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Mazzarino v. Prudential Insurance Co. of America

United States District Court, District Circuit

July 25, 2013

SARAH MAZZARINO as co-executor of the ESTATE OF JEANNIE R. TOOLE, Plaintiff,
v.
THE PRUDENTIAL INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA and THE DELTA AIR LINES, INC., OPTIONAL INSURANCE PLAN, Defendants. Re Document No. 5

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RUDOLPH CONTRERAS United States District Judge

Granting the Defendant’s motion to transfer

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the court on the defendants’ motion to transfer venue pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Plaintiff, as co-executor of the Estate of Jeannie R. Toole, filed this case against defendants Prudential Insurance Company of America and the Delta Air Lines, Inc., Optional Insurance Plan, seeking review of a denial of a claim for accidental death benefits pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). Defendants have moved to transfer this matter to either the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey or the District of Utah. Plaintiff opposes defendants’ motion on the grounds that venue is proper in this district and that the interests of justice do not favor transfer. For the reasons discussed below, the Court grants the defendants’ motion to transfer the case to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Sarah Mazzarino (“the plaintiff”) is a resident of Salt Lake City, Utah and co-executor of the Estate of Jeannie R. Toole. Compl. (Dkt. No. 1) ¶ 5. Defendants are the Prudential Insurance Company of America and the Delta Air Lines, Inc., Optional Insurance Plan (“the defendants”). Prudential serves as the claims administrator and insurer for accidental death and dismemberment benefits under the Delta Air Lines, Inc., Optional Insurance Plan (“the plan”). Defs.’ Answer to Comp. (Dkt. No. 3) ¶ 7 (“Defs.’ Answer”). Prudential is headquartered in Newark, New Jersey; the plan is administered there, as well. Decedent, who was an employee of Delta Air Lines, died on March 8, 2011. Compl. (Dkt. No. 3) ¶ 10; Def.’s Mot. to Transfer Venue, (Dkt. No. 5) Ex. 1 (“Defs.’ Mot.”). Plaintiff subsequently filed a claim, on behalf of herself and her siblings, for accidental death benefits under the plan. Compl. (Dkt. No. 1) ¶ 12. Defendants denied the claim on May 27, 2011. Compl. (Dkt. No. 1) ¶ 13, Defs.’ Answer (Dkt. No. 3) ¶ 13. The plaintiff filed two subsequent appeals on October 19, 2011 and March 15, 2012. Compl. (Dkt. No. 1) ¶¶ 14, 16; Defs.’ Answer (Dkt. No. 3) ¶¶ 14, 16. Defendants denied both appeals. Id. The plaintiff filed a further response on July 24, 2012, which did not result in payment of the claim. Compl. (Dkt. No. 1) ¶ 18, Defs.’ Answer (Dkt. No. 3) ¶ 18. The plaintiff, having exhausted all appeals under the plan, filed suit in this court seeking review of defendant Prudential’s denial of her claim for accidental death benefits. Compl. (Dkt. No. 1) ¶¶ 19, 23; Defs.’ Answer (Dkt. No. 3) ¶¶ 19. Defendant has filed a Motion to Transfer Venue to the United States District Court for District of New Jersey or the District of Utah on the grounds that the convenience of the parties, along with the interest of justice, will be served by a transfer to either venue. 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a); Defs.’ Mot. (Dkt. No. 5) at 1, 3.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for Venue under ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e), and Transfer Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a)

Defendants request that the court transfer this matter to the United States District Court for the District of Utah or the District of New Jersey for the convenience of the parties pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1404(a). Section 1404(a) authorizes a district court to exercise its discretion in adjudicating motions to transfer on case-by-case considerations of convenience and fairness. Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988); Reiffin v. Microsoft Corp., 104 F.Supp.2d 48, 50 (D.D.C. 2000). The burden is on the moving party to establish that transfer under 1404(a) is proper. Montgomery v. STG Int’l, Inc., 532 F.Supp.2d 29, 32 (D.D.C. 2008); Onyeneho v. Allstate Ins. Co., 466 F.Supp.2d 1, 3 (D.D.C. 2006).

