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The Wagner Law Group

The 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.



Established 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.




Contact Info

The Wagner Law Group


  Integrity | Excellence



Tel: (617) 357-5200 

Fax: (617) 357-5250 

99 Summer Street 

13th Floor

Boston, MA 02110


Washington, D.C.

Tel: (202) 969-2800

  Fax: (202) 969-2568

800 Connecticut Ave., N.W.

Suite 810

Washington, D.C. 20006


Palm Beach Gardens 

Tel: (561) 293-3590
Fax: (561) 293-3591
7108 Fairway Drive
Suite 125
Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33418



Tel: (813) 603-2959

Fax: (813) 603-2961

101 East Kennedy Boulevard

Suite 2140
Tampa, FL  33602 


San Francisco

Tel: (415) 625-0002

Fax: (415) 358-8300

300 Montgomery Street

Suite 600

San Francisco, CA 94104


St. Louis

Tel: (314) 236-0065

Fax: (314) 236-5743
25 W. Moody Avenue
St. Louis, MO  63119







June 15, 2017


 Health and Welfare Law Alert




 Supreme Court Finds ERISA Exemption Applies to Religious Hospital Plan




The 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 church.


The IRS 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.


Supreme 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 churches.


The Supreme Court's opinion in Advocate Health Care Network is accessible at: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/16pdf/16-74_5i36.pdf





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