Advocate Health Care can proceed to the appeals court level to defend itself in a church pension plan challenge, a federal judge said.
U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang in Chicago last month refused to dismiss the case against Illinois' largest health-care provider, ruling the Downers Grove-based non-profit corporation, which is affiliated with but not owned by two churches, does not qualify as a church plan. But Mr. Chang wrote on Tuesday that he will certify it as an interlocutory appeal, which means it now goes to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, which will decide whether to take the case.
Plaintiffs' co-counsel Karen Handorf, a partner with law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, said in an interview that they do not oppose the ruling because it could lead to a faster decision on the broader church plan issue. “We are confident that we're right on the statutory issue. The quicker the court of appeals gets the case, the quicker we're going to ultimately have the outcome of the litigation decided for all of these cases,” said Ms. Handorf.
Similar appeals are pending in the 3rd and 6th Circuit Courts of Appeal, and the 9th Circuit is considering a similar petition.
Defense attorney Amy L. Blaisdell, a partner with Greensfelder Hemker & Gale, declined to comment before the certification order is filed. In December, she said Mr. Chang's decision to allow the case to proceed was “troublesome” because it disregarded IRS private letter rulings allowing Advocate and other church-associated organizations to sponsor plans with the church plan exemption.
The case, filed last March by former and current Advocate defined benefit plan participants, is Stapleton et al. vs. Advocate Health Care Network and Subsidiaries et al.