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KEATING v. WHITMORE MFG. CO.
October 14, 1997
JANICE M. KEATING, Plaintiff,
THE WHITMORE MANUFACTURING COMPANY, et al, Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: VAN ANTWERPEN
The purpose of this Opinion and Order is to consider Defendants' Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative Transfer Plaintiff's Suit for Improper Venue. Defendants have submitted this motion pursuant with Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(3) to dismiss the Plaintiff's suit in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a).
Plaintiff has filed this case asking us to order the Defendants
to pay her husband's full death benefits under her husband's ERISA benefit plan. She claims that Defendants have breached the agreement by only paying her benefits under Section 2.4(A) of the plan (which applies when the employee dies after his employment is terminated), as opposed to paying her benefits under Section 2.4(B) of the plan (which applies when the employee dies while he is still employed with the company).
Plaintiff's husband, Mr. Keating, was employed by the Whitmore Company as a sales representative between 1988 and 1996. During that time he lived and maintained an office in Lehigh County, Pa. His company helped him keep the office in Lehigh by supplying him both a computer and a fax machine. Mr. Keating serviced Whitmore's clients in Pennsylvania, as well as throughout the northeast. Mr. Keating passed away on March 8, 1996. A dispute exists between the Plaintiff and the Defendants as to whether Mr. Keating was still employed by Whitmore Manufacturing when he died. Plaintiff claims that she is entitled to the death benefits that are due when an employee of the company passes on. Defendants claim that Mrs. Keating is only entitled to the death benefits that are due when a former employee passes away.
Plaintiff is suing the defendants for breach of contract, violation of ERISA, breach of fiduciary duty, declaratory relief under ERISA for misrepresentation of the plan, and declaratory relief under ERISA for failing to provide coverage to the decedent. Defendants claim that this court should not entertain this suit because venue does not lie in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. We disagree.
A. Framework for Determining Venue Under ERISA
The determination of venue in ERISA cases is governed by 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e)(2):
When an action under this subchapter is brought in a district court of the United States, it may be brought in the district where the plan is administered, where the breach took place, or where a defendant resides or may be found, and process may be served in any other district where a defendant resides or may be found.
The Third Circuit has provided no guidance as to where, exactly, a plan is administered, a breach takes place, or a defendant resides or may be found. Indeed, there is little federal case law interpreting § 1132(e)(2).
To aid us in our interpretation of this statute, we must look to the policy underlying ERISA. ...
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