Starla Rollins, on behalf of herself, individually, and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Dignity Health, a California non-profit corporation; Herbert J. Vallier, an individual, Defendants-Appellants.
and Submitted February 8, 2016 San Francisco, California
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of California Thelton E. Henderson, Senior District
Judge, Presiding D.C. No. 3:13-cv-01450-TEH
S. Blatt (argued), Elisabeth S. Theodore, and William C.
Perdue; Arnold & Porter LLP, Washington, D.C.; Barry S.
Landsberg, Harvey L. Rochman, and Joanna S. McCallum; Manatt,
Phelps & Phillips, LLP, Los Angeles, California; David L.
Shapiro, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Charles M. Dyke, Nixon
Peabody LLP, San Francisco, California; for
Kilgard (argued) and Laurie Ashton, Keller Rohrback LLP,
Phoenix, Arizona; Lynn L. Sarko, Havila C. Unrein, and
Matthew M. Gerend; Keller Rohrback LLP, Seattle, Washington;
Bruce Rinaldi, Karen L. Handorf, and Michelle C. Yau; Cohen
Milstein Sellers & Toll, PLLC, Washington, D.C.; for
Dvoretzky and Emily J. Kennedy, Jones Day, Washington, D.C.,
for Amici Curiae Alliance Defending Freedom and Thomas More
Cortman, Erik Stanley, and Jordan Lorence, Washington, D.C.,
as and for Amicus Curiae Alliance Defending Freedom.
E. Chopko, Marissa Parker, and Brandon Riley, Stradley Ronon
Stevens & Young LLP, Washington, D.C.; Lisa Gilden, The
Catholic Health Association of the United States, Washington,
D.C.; James F. Sweeney and John M. Cox; Sweeney, Greene &
Roberts, LLP, Elk Grove, California; for Amici Curiae The
Catholic Health Association of the United States, and The
Alliance of Catholic Health Care.
Daniel Miller, Conner & Winters, LLP, Washington, D.C.;
Laurence A. Hansen and Hugh S. Balsam, Locke Lord LLP,
Chicago, Illinois; for Amici Curiae Guidestone Financial
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, The Pension
Boards-United Church of Christ, Inc., and The Church
Michael Reiss and John A. Goldmark, David Wright Tremaine
LLP, Seattle, Washington; Howard Shapiro, Robert Rachal, and
Stacey Cerrone; Proskauer Rose LLP, New Orleans, Louisiana;
for Amicus Curiae Providence Health & Services.
A. Sonne, Stanford Law School Religious Liberty Clinic,
Stanford, California, for Amicus Curiae Becket Fund for
Ellen Signorille, AARP Foundation Litigation, Washington,
D.C., for Amicus Curiae AARP.
L. Seidel, Madison, Wisconsin, as and for Amicus Curiae
Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Mach, Washington, D.C., as an for Amicus Curiae American
Civil Liberties Union Foundation.
Elizabeth O. Gill, San Francisco, California, as and for
Amicus Curiae ACLU Foundation of Northern California, Inc.
Richard B. Katskee and Gregory M. Lipper, Washington, D.C.,
as and for Amicus Curiae Americans United for Separation of
Church and State.
Dean, Law Office of Ronald Dean, Pacific Palisades,
California; Karen W. Ferguson, Pension Rights Center,
Washington, D.C.; Norman P. Stein, Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania; for Amicus Curiae Pension Rights Center.
Before: A. Wallace Tashima and William A. Fletcher, Circuit
Judges and Robert W. Gettleman, [*] Senior District Judge.
Retirement Income Security Act
the district court's partial summary judgment in favor of
the plaintiff, the panel held that Dignity Health's
pension plan was subject to the requirements of the Employee
Retirement Income Security Act and did not qualify for
ERISA's church-plan exemption.
with other circuits, the panel held that a church plan must
be established by a church or by a convention or association
of churches and must be maintained either by a church or by a
church-controlled or church-affiliated organization whose
principal purpose or function is to provide benefits to
church employees. The panel remanded the case to the district
court for further proceedings.
FLETCHER, Circuit Judge:
Starla Rollins filed this putative class action against her
former employer, Defendant-Appellant Dignity Health, its
Chief Human Resources Officer, unnamed members of its
Retirement Subcommittee, and other unnamed fiduciaries
(collectively "Dignity Health"), alleging that
Dignity Health has not maintained its pension plan in
compliance with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act
of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et
seq. Dignity Health concedes it has not complied with
ERISA, but contends its plan qualifies for ERISA's
church-plan exemption. See id. §§
1002(33), 1003(b)(2). The district court held that a pension
plan must have been established by a church, or by a
convention or association of churches, to qualify as a church
plan. Because the district court found that Dignity
Health's pension plan was not established by a church, or
by a convention or association of churches, the court awarded
partial summary judgment to Rollins, ruling that Dignity
Health's pension plan must comply with ERISA. We accepted
jurisdiction in this interlocutory appeal to address whether
the district court was correct to hold that a church plan
must be established by a church or by a convention or
association of churches. We affirm the district court's
answer to that question and remand for further proceedings.
this appeal comes to us from the district court's award
of summary judgment to Rollins, we relate the facts in the
light most favorable to Dignity Health. See Nolan v.
Heald Coll., 551 F.3d 1148, 1150 (9th Cir. 2009). In the
early 1980s, the Sisters of Mercy Congregations in Auburn,
California and Burlingame, California (the "Sponsoring
Congregations") each established nonprofit hospital
systems. In 1986, the Sponsoring Congregations merged the two
systems to form Catholic Healthcare West ("CHW").
Employees in the CHW system received pension benefits through
seven plans, separately maintained either by a Sponsoring
Congregation, by an individual hospital, or by CHW. On
January 1, 1989, the Sponsoring Congregations, the hospitals,
and CHW merged these plans into a single pension plan (the
"Plan"). On July 20, 1992, CHW's board of
directors adopted a retroactive resolution to treat the Plan
as a church plan. CHW's name was later changed to
"Dignity Health" as a result of corporate
1986 to 2012, Plaintiff Starla Rollins worked as a billing
coordinator for San Bernardino Community Hospital, which
became affiliated with CHW and adopted the Plan in August
1998. On November 20, 1998, Rollins was sent a summary plan
description, notifying her that CHW considers the Plan to be
a church plan and therefore exempt from ERISA. Rollins became
a participant in the Plan on January 1, 1999. She will be
eligible for pension benefits from the Plan when she reaches
filed this putative class action against Dignity Health,
alleging that Dignity Health has violated numerous ERISA
requirements. The complaint alleges, first, that the Plan is
not a church plan and, second, that ERISA's church-plan
exemption is unconstitutional. Rollins seeks declaratory
relief, money damages, statutory penalties, injunctive
relief, and attorney's fees.
Health concedes that the Plan does not comply with ERISA, but
contends that the Plan need not do so because it qualifies
for the church-plan exemption under 29 U.S.C. §
1002(33)(C)(i) (for convenience, "subparagraph
(C)(i)"). Dignity Health contends that under
subparagraph (C)(i) a church plan need not have been
established by a church or by a convention or association of
churches (for convenience, "church") if it is
maintained by a church-controlled or church-affiliated
organization whose principal purpose or function is to
provide benefits to church employees (for convenience,
district court granted partial summary judgment against
Dignity Health, holding that, to qualify for the church-plan
exemption under subparagraph (C)(i), a plan must be
established by a church and maintained either by a
church or by a principal-purpose organization. See
Rollins v. Dignity Health, 59 F.Supp.3d 965 (N.D. Cal.
2014); see Rollins v. Dignity Health, 19 F.Supp.3d