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Pension Rights Center Amicus Briefs

The Pension Rights Center lends its support to important cases that could benefit plan participants by filing amicus curiae or friend-of-the-court briefs. Below are some of the amicus briefs filed by the Center.

  • The Pension Rights Center filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in support of the appellants in Smith v. OSF Healthcare System, et al. The brief argues that the ERISA church plan exemption applies only to plans established and maintained by churches or church pension boards and does not extend to plans established by other church-affiliated nonprofit organizations such as hospitals, schools and social service agencies. The brief contends that the district court erred in ruling that a pension plan's internal employee benefits committee satisfies the statutory requirement that an exempt plan be maintained by a religiously-affiliated "organization, whether a civil law corporation or otherwise." That language was intended to apply only to church pension boards, which are financial institutions established by churches that are usually incorporated but sometimes use other nonprofit structures such as trusts or unincorporated associations.
  • The Pension Rights Center, the Women’s Law Project, and twelve other organizations filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case Sveen v. Melin on February 28, 2018. The brief argues that state laws requiring insurance policies and IRAs to automatically take ex-spouses off of accounts when a couple divorces are unconstitutional. ‎The brief also contends that, while such state laws technically apply equally to men and women, women are more vulnerable in retirement because they typically have fewer resources, assets, and savings and that divorce exacerbates this vulnerability.
  • The Pension Rights Center filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court asking the Court to affirm decisions by three Courts of Appeals that had ruled that only pension plans established by churches are exempt from the requirements of the federal private pension law. On June 5, 2017, in Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton, the Supreme Court reversed the lower courts and ruled that pension plans sponsored by religiously-affiliated nonprofit organizations do not have to be "established" by churches in order to be treated as exempt "church plans" if they meet other requirements. The Court’s opinion did not address whether the plans involved in the cases meet these other requirements. For example, future litigation will be necessary to determine whether these plans are "maintained" by the type of organizations envisioned by Congress when it enacted the law.
  • The Pension Rights Center filed an amicus brief in support of a case asking the Supreme Court to reverse a Court of Appeals ruling that a plan can require participants to sue for denied benefits in a federal court chosen by the plan, despite the fact that federal law gives participants a choice of several venues in which they can sue. The case is Lorna Clause v. United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, et al. On January 17, 2017, the Supreme Court announced that it would not hear the case.
  • The Pension Rights Center filed an amicus brief supporting Verizon employees who are asking the Supreme Court to reverse a Court of Appeals ruling that individuals whose future pensions have been placed at risk by the actions of plan trustees do not have the right to file a lawsuit since they have not yet been harmed by those actions. The case is Pundt v Verizon.
  • The Pension Rights Center filed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the plaintiff (respondent) in Spokeo v. Robins. Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for November 2, 2015. (Sept. 4, 2015)
  • The Pension Rights Center filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs in Tibble v. Edison. (12/09/2014)  On May 18, 2015, the Supreme Court issued a decision in favor of the plaintiffs.
  • There are currently eleven cases now pending before the federal courts that will determine whether a pension plan established by a religiously-affiliated nonprofit organization, which is not itself a church, is a "church plan" that is exempt from the federal law protecting private sector retirement benefits (ERISA). The results of these lawsuits will determine whether hundreds of thousands of nurses, teachers, social workers, and orderlies will be able to count on getting the pensions they have earned. A church plan litigation chart can be found here. The Pension Rights Center has filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting the plaintiffs' positions that their pension plans are not 'church plans' in three of these cases.
  • Read the Center's amicus brief in Rollins v. Dignity Health filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Sept. 14, 2015. 
  • Read the Center's amicus brief in Stapleton v. Advocate Health filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on May 13. (5/13/2015)



  • The PRC supported the plaintiff in LaRue v. DeWolff, Boberg & Associates, a case now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. The case will determine whether an individual participant in a 401(k) plan can sue to recover losses that did not affect all (or many other) plan participants. Read our summary on the LaRue case. Read our brief supporting the participant's right to sue.  (8/7/2007)

  • The PRC supported the plaintiff in Milofsky v. American Airlines. The case decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled that a group of plan participants that did not represent all plan participants, could nevertheless sue for breach of fiduciary duty. The participants claimed they were harmed because their pensions were invested in overvalued company stock. Read more about the case. Read our brief supporting the group's right to sue in cases where some but not all plan participants are harmed.  (8/11/2005)

  • The PRC also submitted an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs in Hirt v. Equitable Retirement Plan, a cash balance case heard in the Second Circuit. Read our brief encouraging the Second Circuit to reject the Seventh Circuit's holding in Cooper v. IBM and instead find that cash balance plan formulas violate ERISA.  (3/29/2007)