The Supreme Court is asking for the opinion of the U.S. solicitor general on whether it should consider a petition from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Juan, Puerto Rico, to decide if courts can override a religious organization's legal structure and force affiliates to face joint and several pension liability as a single entity.
The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy protection in August after receiving a $4.7 million judgment in a case brought by pension plan participants against the Superintendence of Catholic Schools of the Archdioceses of San Juan.
After the Puerto Rico Supreme Court authorized immediate seizure of church assets, the archdiocese tried but failed to seek bankruptcy protection.
Several groups of past and current participants in the Catholic teachers' pension plan sued the archdiocese in 2016. In addition to the lawsuit here that was filed in Puerto Rico court, the participants have sued the archdiocese in U.S. District Court in San Juan for terminating the plan and then claiming exemption from ERISA as a church plan.
Asking for the solicitor general's opinion is often considered a strong indicator that the court will accept the case when it reconvenes in the fall.
In other orders issued Monday, the Supreme Court declined to take two cases brought by pension fund shareholders.
Toshiba Corp. vs. Automotive Industries Pension Trust Fund involved purchasers of Toshiba Corp. American depository receipts that were not sponsored by the company but issued by financial institutions and can trade on exchanges
The company sought to revisit a decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco allowing plaintiffs led by the $1.2 billion Automotive Industries Pension Trust Fund and the $2.9 billion New England Teamsters & Trucking Industry Pension Fund to pursue the case against a foreign company. A 2010 Supreme Court decision limits lawsuits against companies involving foreign-bought securities in U.S. courts.
"On its face this is good news for investors but, as always, it is challenging to interpret the full significance of a cert denial," said Daniel S. Sommers, partner with the Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC law firm in Washington, in an email.
The Supreme Court also denied a petition to revisit the issue of when stock loss causation lawsuits can be brought. Petitioner First Solar Inc., a large producer of solar panels whose stock is traded on the Nasdaq exchange, was sued by investors led by the £12 billion ($15.23 billion) Mineworkers' Pension Scheme and £9.1 billion British Coal Staff Superannuation Scheme. The investors' lawsuit was upheld by lower courts, which said the schemes had made the necessary factual showing to pursue a trial.