Employee Benefits News examines legal developments that impact the employee benefits and executive compensation employers provide, including federal and state legislation, rules from federal...
April 5 — The recent influx of lawsuits challenging hospitals' pension funding levels doesn't appear to be slowing down, with the latest one accusing SSM Health Care Corp. of a $723 million pension shortfall in violation of ERISA.
The lawsuit is the third class action filed in as many weeks that takes aim at a religious health-care company's decision to treat its pension plan as a church plan exempt from federal funding requirements. More than a dozen similar lawsuits have been filed over the past three years, with two federal appellate courts ruling against the hospitals.
According to the instant complaint, filed April 4 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, SSM's failure to comply with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act's pension funding and disclosure rules is jeopardizing the retirement savings of thousands of workers.
The lawsuit against SSM follows a nationwide litigation effort dating to 2013 and led by plaintiffs' firms Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC and Keller Rohrback LLP. After a lull in new filings in 2015, the wave of litigation picked up steam last month with a pair of complaints against two Cincinnati hospitals affiliated with the Catholic Church .
The district judges hearing such challenges have been evenly split, issuing decisions in favor of Ascension Health, Catholic Health Initiatives and Trinity Health Corp. Other rulings have gone against Saint Peter's Healthcare System, Advocate Health Care Network and Dignity Health.
Despite disagreement among district judges, the hospitals lost both cases that went before federal appellate courts. In 2015, the Third Circuit barred Saint Peter's from using ERISA's church plan exemption . The Seventh Circuit followed suit in March 2016 in a case against Advocate .
In February, the Ninth Circuit heard arguments in a similar case against Dignity Health and is expected to issue the next appellate decision on this topic. The Tenth Circuit recently agreed to hear a similar appeal, and cases are pending in district courts within the Second, Sixth and Eleventh circuits.
The complaint against St. Louis-based SSM is noteworthy for bringing the Eighth Circuit into the fray. That court is uniquely positioned among the circuits, because the only significant decision interpreting ERISA's church plan exemption prior to this litigation effort was issued by a district judge within the Eighth Circuit in 2011 (Thorkelson v. Publ'g House of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Am., 764 F. Supp. 2d 1119, 50 EBC 2154 (D. Minn. 2011) ).
Dysart Taylor Cotter McMonigle & Montemore PC, Kessler Topaz Meltzer & Check LLP and Izard Nobel LLP filed the lawsuit against SSM.
SSM employs more than 31,000 employees and operates 20 hospitals and 62 outpatient care sites across Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.
SSM didn't immediately respond to Bloomberg BNA's inquiry about the lawsuit.
To contact the reporter on this story: Jacklyn Wille in Washington at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at firstname.lastname@example.org
Text of the complaint is at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/Beiermann_et_al_v_SSM_Health_Care_Corporation_et_al_Docket_No_416/1.
All Bloomberg BNA treatises are available on standing order, which ensures you will always receive the most current edition of the book or supplement of the title you have ordered from Bloomberg BNA’s book division. As soon as a new supplement or edition is published (usually annually) for a title you’ve previously purchased and requested to be placed on standing order, we’ll ship it to you to review for 30 days without any obligation. During this period, you can either (a) honor the invoice and receive a 5% discount (in addition to any other discounts you may qualify for) off the then-current price of the update, plus shipping and handling or (b) return the book(s), in which case, your invoice will be cancelled upon receipt of the book(s). Call us for a prepaid UPS label for your return. It’s as simple and easy as that. Most importantly, standing orders mean you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you’re relying on. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.960.1220 or by sending an email to email@example.com.
Put me on standing order at a 5% discount off list price of all future updates, in addition to any other discounts I may quality for. (Returnable within 30 days.)
Notify me when updates are available (No standing order will be created).
This Bloomberg BNA report is available on standing order, which ensures you will all receive the latest edition. This report is updated annually and we will send you the latest edition once it has been published. By signing up for standing order you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you need. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.372.1033, option 5, or by sending us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put me on standing order
Notify me when new releases are available (no standing order will be created)