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Brown v. Suntrust Banks, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

September 3, 2014

NATALIE BROWN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
SUNTRUST BANKS, INC., et al., Defendants

For Natalie Brown, Elaine Jefferson, Barbara A. Kennedy, Mariah C. Williams, And all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs: James Brian McTigue, LEAD ATTORNEY, James A. Moore, MCTIGUE LAW LLP, MCTIGUE LAW LLP, Washington, DC USA.

For Suntrust Banks, Inc., Suntrust Banks Inc. Benefits Plan Committee, Suntrust Banks Inc. Benefits Finance Committee, Ridgeworth Capital Management, Inc., Jorge Arrieta, Mimi Breeden, Mark Chancy, Alston D. Correll, David Dierker, Aleem Gillani, Ted Hoepner, Ken Houghton, Thomas Kuntz, Donna Lange, Joseph L. Lanier, Jr., Jerome Lienhard, Gregory Miller, Thomas Panther, Larry L. Prince, William H. Rogers, Jr., Christopher Shults, John Spiegel, Mary Steele, Defendants: Meredith Moss, LEAD ATTORNEY, KING & SPALDING, Washington, DC USA; Darren Shuler, David Tetrick, Jr. PRO HAC VICE, KING & SPALDING, Atlanta, GA USA.

For John And Jane Does 1 to 20, Defendant: Darren Shuler, David Tetrick, Jr., PRO HAC VICE, KING & SPALDING, Atlanta, GA USA.

OPINION

ROSEMARY M. COLLYER, United States District Judge.

Page 82

Defendants seek to transfer this case to the Northern District of Georgia, where two substantially identical cases have been in litigation for the past three years. All Defendants, key witnesses, and relevant documents are located in Georgia, and the ERISA plan at issue is administered there.

Page 83

Plaintiffs do not live in the District of Columbia. Because the public and private interest factors weigh in favor of transfer, Defendants' motion to transfer will be granted.

I. FACTS

This case is a civil enforcement action brought under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § § 1001 et seq., for breach of fiduciary duty, self dealing, and prohibited transactions. See Compl. [Dkt. 1] ¶ 1 (citing 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(2) & (3)). Plaintiffs are four Virginia residents, Natalie Brown, Elaine Jefferson, Barbara Kennedy, and Mariah Williams, who are participants in the SunTrust Banks Inc. 401(k) Plan (Plan). Id. ¶ ¶ 1, 15-18. They seek to bring this suit as a class action on behalf of all similarly situated participants. Id. ¶ 1. The Plan has over 39,000 participants, and the class is composed of thousands of people who reside in numerous locations. See id. ¶ 78.

Defendants are SunTrust Banks, Inc.; the SunTrust Banks Inc. Benefits Plan Committee (Plan Committee); the SunTrust Banks Inc. Benefits Finance Committee (Finance Committee); Ridgeworth Capital Management, Inc.; and nineteen individuals who are or were members of the SunTrust Board of Directors, members of the Plan Committee, and members of the Finance Committee. SunTrust is headquartered and maintains its principal place of business in Atlanta, Georgia. The 401(k) Plan at issue is a " defined contribution" employee pension benefit plan within the meaning of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1002(2)(A). SunTrust is the " sponsor" of the Plan, see id. § 1002(16)(B), and the Plan Committee is the sole named fiduciary of the Plan as well as the " administrator" responsible for day-to-day operations, see id. § 1002(16)(A). The Plan Committee holds its meetings at the SunTrust headquarters in Atlanta, and the Plan's records are held there. Of the nineteen individuals named as Defendants here, only two lived and worked outside of Atlanta; the two who did not live and work in Atlanta regularly traveled there to conduct business. All but five currently reside within the jurisdiction of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia; none of them resides in the District of Columbia. Because the Plan is administered in Atlanta, the alleged breaches of fiduciary duty at issue in this lawsuit occurred there.

Plaintiffs' counsel, who has an office in the District of Columbia, previously filed two lawsuits in the Northern District of Georgia against these same Defendants: Fuller v. SunTrust Banks, Inc., Case No. 1:11-cv-00784-ODE (N.D.Ga.) (filed Mar. 11, 2011) and Stargel v. SunTrust Banks, Inc., Case No. 1:12-cv-03822-ODE (N.D.Ga.) (filed Oct. 31, 2012). Plaintiffs acknowledge that the Fuller and Stargel cases included the claims brought in this suit. See Compl. ¶ 90. The district court dismissed Fuller as time-barred under ERISA, and the Eleventh Circuit recently affirmed. See Fuller v. SunTrust Banks, Inc., 744 F.3d 685 (11th Cir. 2014). The district court also dismissed Stargel on statute of limitations grounds, and the plaintiffs have appealed that decision. See Stargel, 968 F.Supp.2d 1215 (Order dated Aug. 7, 2013), appeal filed, No. 14-13207 (11th Cir.) (Notice of Appeal July 16, 2014). Defendants move to transfer this case to the Northern District of Georgia pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).

II. LEGAL STANDARD

" 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. ยง 1404(a). Section 1404(a) vests ...


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