District of Columbia v. Greater Washington Bd. of Trade

PETITIONER: District of Columbia et al.
RESPONDENT: Greater Washington Bd. of Trade
LOCATION: White House

DOCKET NO.: 91-1326
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 506 US 125 (1992)
ARGUED: Nov 03, 1992
DECIDED: Dec 14, 1992

Donna M. Murasky - on behalf of the Petitioners
Lawrence P. Postol - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for District of Columbia v. Greater Washington Bd. of Trade

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 03, 1992 in District of Columbia v. Greater Washington Bd. of Trade

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument first this morning in Number 91-1326, the District of Columbia v. The Greater Washington Board of Trade.

Ms. Murasky.

Donna M. Murasky:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:

When State Workers Compensation laws were enacted beginning some 80 years ago, an active employee's compensation consisted principally if not exclusively of wages for hours worked.

Times have changed.

In recent years, an increasingly important component of an employee's compensation is comprised of benefits in lieu of higher wages, including health insurance benefits for employees and their families.

In 1974, Congress recognized the importance of nonwage benefits when it enacted the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

In ERISA, Congress imposed a modest level of regulation on virtually all employers who provide nonwage benefits to employees, and it preempted State laws relating to such regulated plans.

At the same time, however, Congress expressly declined to regulate employers insofar as they had benefit plans maintained solely to comply with State Workers Compensation unemployment compensation and disability insurance laws, and Congress allowed State regulation of such plans to continue.

The issue in this case concerns the intersection of ERISA's preemption and Workers Compensation provisions.

The case arises because the District of Columbia amended its Workers Compensation law in 1990 to take into account modern compensation practices by providing some level of protection to employees and their families against a loss of health insurance when employees are killed or injured on the job.

The Equity Amendment Act requires all employers who provide health insurance benefits to their active workers to provide equivalent health insurance benefits for up to 52 weeks when their employees are eligible to receive Workers Compensation.

The court below ruled that although ERISA permits the States to require health insurance as part of Workers Compensation, ERISA does not permit the States to regulate those benefits in the usual Workers Compensation way by pegging them to benefits employees receive as active workers.

The District of Columbia believes that this decision is wrong.

It believes that the traditional loss replacement method it has adopted for determining health insurance benefits in its Workers Compensation law no more implicates the concerns of ERISA than with the freestanding law that the court below correctly ruled would clearly be permissible under this Court's decision in Shaw v. Delta Air Lines.

In Shaw, this Court unanimously ruled that a State disability insurance benefits law was not preempted by ERISA.

In that ruling, the Court explained the relates-to language of the ERISA preemption provision in two ways: first, the Court said that relates-to ordinarily means a reference to or a benefit or a connection with an employee benefit plan.

On the other hand, the court said that there may be some State actions that affect ERISA-covered plans in two remote peripheral or tenuous a way to warrant a finding that the law relates to the ERISA-covered plan.

For the reasons that follow, we do not believe that the Equity Amendment Act relates to ERISA-covered plans.

The act does not refer to ERISA-covered plans.

Instead, its reference is employees and benefits.

It applies to all employers in the District, including employers who are not subject to ERISA at all.

It does not regulate the content or administration of ERISA... covered plans, and it does not require employers to alter in any way their ERISA-covered plans.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Is that because you can provide health insurance coverage without having an ERISA plan?

You simply buy a policy, group policy for your employees, and that's not ERISA-covered.

Donna M. Murasky:

My understanding is that Governments and churches are exempt from ERISA coverage.

All private employers are not exempt from ERISA.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

So if an employer, say, having 15 people simply wants to cover his employees with health insurance and buys a group insurance policy, that's covered by ERISA.

Donna M. Murasky:


If it is a private employer, he must--