Advocate Health Care System v. Stapleton

Becket Role:
Amicus
Case Start Date:
January 1, 2013
Current Court:
U.S. Supreme Court
Original Court:
U.S. District Courts for the Eastern District of Michigan, Northern District of California, Northern District of Illinois
Supreme Court Status:
Argued

Case Summary

Advocate Healthcare Network v. Stapleton
St. Peter’s Healthcare v. Kaplan
Dignity Health v. Rollins

Status: U.S. Supreme Court heard the case in March 2017, decision expected by summer

Faith-based hospitals draw inspiration from their religious heritage. Driven by their faith to provide compassionate care, these hospitals treat people of all faiths and backgrounds, and their wellness services go beyond just providing medical care. For example, Saint Peter’s Family Health Center also serves juvenile victims of abuse, economically disadvantaged families and mentally disabled or violence-prone youth. And Catholic Health Initiatives provides millions annually to benefit programs and services for the poor, such as free clinics.

These faith-driven hospitals also provide generous benefits to their employees, including pensions through the hospitals’ comprehensive church pension plans. Yet their beliefs and the charitable work they do are being threatened for no reason: a group of plaintiffs’ lawyers are targeting these hospitals for a payoff, dragging them to court and demanding that they pay their attorney fees. Their argument? That hospital ministries are not religious enough to have a tax-exempt church pension plan under The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). However, it is not the job of lawyers to decide that hospitals can’t be part of a church, and the IRS has rightly viewed these ministries as part of a larger church for over 30 years.

The legal campaign against faith-based hospitals began in 2013. In 2016 three of the cases were appealed to the Supreme Court, while almost a hundred more are waiting in lower courts across the country. On August 15, 2016, Becket filed a friend-of-the-court brief at the Supreme Court supporting the hospitals and their right to freely exercise their religious-based mission to provide compassionate and excellent healthcare according to their faith. In December 2016, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the cases in the spring of 2017.

The Supreme Court heard oral argument on March 27, 2017. The court is expected to issue a decision in the case in late spring or early summer.

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