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Aucoin v. Prudential Insurance Co. of America

United States District Court, District Circuit

August 14, 2013

MONIQUE AUCOIN, Plaintiff,
v.
THE PRUDENTIAL INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

AMY BERMAN JACKSON, District Judge.

This suit involves a claim for disability benefits pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq. Compl. [Dkt. #1] ¶ 1. Plaintiff Monique Aucoin sues the D.R. Horton Long Term Disability Plan (the "Plan"), the benefit plan sponsored and administered by her former employer D.R. Horton Corp., and the Plan's claims administrator, Prudential Insurance Company of America, for denying her claim for disability benefits. See Compl. ¶ 4. Prudential moves to transfer the case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) to either the District of New Jersey, where Prudential is located, or the District of Arizona, where plaintiff resides and was employed by D.R. Horton. See Mot. to Transfer Venue ("Mot.") and Mem. in Supp. of Mot. ("Mem.") [Dkt. #6]. D.R. Horton joins the motion, and plaintiff opposes it. See Def. The D.R. Horton Long-Term Disability Plan's Notice of Joining Prudential's Mot. to Transfer [Dkt. #8]; Pl.'s Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. to Transfer Venue ("Opp'n") [Dkt. #9]. For the reasons stated below, Prudential's motion to transfer will be granted, and the Court will transfer the case to the District of New Jersey.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Aucoin sues defendants under Section 502 of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. §1132, for denying her claim for disability benefits. Compl. ¶ 1. Aucoin lives in Arizona and was employed by defendant D.R. Horton until she became disabled. See id. ¶¶ 5-6, 11. D.R. Horton Corp. is a home construction company with its principle place of business in Texas. D.R. Horton Corp. Annual Report 2012 ("Annual Report") [Dkt. #9-3], Ex. 3 to Opp'n at 1. D.R. Horton sponsored and administered the plan at issue in this case. See D.R. Horton, Inc. Long Term Disability Coverage [Dkt. #6-1], Ex. 1 to Mot. at 46. Defendant Prudential served as D.R. Horton's claims administrator. Id. at 47. Prudential is a New Jersey corporation with its principal place of business in New Jersey. Compl. ¶ 7; Mot. ¶ 3.

LEGAL FRAMEWORK

"For 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 might have been brought...." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). The defendant, as the moving party, bears the burden of establishing that transfer is proper. Greater Yellowstone Coal. v. Bosworth, 180 F.Supp.2d 124, 127 (D.D.C. 2001). The Court has "broad discretion to decide whether transfer from one jurisdiction to another is proper." Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n v. Harvey, 437 F.Supp.2d 42, 45 (D.D.C. 2006), citing SEC v. Savoy Indus., Inc., 587 F.2d 1149, 1154 (D.C. Cir. 1978). The decision to transfer requires an "individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness." Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 622 (1964).

The threshold question under section 1404(a) is whether the action "might have been brought" in the transferee district. "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."), as 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).

After meeting the threshold requirement, the Court must balance case-specific private-interest and public-interest factors. See Wilderness Soc'y v. Babbitt, 104 F.Supp.2d 10, 12 (D.D.C. 2000). Private-interest considerations include: (1) the plaintiff's choice of forum, unless the balance of convenience weighs strongly in favor of the defendants; (2) the defendant's choice of forum; (3) whether the claim arose elsewhere; (4) the convenience of the parties; (5) 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 (6) the ease of access to sources of proof. Trout Unlimited v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 944 F.Supp. 13, 16 (D.D.C. 1996). Public-interest considerations include: (1) the transferee's familiarity with the governing laws; (2) the relative congestion of the calendars of the potential transferee and transferor courts; and (3) the local interest in deciding local controversies at home. Id.

ANALYSIS

Defendants' motion seeks to transfer this case to either the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey or the District Arizona. The Court will only consider the motion to transfer to New Jersey because none of the parties has stated a preference between the two proposed districts, and the defendants offer less evidence for the convenience of Arizona than New Jersey. See Virts v. Prudential Life Ins. Co. of America, No. 13-320 (JDB), 2013 WL 2994872, at *2 (D.D.C. June 18, 2013) (analyzing one of two possible transferee district proposed by defendants).

A Section 1404(a) transfer is valid if (1) venue is appropriate in the district from which transfer is sought; (2) venue is appropriate in the district to which transfer is sought; and (3) the convenience of the parties, witnesses, and the interest of justice are satisfied in light of the private and public interest factors. See, e.g., Gipson v. Wells Fargo, 563 F.Supp.2d 149, 156 (D.D.C. 2008).

I. Venue is Appropriate in the District of Columbia

The parties do not dispute that this case could have been filed in the District of Columbia. Plaintiff properly served process on defendants 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 defendants 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 ...


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