More HH Legal Updates

Houston Harbaugh is a full service law firm headquartered in Pittsburgh and serving Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. This collection of blogs further highlights the firms capabilities in several practice areas.

“Church Plan” Need Not Have Been Established By A Church

Church-affiliated organizations have been anxiously awaiting a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on the requirements for “church plan” status. On June 5, 2017, the Court issued its decision, holding that a plan maintained by an organization that is affiliated with a church can, in fact, meet the definition of a “church plan,” without regard to the nature of the entity that originally established the plan.

By way of background, the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) generally requires employers to adhere to a myriad of rules designed to protect the rights of participants in employee benefit plans maintained by the employers. These rules include minimum participation and vesting requirements, pension funding standards (generally applicable to defined benefit pension plans), and reporting and disclosure requirements (including the filing of annual Form 5500 returns).

Church plans have been exempt from ERISA’s requirements since its inception. In recent years, however, some stakeholders (in particular, employees of large church-affiliated hospitals) seeking the protections of ERISA had begun to question whether their pension plans truly fell within the definition of “church plan,” as their employers had long maintained. After lower courts agreed with the employees in several cases, the Supreme Court stepped in to ultimately decide the question.

In ruling in favor of the employers, the Court observed that although ERISA originally defined a “church plan” as a “plan established and maintained for its employees by a church,” a 1980 amendment to the statute expanded the term to include a “plan maintained by an organization, the principal purpose of which is the administration or funding of such plan for the employees of a church, if such organization is controlled by or associated with a church.” Thus, a plan maintained by such a “principal-purpose organization” qualifies as a church plan, regardless of who established the plan.

The Supreme Court decision is good news not just for church-affiliated hospitals, but for all church-affiliated organizations who would otherwise be faced with the daunting if not impossible task of bringing their benefit plans into compliance with ERISA requirements. For those organizations, “status quo” is the result for which they were praying (or at least hoping)!

About Us

Trusted and Cost-Effective Business Law, Business Litigation and Estate Planning Attorneys and Counselors; Building Client Confidence™ with Businesses and Individuals Since 1975

Our firm offers individualized solutions and the highest quality, client-driven and cost effective legal services. Houston Harbaugh, P.C., is a well-known law firm in Pittsburgh, serving Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. Our diverse practice areas include Business Law, Business Litigation, Estate and Succession Planning, Intellectual Property Litigation and Prosecution, Employment and Labor, Employee Benefits, Oil and Gas, Landowner and Property Dispute Counseling and Litigation, Health Care, Environmental, Real Estate, Construction, Complex Tort and Catastrophic Injury Litigation, Insurance coverage and Bad Faith Law, Mediation, Arbitration and Special Master appointment work. As one of the 20 largest law firms in Pittsburgh, our lawyers serve clients on a regional and national basis.

We regularly represent regional, national and international insurance carriers in defense, insurance coverage, unfair trade practices and bad faith matters, and we issue opinions letters and coverage analyses for insurers. We defend designers, manufacturers and sellers in pharmaceutical, products and medical products liability matters and we litigate and try cases involving catastrophic injuries, industrial accidents, toxic torts, professional, engineering and architectural negligence, and agent and broker claims and lawsuits.

Why Houston Harbaugh, P.C.? The Answer Is Clear.

We are accomplished litigators with a strong track record of success in the courtroom and in jury trials. We design and manage business transactions, succession planning, banking and regulatory issues. Our firm has regularly been featured in the U.S. News “Best Lawyers”® rankings of Pittsburgh’s “Best Law Firms.” Our attorneys are also regularly nominated as “Best Lawyers” in this publication. In addition, many of our attorneys are consistently recognized in the annual national Super Lawyers peer review rankings, and our corporate practice has been selected as the winner of The Legal Intelligencer’s Best Law Firm Corporate Practices contest for the Midsize Firm category. Our property and landowner counseling and litigation practice in Oil and Gas and Real Estate is ranked at the top on a regional basis. We help clients to apply for, prosecute, audit, manage and protect intellectual property rights in patent, trademark, copyright and trade secrets. We are admitted to the USPTO and have experience in the TTAB. Some of our firm’s shareholders are Adjunct Professors of Law at the Duquesne University School of Law in litigation and intellectual property courses.

Helping You Achieve Your Goals For Over 40 Years

Since our inception as a health care practice in 1975, our attorneys have represented clients in state and federal courts in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and throughout the nation. We have grown into a multi-disciplinary practice with the ability to handle complex business transactional and litigation matters. We counsel on estate and succession planning and on trust and guardianship matters. We have a strong employment and labor practice. We represent clients in trade secret counseling and federal Defend Trade Secret Act (DTSA) counseling and litigation. Our DTSALaw® practice group is well versed in this federal body of trade secret law. We counsel, draft, litigate and defend claims involving employment non-compete, restrictive covenants, non-disclosure agreements and breach of contract matters. We service clients in the collection of debts and in bankruptcy creditor matters. Houston Harbaugh litigates in Orphans and Probate courts for matters involving estates and trusts. We also provide mediation and arbitration services to parties involved in litigation and our lawyers are currently serving as court appointed special masters in the Federal Courts.

Contact us and Learn How We Can Help You and Your Business

For more information on how we can help you, call our Pittsburgh office at 412-281-5060. You can also reach us online.

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