Much like buying a home, location can mean everything when defending a class action. Therefore, it is common for defendants to try and transfer class actions to what is viewed as a more favorable jurisdiction when there is at least a significant connection with that forum. When this happens, courts apply a largely predictable set of factors and considerations in deciding the motion. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that these factors become a little less intuitive when trying to transfer an ERISA class action, at least according to the recent decision in Mayfield v. ACE American Ins. Co., 18-cv-1695 (W.D. Wash. May 13, 2019).
In Mayfield, the plaintiff was a participant in his employer’s welfare benefit plan, which included accidental death and dismemberment (“AD&D”) insurance. ACE insured the plan’s AD&D benefit. The plaintiff filed a putative ERISA class action lawsuit against ACE in the Western District of Washington, claiming he and others did not receive full insurance proceeds upon the death of covered individuals. ACE moved to transfer the case to the Northern District of Georgia, originally arguing that Georgia was a more convenient forum because more putative class members were in Georgia than Washington, the plan was administered in Georgia, and ACE had some employees with knowledge of the case in Georgia. On reply, ACE submitted additional facts and evidence showing that the plan was negotiated and executed in Georgia.
The court agreed with ACE and transferred the case to the Northern District of Georgia. The court found that the plaintiff’s choice of forum was of minimal importance because it was a putative class action. Interestingly, the court seemed to give considerable weight to the fact that the plan was negotiated and executed in Georgia, finding this was a “considerable technical connection” to that forum. The court also found that litigation and travel costs would be reduced by having the case in Georgia rather than Washington.
The bottom line: When seeking to transfer an ERISA class action, don’t forget to check where the at-issue plan was negotiated and executed. It may be the boost you need to get your motion granted.