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.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

More Supreme Court News

More news items have been published regarding the recent agreement by the U.S. Supreme Court to hear cases involving three church-affiliated hospital pension plans, including Saint Peter's. In all three cases, the hospitals, claiming the right to shed federal ERISA worker protections under an exemption for churches, had lost in federal appeals court.

  • Joellen Leavelle of Pension Rights Center has published an excellent overview which should be required reading. (We admit, we rushed to publish the update in our previous post; Ms. Leavelle's is far superior.)
  • The always reliable Hazel Bradford at Pensions & Investments has written a balanced, in-depth report.
  • Karin Price Mueller of the Star-Ledger/ has an update to her Bamboozled item we featured in a previous blog post. Ms. Mueller again touches on another New Jersey hospital, St. James of Newark, whose corporate owners used the church exemption to stiff their retirees and bankrupt their pension plan.
We found other accounts, to which we decline to link here. Florida Baptist Witness reports that "religious freedom advocates" say the court's impending decision would determine "if Protestant and Catholic hospitals qualify as faith-based ministries." The president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is reported as saying, "I hope the Supreme Court rules in favor of these hospitals, their employees, and their communities, and rejects this attempt to attack once again religious freedom and human compassion." The reporter doesn't question how compelling a hospital to keep its promises to its employees is somehow anti-employee or an attack on compassion, or how an ethics commission president can display such a brazen disregard for ethics. Breitbart News, the far-right website until recently helmed by Donald Trump's prospective White House strategist Stephen Bannon, is even worse. By their telling, the hospitals in these cases "are all faith-based healthcare providers. They are nonprofit organizations which provide health care to the poor and needy, and they do it as their faith-based ministry to the world." The bad guys? "Trial lawyers."

We hear that the court will hear oral argument in the consolidated group of cases in March 2017, when the court will in all likelihood still have only eight members.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Supreme Court Will Hear Hospitals' Appeals

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to hear the appeals of three church-affiliated hospital systems, including Saint Peter's Healthcare System. All three hospital systems' pension plans were declared ineligible by federal appeals courts for the ERISA exemption for churches. Besides Saint Peter's, the hospital systems are Dignity Health of California, which operates Catholic hospitals, and Advocate Health System of Illinois, affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and United Church of Christ. The cases have been consolidated, so the Court will hear arguments for all three cases together.

It seems strange that the Court would hear these cases when there has been no disagreement at the appellate level that the church exemption applies only to plans established by churches, according to a clear reading of the statute. The Court apparently accepted the argument of the hospitals' lawyers that decisions by the Department of Labor and the IRS which interpreted the statute differently should be given weight similar to the actual wording of the statute.

We will have more soon, but for now, here are three articles on this latest development from The National Law Journal, ABA Journal, and Reuters.