You already know that ERISA gives plan beneficiaries a choice on where to bring suit seeking ERISA benefits. Section 1132(e)(2) allows plan beneficiaries to bring suit “in the district where the plan is administered, where the breach took place, or where a defendant resides or may be found….”
But what happens when the plan has a forum-selection clause? Are forum selection clauses enforceable? YES.
Here’s the case of In re Mathias, __ F.3d __ (7th Cir. August 10, 2017).
FACTS: Plaintiff sued the Caterpillar ERISA Plan in federal court in Pennsylvania, where he had worked for years. But the ERISA plan included a form selection provision requiring suits to be filed in the federal court for the Central District of Illinois. Plaintiff argued, however, that the plan’s forum selection clause should not be enforceable because of ERISA’s broad beneficiary-protection purpose, which allows plan beneficiaries to choose a number of potential venues.
ISSUE: Was the ERISA plan forum-section provision enforceable? YES.
SEVENTH CIRCUIT HELD:
- The ERISA venue statute, Section 1132(e)(2), provides that a lawsuit “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….” Op. at 9.
- Only one circuit has addressed whether an ERISA plan’s forum selection clause is enforceable. The Sixth Circuit has held that an ERISA plan’s forum-selection clause “is enforceable even if it overrides the beneficiary’s choice of venue permitted by Section 1132(e)(2).” Op. at 2. (Emph. added).
- Generally the forum selection clause in an ERISA “plan is controlling unless ERISA invalidates it.” Op. at 9.
- “The forum selection clause in the Caterpillar plan chooses from among the venue options listed in Section 1132(e)(2), and nothing in the statute makes the choice invalid.” Op. at 13.
Have a good week…