint Peter's to the IRS (also under penalty of perjury) and Saint Peter's own bylaws. We will convey any new developments about the lawsuit as we get them.

In other news, last week Saint Peter's VP of HR Susan Ballestero sent a letter to plan members regarding the Pension Rights Center's recent memorandum on the IRS ruling, withholding comment citing the active litigation. She also states that Saint Peter's will comply with whatever ruling results from the lawsuit.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

New AP Article on Church Plans

The Associated Press today released a great story by Adam Geller on how church-affiliated hospitals are saving money by removing the federal pension safety net. It's been published on the websites of many media outlets including NPR and the Washington Post; it should appear in Sunday's newspapers. The story discusses how many hospitals, including Saint Peter's, have embraced "church plan" status at the urging of their retirement consultants. This strategy enhances the hospitals' bottom line in the near term, and makes it much easier for them to break their financial commitments later, e.g., if the hospital fails or is sold. As the story explains, this is how the strategy has unfolded in the past at many organizations, and is now unfolding at St. Mary's Hospital in Passaic, which is trying to dump their pension as part of a pending sale.

Saint Peter's has been claiming all along that the hospital is controlled by the Diocese of Metuchen, and the IRS cites that claim in their recent ruling supporting Saint Peter's church plan status. We surmise that the same has been true at St. Mary's, and note with irony the following passage in the AP story:
St. Mary's would not answer questions about the hospital's management of its pensions or details of the pending acquisition. The Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth, the Convent Station, N.J., order that sponsors the hospital, referred all questions to St. Mary's.
The article indirectly quotes Saint Peter's attorney:
A lawyer for the hospital, Jeffrey Greenbaum, said St. Peter's had the right to make the change because of its association with the Catholic Church, and it is not breaking its promises to workers and retirees.
If this story shows anything, it is that such claims are so much hot air. That the hospital says it is not breaking its promises today, and intends to keep them in the future, does not mean it won't welsh on them later if things go south. A church plan ruling means the hospital is free to fund – or not fund – the plan as they see fit, can save the money it would have spent on insuring the plan, and can keep the details of its operation a secret. The freedom to abandon pension commitments, along with the immediate cost savings, is the reason for pursuing a church plan ruling.

In other news, the plaintiffs in the recent class action suit have responded to Saint Peter's motion to dismiss the suit. We'll post in more detail about this soon.