Where do you litigate an ERISA disability claim?  What venue is the most convenient?
 
Under ERISA, venue is proper in “the district where the plan is administered, where the breach took place, or where defendant resides or may be found.” 29 U.S.C. 1132(e)(2).
 
But how do you decide which is the more “convenient” venue?  Here are two cases (attached) that highlight the point.
 
Key point: If the only connection to the venue is Plaintiff’s counsel, Defendant’s Motion to Transfer Venue has a good shot at winning.
 
Girgis v. The Hartford Life and Accident Insur. Co. [PDF], 2011 WL 2115814 (D.N.J. May 25, 2011).
 
    FACTS: Plaintiff worked in Texas, and in 2003 asserted a disability claim under the ERISA plan, claiming total disability due to Fibromyalgia. Hartford paid on the disability claim until September 2009, when it concluded Girgis was no longer disabled under the terms of the plan. Girgis appealed, which was denied, and he commenced suit in … New Jersey.
 
    ISSUE:  Is Texas or New Jersey the most convenient venue?
 
    HELD:  Defendant’s Motion to Transfer Venue was GRANTED.
 
    RATIONALE:
 
            1. The Court applies a multi-factor test.  Plaintiff’s choice of forum is important, but is not dispositive.  Op. at 2-3.
 
            2. The defendant’s choice of forum counterbalances Plaintiff’s choice of forum. Op. at 3.  Strong factors for Defendant include the fact that both the administrator of the plan and the alleged breach of the contract occurred in Texas.  Plaintiff lives in Texas.  The only person involved in this litigation with an interest in litigating in New Jersey is the Plaintiff’s attorney.
    
            3.  Plaintiff lived and was employed in Texas, by a Texas corporation, with a plan administered in Texas. Op. at 3
 
            4.  Plaintiff alleges that he ceased work due to disability.  “[W]hile the Court hesitates to conclude travel would be difficult, both physically and financially, … logic dictates that the fourth factor favors Defendant.”
 
            5.  The “convenience of the witnesses” factor does not pertain to ERISA cases and thus does not help Plaintiff’s argument. Op. at 3
 
            6.  The “location of books and records” factor is insignificant because they “may be easily reproduced and transmitted to any district….” 
 
Smith v. Aetna Life Insurance [PDF], __ F. Supp. 2d __ (N.D. Cal.September 6, 2011)
 
    FACTS:  Smith was a Bank of America employee, working in North Carolina. She sued in California alleging Aetna wrongfully denied disability benefits.
 
    ISSUE:  Is North Carolina or California the most convenient venue?
 
    HELD:  Defendant’s Motion to Transfer Venue to North Carolina GRANTED.
 
    RATIONALE:
 
            1. Where Plaintiff does not reside in the forum, the Court may afford Plaintiff’s choice considerably less weight.  Op. at 3.
 
            2. The Court found unpersuasive Plaintiff’s argument that there are a “limited number of attorneys in the country who handle ERISA disability” cases.  Op. at 3
 
            3.  The only link to the venue was the Plaintiff’s attorney.  The convenience of counsel is not considered for purposes of deciding whether venue is convenient.  Op. at 3
 
DISCUSSION.  These cases highlight that connection to the forum is important.  Give serious consideration whether you bring a motion to transfer under 29 USC 502(e)(2) or under 28 USC 1404(a).  The outcomes may be different.  See, e.g.,  Smith v. Aetna, supra at 4.