In an action brought under ERISA, a defendant seeking transfer of venue has the additional burden of overcoming ERISA's special venue provision. 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e)(2); Int’l Painters & Allied Trades Indus. Pension Fund v. Painting Co., 569 F.Supp.2d 113, 117–18 (D.D.C. 2008); Flynn v. Veazey Const. Corp., 310 F.Supp.2d 186, 193 (D.D.C. 2004). Section 1132(e)(2) specifies that venue is appropriate “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). ERISA’s venue provision “has been interpreted to authorize nationwide service of process.” Flynn v. Ohio Bldg. Restoration, Inc., 260 F.Supp.2d 156, 170–71 (D.D.C. 2003) (internal citations omitted). “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.” Id. (quoting Combs v. Adkins & Adkins Coal Co., 597 F.Supp. 122, 125 (D.D.C. 1984)). Under a nationwide service of process provision, minimum contacts with the United States suffice. S.E.C. v. Bilzerian, 378 F.3d 1100, 1106 n. 8 (D.C. Cir. 2004).

To succeed on a motion to transfer, the moving party must first establish that the action could have originally been brought in the proposed transferee district. 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a); Onyeneho v. Allstate Ins. Co., 466 F.Supp.2d 1, 3 (D.D.C. 2006); see also DeLoach v. Philip Morris Co., 132 F.Supp.2d 22, 24 (D.D.C. 2000). Second, the movant must demonstrate that considerations of convenience and the interest of justice weigh in favor of transfer. See, e.g., Pueblo v. Nat’l Indian Gaming Comm'n, 731 F.Supp.2d 36, 39 (D.D.C. 2010); Veney v. Starbucks Corp., 559 F.Supp.2d 79, 82 (D.D.C. 2008). In evaluating a motion to transfer, a court may weigh several private- and public-interest factors. Sheffer v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., 873 F.Supp.2d 371, 375 (D.D.C. 2012) (citing Trout Unlimited v. U.S. Dept. of Agric., 944 F.Supp. 13, 16 (D.D.C. 1996)). The private-interest considerations include: (1) the plaintiff’s choice of forum; (2) the defendant's preferred forum; (3) the location where the claim arose; (4) the convenience of the parties; (5) the convenience of witnesses; and (6) ease of access to sources of proof. Sheffer, 873 F.Supp.2d at 375; Montgomery v. STG Int’l, Inc., 532 F.Supp.2d 29, 32 (D.D.C. 2008). Public interest considerations include: (1) the transferee’s familiarity with the governing law; (2) the relative congestion of the courts of the transferor and potential transferee; and (3) the local interest in deciding local controversies at home. Onyeneho, 466 F.Supp.2d at 3; Airport Working Group of Orange Cnty., Inc. v. U.S. Dep’t of Def., 226 F.Supp.2d 227, 229 (D.D.C. 2002) (internal citations omitted). If the balance of private and public interests favors a transfer of venue, then a court may order a transfer. Sheffer, 873 F.Supp.2d at 375 (citing Montgomery v. STG Int’l, Inc., 532 F.Supp.2d 29, 32 (D.D.C. 2008)).

B. The Court Grants the Motion to Transfer

Despite Prudential’s motion to transfer this case to either the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah or the District of New Jersey, the Court will only consider the motion to transfer to New Jersey. Neither party has stated a preference between the two proposed transferee districts, and the defendants offer less evidence for the convenience of Utah than New Jersey. See Virts v. Prudential Life Ins. Co., No. 13-320 (JDB), 2013 WL 2994872, at *2 (D.D.C. June 18, 2013) (selecting one of two possible transferee district proposed by defendants).

The plaintiff contends that venue is properly laid in this district under the § 1132(e) prong authorizing an ERISA plaintiff to lay venue “where a defendant resides or may be found.” 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e)(2). As the plan is administered in New Jersey and the alleged breach did not take place in the District of Columbia, the plaintiff asserts venue is proper in this district solely on the basis that Prudential has sufficient “minimum contacts” to be found here. Pl.’s Opp’n (Dkt. No. 6) at 5–6. Defendants concede this point.[1] Nevertheless, a court is still authorized to transfer a matter despite the ERISA venue statute if it finds that transferring to another district would be “[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice” under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). See Nat’l Air Traffic Controllers Ass’n v. Dental Plans, Inc., 407 F.Supp.2d 1, 2–3 & n. 2 (D.D.C. 2005). The defendants assert that this matter should be transferred to the District of New Jersey, as the plan is administered at Prudential’s headquarters in Newark and certain relevant documents are located there. Defs.’ Mot. (Dkt. No. 5) at 3; Defs.’ Reply (Dkt. No. 7) at 3 n. 2. The plaintiff counters that she is entitled to ...


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