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Virts v. The Prudential Life Insurance Company of America

United States District Court, District Circuit

June 18, 2013

VIRGINIA VIRTS, Plaintiff,
v.
THE PRUDENTIAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, and RITE AID CORPORATION LONG TERM DISABILITY PLAN, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JOHN D. BATES, District Judge.

Plaintiff Virginia Virts has sued the Prudential Life Insurance Company of America and Rite Aid Corporation Long Term Disability Plan ("the Plan") pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001 et seq. Prudential is the claims administrator and insurer of the Plan. Virts, who formerly worked as a Rite Aid store manager, challenges the termination by Prudential of her long-term disability benefits under the Plan. Prudential has moved to transfer the case from the District of the District of Columbia to either the District of New Jersey or the Eastern District of North Carolina pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), arguing that these venues provide a more convenient forum for the litigation. For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant Prudential's motion to transfer this case to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.

BACKGROUND

Virts was working for Rite Aid as a store manager in 2009 when she became disabled. See Compl. [Docket Entry 1] ¶ 11 (Mar. 12, 2013). She received long-term disability benefits under the Plan until November 2011, at which time Prudential, as the Plan's claims administrator, terminated her benefits. See id. ¶ 12. After her administrative appeals were denied, Virts filed this action seeking to clarify rights to past and future benefits under the Plan. See id. ¶¶ 4, 18. She also alleges that Prudential and the Plan improperly withheld certain documents during the benefit appeals process. See id. ¶ 21.

Virts served process on Prudential and on the Plan in the District of Columbia. Prudential then filed a motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) to transfer venue to either the Eastern District of North Carolina, where Virts lives, see Compl. ¶ 5, or to the District of New Jersey, where Prudential is incorporated and has its principal place of business. See Def.'s Mot. to Transfer [Docket Entry 5] at 1 (Apr. 3, 2013). The Plan is administered in Pennsylvania. See id. at 2. Virts opposes Prudential's motion, and the Plan has taken no position on the transfer.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), a party may move to transfer a civil action from one appropriate venue to another venue where the action "might have been brought" for the "convenience of parties and witnesses" and in "the interest of justice." To transfer a case, the transferor court must find that the intended transferee court has personal jurisdiction and is an appropriate venue. See Relf v. Gasch , 511 F.2d 804, 807 (D.C. Cir. 1975) ("Venue must be proper in the transferee district; in addition, the defendants must be subject to the process of the federal court in the transferee district...." (footnote omitted)). "In cases involving multiple defendants ... all defendants must have been subject to process in the transferee court before the case can be transferred." Levin v. Majestik Surface Corp. , 654 F.Supp.2d 12, 15 (D.D.C. 2009) (citing Hoffman v. Blaski , 363 U.S. 335, 343-44 (1960)).

ERISA permits nationwide service of process in "any... district where a defendant resides or may be found." 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e)(2); see Peay v. BellSouth Med. Assistance Plan , 205 F.3d 1206, 1210 (10th Cir. 2000) ("There is no question that the last clause of § 1132(e)(2) authorizes nationwide service of process."). Service of process in turn establishes personal jurisdiction, see Republic of Panama v. BCCI Holdings (Luxembourg) S.A. , 119 F.3d 935, 942 (11th Cir. 1997) ("When a federal statute provides for nationwide service of process, it becomes the statutory basis for personal jurisdiction."), so long as Fifth Amendment due process is satisfied by the defendant's having minimum contacts with the United States as a whole, see Med. Mut. of Ohio v. deSoto , 245 F.3d 561, 567-68 (6th Cir. 2001); Lorelei Corp. v. Cnty. of Guadalupe , 940 F.2d 717, 719-20 (1st Cir. 1991) (per curiam); Flynn v. Ohio Bldg. Restoration Inc. , 260 F.Supp.2d 156, 171-72 (D.D.C. 2003).

Venue, in turn, is appropriate for an ERISA claim, "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). A corporation "shall be deemed to reside, if a defendant, in any judicial district in which such defendant is subject to the court's personal jurisdiction with respect to the civil action in question." 28 U.S.C. § 1391(c)(2).

The decision whether to transfer pursuant to § 1404(a) is within the broad discretion of the district court and depends on a case-by-case analysis. See Van Dusen v. Barrack , 376 U.S. 612, 622 (1964). Convenience and the "interest of justice" are incorporated into a set of private and public interest factors that guide the Court's analysis. See, e.g., Gipson v. Wells Fargo & Co. , 563 F.Supp.2d 149, 156-57 (D.D.C. 2008). The burden lies with the moving party to establish that the proposed venue for transfer is appropriate. See, e.g., SEC v. Savoy Indus., Inc. , 587 F.2d 1149, 1154 (D.C. Cir. 1978).

DISCUSSION

As a preliminary matter, although Prudential moved for transfer to either the Eastern District of North Carolina or the District of New Jersey, the Court will consider only the motion to transfer to New Jersey-no party has expressed a preference between the two venues, and Prudential offers less support for the convenience of North Carolina than for that of New Jersey.

The parties do not dispute that the case could have been brought in the District of Columbia or New Jersey, and with good reason.[1] Virts properly served process on Prudential and on the Plan in the District of Columbia. Valid service of process on defendants in the District of Columbia pursuant to the nationwide service of process provision confers personal jurisdiction over Prudential and the Plan in other federal courts as well, including in the District of New Jersey. See Med. Mut. of Ohio , 245 F.3d at 567 ("Congress has the power to confer nationwide personal jurisdiction; and we hold that it conferred such jurisdiction under § 1132(e)(2)...."); see also Ohio Bldg. Restoration , 260 F.Supp.2d at 171-72 ("Where Congress has authorized nationwide service of process, a federal court may exercise personal jurisdiction over any United States resident, without regard to whether its sister state court could assert jurisdiction under minimum contacts principles." (internal quotation marks omitted)).

A § 1404(a) transfer is valid if (1) venue is appropriate in the district from which the transfer is sought; (2) venue is appropriate in the district to which venue is sought; and (3) the convenience of the parties, witnesses, and "the interest of justice" are satisfied per the private and public interest factors. See, e.g., Gipson , 563 F.Supp.2d at 156. Venue in an ERISA suit is appropriate "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). The ERISA venue statute specifies that only "a defendant" need satisfy the statute for a proposed venue to be appropriate. 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e)(2) ("where a defendant ...


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