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Shirley v. First Comp Insurance

May 19, 2010

JENNIFER SHIRLEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FIRST COMP INSURANCE AND THE PRUDENTIAL INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joyner, J.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This case has been brought before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for Improper Venue, or in the Alternative, to Transfer Venue (Doc. No. 3). For the reasons set forth in the attached Memorandum, Defendants' Motion shall be DENIED.

Background

Plaintiff has brought this action under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA") to recover short-term and long-term disability benefits that Defendants have denied her. Plaintiff, who lives in Rhode Island, was employed by Defendant First Comp Insurance from May of 2006 until May of 2008. During that time, she participated in a welfare plan that was sponsored and administered by First Comp Insurance, and was underwritten by Defendant Prudential Insurance Company. Defendant First Comp Insurance's principle place of business is in Nebraska, and Defendant Prudential Insurance has its principle place of business in New Jersey.

Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3) allows a party to file a motion to dismiss for improper venue. Venue is proper in ERISA cases if they are filed "in the district where the plan is administered, where the breach took place, or where a defendant resides or may be found." 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e)(2). When a 12(b)(3) motion is filed, the movant bears the burden of establishing that venue is improper. Myers v. Am. Dental Ass'n, 695 F.2d 716, 724-25 (3d Cir. 1982).

Alternatively, if venue is proper in the initial forum, 28 U.S.C. §1404(a) provides that "[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it may have been brought." Once it has been established that another forum would be proper, the defendant bears the burden of showing, on the balance of identified public and private factors, that considerations weigh "strongly" in favor of transfer. Gulf Oil v. Gilbert, 55 U.S. 501, 508, 67 S.Ct. 839, 843 (1947). The complete list of private factors set forth by Gulf Oil was further articulated by the Third Circuit in Jumara v. State Farm Ins. Co., 55 F.3d 873, 879 (3d Cir. 1995), and includes,

[T]he plaintiff's forum preference; defendant's preference; whether the claim arose elsewhere; the convenience of the parties as indicated by their relative physical and financial conditions; the convenience of the witnesses, but only to the extent that the witnesses may actually be unavailable for trial in one of the fora; and the locations of the books and records.

Named public factors include,

Enforceability of judgment; practical considerations that could make the trial easy, expeditious or inexpensive; the relative administrative difficulty in the two fora resulting from court congestion; the local interest in deciding local controversies at home; the public policies of the fora; and the familiarity of trial judges with the state law for diversity cases. Id.

Within this framework, courts have given great deference to the plaintiff's choice of forum. Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 255, 102 S.Ct. 252 (1981); Kielczynski v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 837 F. Supp. 687, 689 (E.D. Pa. 1993). Notably, however, when a plaintiff has not brought suit in his home forum and the cause of action did not occur in the forum, as alleged here, the choice is given less weight. Piper Aircraft Co., 454 U.S. at 255-56; Kielczynski, 837 F. Supp. at 689. When the plaintiff is not a resident of the chosen forum, he must make a "strong showing of convenience" in order for his choice to be given deference. Windt v. Qwest Communications Intern., Inc., 529 F.3d 183, 190 (3d Cir. 2008). Additionally, "the convenience of counsel is not a factor to be considered" in deciding a motion to transfer. Solomon v. Continental Am. Life Ins. Co., 472 F.2d 1043, 1047 (3d Cir. 1973).

Discussion

Motion to Dismiss

Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for Improper Venue must be denied. Although, as noted above, there are three different grounds for finding venue in a given district, the parties in this case rely on the third possible justification: that a defendant resides or may be found in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Although the Third Circuit has not explicitly addressed the question of what is required for this prong to be met, the Ninth Circuit has done so in Varsic v. United States District Court for the Central District of California, 607 F.2d 245 (9th Cir. 1979), and the Seventh Circuit has more recently addressed and further commented on the Varsic opinion in Waeltz v. Delta Pilots Retirement Plan, 301 F.3d 804 (7th Cir. 2002). The Seventh Circuit summarized this discussion by stating that "[a] fund can be found in a judicial district if it has the sort of 'minimum contacts' with that district that would support the exercise of personal jurisdiction under the rule of International Shoe Co. v. Washington." Waeltz, 301 F.3d at 810 (citation omitted). As both of these opinions seem to have gained wide acceptance and as we find the reasoning contained in them to be sound and persuasive, we will apply this test. Venue in this case, therefore, is proper if a Defendant has sufficient minimum contacts to support ...


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