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Molchen v. Ford Motor Co.

November 20, 2008

GREGORY MOLCHEN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terrence F. McVerry United States District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Presently before the Court is the MOTION, PURSUANT TO FED.R.CIV.P. 12, TO DISMISS FOR IMPROPER VENUE OR, ALTERNATIVELY, TO TRANSFER CASE FOR THE CONVENIENCE OF THE PARTIES AND WITNESSES, with brief in support, filed by defendant Ford Motor Company (Document Nos. 8 and 9), and the BRIEF IN OPPOSITION filed by Plaintiff, Gregory Molchen. For the reasons that follow, the Motion will be granted in part and denied in part and, for the convenience of the parties and witnesses and in the interest of justice, this case will be transferred to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).

Procedural Background

On July 8, 2008, Plaintiff filed a three-count Complaint against Defendant, Ford Motor Company, in which he alleges breach of contract (Count I), fraud / misrepresentation (Count II), and violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA") (Count III). It appears that at least two of Plaintiff's claims involve the alleged denial of benefits under Defendant's Voluntary Salaried Separation Program ("VSSP Plan"), which is a Plan covered by ERISA.

Defendant has brought the instant motion in which it contends that venue in the Western District of Pennsylvania is improper under the ERISA venue provision, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e)(2). In the alternative, Defendant requests that this lawsuit be transferred to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

Factual Background

As the law requires, at the motion to dismiss stage all disputed facts and inferences are resolved most favorable to Plaintiff. The following background is drawn from the Complaint and the factual allegations therein are accepted as true for the purpose of this Opinion.

Plaintiff, a former employee of Defendant, Ford Motor Company, alleges that he was "promised by Ford that moving to Michigan would continue his ascent up the'career ladder' at Ford;" (Complaint, ¶ 27); that after moving to Michigan, he was enticed by Defendant into accepting an offer of voluntary separation with severance benefits; and that Defendant then "completely and utterly failed to provide him any severance benefits." (Br. in Opp'n, at 1).

Standard of Review

In considering a motion to dismiss for improper venue under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3), the Court must generally accept as true the allegations in the complaint, unless contradicted by defendant's affidavits. Holiday v. Bally's Park Place, Inc., 2007 WL 2600877, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 10, 2007). "The court may examine facts outside the complaint to determine proper venue, but must draw all reasonable inferences and resolve all factual conflicts in the plaintiff's favor." Fellner v. Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters, Inc., 2005 WL 2660351, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Oct.18, 2005); accord Heft v. AAI Corp., 355 F. Supp. 2d 757, 762 (M.D. Pa. 2005) ("Whatever the nature of the parties' submissions, the court is bound to view the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.").

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has held that the movant (the defendant) bears the burden of demonstrating that venue is not proper. Myers v. American Dental Ass'n, 695 F.2d 716, 724 (3d Cir. 1982). The defendant also bears the burden of establishing that a venue transfer is warranted. Furthermore, "in ruling on defendant's [transfer] motion the plaintiff's choice of venue should not be lightly disturbed." Jumara v. State Farm Ins. Co., 55 F.3d 873, 879 (3d Cir.1995).

Questions of venue are governed by either 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) or 28 U.S.C. § 1406. See Jumara, 55 F.3d at 878. The standards for transfer of an action differ depending on whether venue has been properly laid.

Discussion

A. Venue

Defendant argues that Plaintiff has not met the requirements for jurisdiction and venue under ERISA. Defendant contends that this lawsuit should have been brought in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, where venue clearly would be proper.*fn1

Section 502(e)(2) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e)(2), governs the determination of venue in ERISA cases:

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 United States Court of Appeals for 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).

1. An ERISA Action May Be Brought Where the Plan is Administered

Venue is proper in a district where the plan is administered. An ERISA plan is administered where the plan is managed. Of the three possible grounds for bringing this action in this District, the first, where the plan is administered, can be eliminated immediately. Plaintiff does not contest that the Plan is not administered in this District. Further, Defendant's Affidavit makes clear that the VSSP Plan is ...


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