A U.S. District Court judge in Kentucky on Thursday dismissed a challenge to St. Elizabeth Medical Center's church-plan exemption from ERISA.
U.S. District Judge David L. Bunning in Covington granted the defendants' motion for partial summary judgment, ruling that "there is no question that St. Elizabeth is associated with the Catholic Church," and therefore exempt from ERISA.
Mr. Bunning also dismissed the plaintiffs' claims that hospital officials violated state laws on fiduciary duty and contractual breaches, but did so without prejudice, saying that the plaintiffs could refile those claims in state court.
The case began in 2016 after participants in the St. Elizabeth Medical Center Employees' Pension Plan were informed by plan officials that it was 59% funded, as of Dec. 31, 2015.
Church-affiliated plans are exempt from ERISA regulations on reporting, funding and disclosure to participants.
The case was stayed while the Supreme Court considered other church plan exemption challenges. Three such sponsors — Dignity Health, Advocate Health Care and Saint Peter's Healthcare System — welcomed a unanimous Supreme Court decision in June 2017 that pension plans did not have to be established by a church to be exempt from ERISA, as long as they are controlled by or associated with one.
The St. Elizabeth plaintiffs then filed an amended complaint, claiming violations of ERISA and Kentucky state law.
Calls to St. Elizabeth and plaintiffs' attorneys were not immediately returned.