Advisory Opinion

February 28, 2000

Mr. Robert A. Johnson
Buchanan Ingersoll, P.C.
One Oxford Centre
301 Grant Street, 20th Floor
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15219-1410


Dear Mr. Johnson:

This responds to your correspondence on behalf of Laroche College (the College), Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, an institution of higher learning of the Congregation of the Sisters of Divine Providence, which is a religious order of women in the Roman Catholic Church. You requested an advisory opinion concerning whether certain employee benefit arrangements of the College are "church plans" within the meaning of § 3(33) of Title I of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA or Act). Specifically, you describe benefit arrangements known as the Laroche College Retirement Plan and the Laroche College Health and Welfare Plan (collectively, the Plans). You represent that, if the Plans are not "church plans," they would be employee benefit plans within the meaning of ERISA § 3(3) subject to Title I of the Act.

You submitted to the Department of Labor (the Department) documentation about the Plans, including a private letter ruling recently issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to the College concerning the status of the Plans under § 414(e) of the Internal Revenue Code (the Code). In that private letter ruling the IRS concluded, based on representations provided by the College, that the Plans constituted "church plans" within the meaning of § 414(e). As you know, Code § 414(e) defines the term church plan using language that is virtually identical to ERISA § 3(33).

We conclude that, to the extent that the College and each of the Plans are currently operated in the same manner as was described to the IRS for purposes of obtaining a private letter ruling, those Plans meet the church plan definition in § 3(33) of Title I of ERISA. Accordingly, in the Department's view, ERISA § 4(b)(2) excludes the Plans from coverage under Title I of ERISA, provided that, as you represent, none of the Plans, if entitled to do so, has made any election pursuant to Code § 410(d). In light of the view expressed above regarding the status of the Plans as "church plans" under Title I of ERISA, it is not necessary for us to determine whether the Plans are employee benefit plans with the meaning of ERISA § 3(3).

This letter constitutes an advisory opinion under ERISA Procedure 76-1. Accordingly, it is issued subject to the provisions of that procedure, including section 10 thereof relating to the effect of advisory opinions.


John J. Canary
Chief, Division of Coverage, Reporting & Disclosure
Office of Regulations and Interpretations