The Retail Industry Leaders Association won a victory last week when a federal district court ruled that Maryland's Fair Share Health Care Fund Act was preempted by ERISA. Access the opinion here: Retail Industry Leaders Association v. James D. Fielder,…
The Retail Industry Leaders Association won a victory last week when a federal district court ruled that Maryland’s Fair Share Health Care Fund Act was preempted by ERISA. Access the opinion here: Retail Industry Leaders Association v. James D. Fielder, Jr., Maryland Secretary of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation.
Notable quotes from the opinion written by Federal District Judge J. Frederick Motz:
1. “The fact that two local jurisdictions, New York City and Suffolk County, have enacted “fair share” legislation of their own highlights the uniformity problem. Unless such legislation is deemed to be preempted, nationwide employers potentially will face not only fifty different requirements imposed by the States, but also a virtually limitless number of requirements that local subdivisions in each State may enact.” (From footnote 13).
2. “My finding that the Act is preempted is in accordance with long established Supreme Court law that state laws which impose employee health or welfare mandates on employers are invalid under ERISA. See, e.g., Greater Washington Bd. of Trade, 506 U.S. 125; Shaw, 463 U.S. 85. The Secretary contends, however, that these authorities are not controlling because a trilogy of cases, Travelers, 514 U.S. 645, Dillingham, 519 U.S. 316, and DeBuono v. NYSA-ILA Medical and Clinical Services Fund, 520 U.S. 806 (1997), have “changed the landscape of ERISA preemption analysis.” The short answer to this contention, of course, is that this court has no authority to disregard Supreme Court precedent on the basis of the prediction that the Court would overrule its decisions. . . Moreover, the Secretary over-reads the cases upon which he relies.”
3. “Although, as the Fourth Circuit noted in Coyne & Delany Co. v. Selman, 98 F.3d 1457, 1466-67, 1468 (4th Cir. 1996), the Supreme Court in Travelers “narrow[ed]” its “interpretation of the scope of ERISA preemption” and “adopted a pragmatic approach” to determining whether a state law “relate[s] to” an employee benefit plan, nothing in Travelers or its progeny suggests that the Court would now uphold a state statute or local ordinance mandating that an employer provide a certain type or monetary level of welfare benefits in an ERISA plan.”
4. “Of course, I am expressing no opinion on whether legislative approaches taken by other States to the problems of health care delivery and its attendant costs would be preempted by ERISA. For example, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has recently enacted legislation that addresses health care issues comprehensively and in a manner that arguably has only incidental effects upon ERISA plans. In light of what is generally perceived as a national health care crisis, it would seem that to the extent ERISA allows, it is strongly in the public interest to permit states to perform their traditional role of serving as laboratories for experiment in controlling the costs and increasing the quality of health care for all citizens.” (From footnote 15)
4. “The Secretary’s third argument is that the Act by its terms does not require an employer to spend a certain amount on health care costs but rather simply provides that if the employer does not do so, it shall pay to the Secretary an amount equal to the difference between its actual health care expenditures and the required amount. Again, while this is theoretically true, it does not even approximate reality. If employers are faced with the choice of paying a sum of money to the State or offering an equal sum of money to their employees in the form of health care, no rational employer would choose to pay the State. While repeatedly emphasizing that employers have a “choice,” the Secretary does not offer a single reason why an employer would pay the State rather than generate good will with its work force by increasing its employees’ benefits. The “choice” here is a Hobson’s choice. See Travelers, 514 U.S. at 664 (noting that a Hobson’s choice “would be treated as imposing a substantive mandate”).”
5. “Second, the Secretary contends that an employee could comply with the Act by spending an amount equal to the requisite percentage of its payroll on first aid facilities. This contention is based upon 29 C.F.R. §2510.3-1(c)(2), which excepts from the definition of ERISA plans “[t]he maintenance on the premises of an employer of facilities for the treatment of minor injuries or illness or rendering first aid in case of accidents occurring during working hours.” While the Secretary’s argument may evidence the active imagination of his lawyers, it is utterly out of line with reality.”
Previous posts on the legislation are here and here. See also Professor Paul Secunda’s thoughtful post on the opinion here.
UPDATE: Excerpt from an article from Law.com–“Federal Judge Overturns Wal-Mart Health Care Spending Law“:
Kevin Enright, a spokesman for the Maryland attorney general’s office, said the state would appeal to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.
Enright said the state disagreed with Motz on several counts, particularly in finding that the law is pre-empted by ERISA.
“Supreme Court precedent makes it clear that this law does not impermissibly impact health benefit plans,” Enright said. “Employers may choose to pay the tax or avoid paying the tax in several ways.”
KaiserNetwork.org has more reaction to the opinion here.