ST. LOUIS — Successfully defending a case on behalf of Advocate Health Care Network before the U.S. Supreme Court was a team effort, the recipient of a 2018 Missouri Lawyers Award for her role in the high-profile case said during a recent interview.
"Our Greensfelder team, consisting of myself, Daniel J. Schwartz and Heather M. Mehta, was elated when the Supreme Court accepted the case," Amy Blaisdell, officer in Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale's St. Louis and Chicago offices, said during a St. Louis Record email interview. "We felt pretty confident that the court would want to weigh in on such a significant issue."
Amy Blaisdell, officer with Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale | Photo courtesy of Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale
The high court's unanimous ruling in favor of Advocate "was a career highlight," Blaisdell said.
"It was such a rewarding experience to have a client willing to fight to get to the correct result," she said. "Although the ruling did not resolve all of the issues in the case, it certainly paves the way for favorable resolution of the remaining issues in the remaining cases."
The case, Advocate Health Care Network et al. v. Stapleton et al, raised the issue of whether the so-called "church plan exemption" of the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974 applied to a church-affiliated organization's pension plan. Blaisdell and the rest of the Greensfelder team presented their client's case before the high court in March. The following June, U.S. Supreme Court justices announced their unanimous ruling upholding an exemption in federal law for church-affiliated pension plans.
Earlier this month, Missouri Lawyers Weekly announced that Blaisdell will be among 28 attorneys honored at the Missouri Lawyers Awards luncheon on Jan. 26 at the Ballpark Hilton in St. Louis. Blaisdell is expected to be honored in the Influential Appellate Advocates category for her role in the unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling, according to the announcement.
Blaisdell said she went into the case with a feeling it was headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"The case challenged a 30-year interpretation of the statute by the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Labor, which are the agencies charged with administering ERISA," she said.
"The agencies' opinion appeared in more than 500 private letter rulings and opinion letters, which thousands of non-profit organizations relied upon. It was clear that eventually the U.S. Supreme Court would have to weigh in."
Her career in law began with the advice from a college professor, Blaisdell said.
"I became a lawyer because a very influential college journalism professor convinced me that my writing skills would help me excel as a legal advocate," she said. "I decided to focus on employee benefits and employment because I enjoy partnering with companies to help them effectively operate their businesses."
Blaisdell earned a bachelor's degree in 1998 from Murray State University, where she was valedictorian and outstanding senior woman; and received her law degree from Saint Louis University School of Law, graduating magna cum laude in 2001, according to her profile at Greensfelder's website.
At Greensfelder, she focuses on highly regulated industries, which include health care, the securities industry and banking; and she has represented employers nationwide, including hundreds of ERISA lawsuits, according to her profile.
Her advice for up-and-coming attorneys interested in employment and employee benefits litigation is to keep their clients informed.
"Look for opportunities to educate your clients about issues that are on the horizon for them," Blaisdell said."In doing so, you will deepen your relationships with your clients so they think of you when they have a legal problem to solve."
Blaisdell also had advice for women entering law.
"Stay in the profession and do not underestimate yourself," she said.
"Advocate got served in this lawsuit the same day that I had my third child. Although it can certainly be challenging to be a practicing lawyer and working mother, it can be done and often makes you more desirable. There are plenty of great companies like Advocate that appreciate diversity in their service providers. In my experience, females in the legal profession are often a great example of the old saying, 'If you want something done, ask a busy person'."