JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Singing River Health System's unpaid contributions to its retiree pension fund are a debt of the hospital. According to Special Judge Breland Hilburn, that issue can no longer be contested, because it's a matter of law.
The ruling means years of legal fights about whether the hospital system owed the money at all have been settled. Attorney Jim Reeves said the decision will fast track the court process.
"We're past years of litigation whether they owed the money at all," Reeves said. "Now, we can get to the end game much quicker. It's a debt. It had to be paid. And now, it has to be paid. It's a matter of law."
Attorney Harvey Barton said future court hearings will determine how much that debt actually is.
SRHS attorney Kelly Sessoms released this statement after Thursday's ruling:
SRHS continues to work diligently with all parties, including Plaintiffs' Counsel, to find an acceptable resolution to the pension litigation that preserves as much of the retirement benefit as possible while not bankrupting the healthcare system. SRHS respects the Court's ruling today, but disagrees that the language of the pension plan creates a debt owed to the trust fund. We maintain that the retirement plan's terms state that it is discretionary in terms of the amount of employer contributions that are to be made, and when such contributions are to occur. We are, however, pleased with the court's opinion that no fixed amount of debt has been determined, that no breach of fiduciary duty has been proven, and that today's decision does not create a right to any collectible judgment at this time. SRHS will fund the plan in accordance with its future ability to create a positive cash flow under the operational turnaround plan. Without any financial support from the County, SRHS' options remain limited with respect to resolving the pension matter. That noted, we will continue working and remain committed to resolving the issue to the mutual benefit of the plaintiffs, all retirees and employees, and the communities we serve.