Wagner Law Group is a nationally recognized practice in the areas of
ERISA and employee benefits, estate planning, employment, labor and
human resources and investment management.
in 1996, The Wagner Law Group is dedicated to the highest standards
of integrity, excellence and thought leadership and is considered to
be amongst the nation's premier ERISA and employee benefits law
firms. The firm has six offices across the country, providing
unparalleled legal advice to its clients, including large, small and
nonprofit corporations as well as individuals and government entities
worldwide. The Wagner Law Group's 27 attorneys, senior benefits
consultant and three paralegals combine many years of experience in
their fields of practice with a variety of backgrounds. Seven of
the attorneys are AV-rated by Martindale-Hubbell and six are
Fellows of the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel, an
invitation-only organization of nationally recognized employee
benefits lawyers. Seven of the firm's attorneys have
been named to the prestigious Super Lawyers list for 2016, which
highlights outstanding lawyers based on a rigorous selection process.
Wagner Law Group
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St. Louis, MO 63119
June 15, 2017
Health and Welfare Law
Finds ERISA Exemption Applies to Religious Hospital Plan
Supreme Court, in Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton,
has ruled that ERISA's church plan exemption applies to employee
benefit plans established by church-affiliated organizations. In
reaching this determination, the Court reversed three lower courts'
conclusion that the exemption only applies to plans initially
established by actual churches.
Law. "Church plans" are exempted from ERISA.
The law defines a church plan as a plan established and maintained
for its employees by a church, which includes an organization whose
principal purpose is the administration or funding of a plan for the
provision of retirement or welfare benefits for the employees of a
church, if such organization is controlled by or associated with a
and DOL have taken the position that an employee benefit plan
maintained by a board or committee on behalf of a religious
affiliated organization is a church plan and therefore exempt from
ERISA, even though the plan was not established by a church.
Background. Advocate Health Care Network involved
three church-affiliated hospitals that maintained employee benefit
plans for their employees. Current and former employees of the
hospitals filed a lawsuit claiming that their employer's plan failed
to meet ERISA's church plan exemption and were subject to ERISA's
requirements. The lower courts (i.e., the Third, Seventh and
Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeal) all ruled that the plans were not
exempt from ERISA because the plans were not established by churches.
Court. The Supreme Court
reversed the lower courts' rulings, finding that the church plan
exception does not require the plan to be established by an actual
church. The Court explained that ERISA's definition of a church plan
includes employee benefit plans maintained by principal-purpose
organizations, regardless of who first established them. The Court
reasoned that because Congress deemed the category of plans
"established and maintained by a church" to include plans
"maintained by" principal-purpose organizations, the plans
at issue in Advocate Health Care Network were church plans
exempt from ERISA even though they were not initially established by
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