In a much-anticipated ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 5 that retirement plans maintained by church-affiliated organizations can be exempt from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), regardless of which organization establishing the plan. While the ruling may provide some temporary relief to church-affiliated organizations, it also reveals what is likely to be the next wave of challenges in this area of the law.
Articles Discussing ERISA.
Executive Summary: The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton serves as a reminder to church-affiliated hospitals and other organizations using the ERISA church plan exemption to review the basis for their plans’ exemptions and their plan governance structures.
ERISA’s “church plan” exemption applies to pension plans maintained by church-affiliated organizations such as healthcare facilities, even if the plans were not established by a church, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled unanimously, 8-0. Advocate Health Care Network et al. v. Stapleton et al., Nos. 16-74; 16-86; 16-258 (June 5, 2017). (Justice Neil Gorsuch did not participate in the decision because the case was argued before he joined the Court.)
Today, the Supreme Court handed a long-awaited victory to religiously affiliated organizations operating pension plans under ERISA’s “church plan” exemption.
On Monday, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the consolidated “church plan” cases, Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton, St. Peter’s Healthcare System v. Kaplan, and Dignity Health v. Rollins.
Courts continue to be split over the availability of disgorgement and “accounting for profits” in ERISA class actions involving in-house investment plans. On March 3, 2017, in Brotherston v. Putnam Investments, LLC, No. 1:15-cv-13825-WGY (D. Mass. March 3, 2017), the court declined to resolve the dispute at the summary judgment stage, allowing the certified class of employees to move forward with their claim that the company should be forced to disgorge profits earned from defendant’s in-house 401k plan. Previously, the court denied defendant’s motion to dismiss this claim.
The Employee Benefits Security Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor recently published final regulations governing the ERISA claims and appeals process that will apply to all claims for disability benefits filed on or after January 1, 2018. These regulations add procedural safeguards to the claims and appeals process for disability benefits, and largely track the provisions of regulations proposed in 2015.
With the increasing threat to organizations from data breaches, HR plays a critical role in helping prevent and minimize the risk from cyber theft. This podcast will address how to identify potential cyber security problems, workforce challenges in data protection, and the use of policies, training and employee education that are designed to protect private and sensitive data.
On June 30, 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued an interim final rule that significantly increases various penalties under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). The interim rule is the result of a 2015 amendment to the Federal Civil Monetary Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 1990, which required federal agencies to issue an interim final rule by July 1, 2016, that adjusts civil penalties for inflation. The amendment further requires federal agencies to continue to adjust civil penalties for inflation on an annual basis.
ERISA practitioners should be aware of the extent to which the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins may touch on ERISA claims and defenses. In Spokeo, decided 6 to 2 last month, the Supreme Court addressed the issue of constitutional standing under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”), and our FCRA litigation practice group has commented recently on the decision. However, the Spokeo decision likely will have a unique impact in the ERISA litigation context.
When an ERISA plan provides the plan administrator with discretion to interpret the terms of the plan, the administrator’s claims and appeals decisions are generally reviewed by courts under a lenient standard of review such as “abuse of discretion.” In such cases, courts generally will not upset the plan administrator’s decision absent a clear error.
Nexsen Pruet tax and employee benefits attorney Sue Odom says retirement plan fees and expenses have been the “hot topic” for the past several years. We’ve seen increased regulation through disclosure requirements and increased litigation.
In her new video, Sue looks at litigation lessons that have come to light as a result of an increase in ERISA-related lawsuits over the past few years.
Many employers would agree that reporting is a core function of employee benefit plan administration. On top of the numerous reporting requirements for group health plans imposed by the Internal Revenue Service and other federal agencies, states laws, including Vermont’s, add a layer of state reporting obligations for plans, including self-funded group health plans.
ERISA provisions are like fruity rum drinks. A little inattention and they can sneak up on you with most unpleasant consequences.