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Bertomeu v. Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

March 1, 2019

ALBERTO BERTOMEU, Plaintiff,
v.
SUN LIFE ASSURANCE COMPANY OF CANADA, Defendant.

         Defendant's Motion to Transfer Venue

          OPINION & ORDER

          KASUBHAI, MAGISTRATE JUDGE:

         Plaintiff Alberto Bertomeu filed suit under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq., seeking to recover unpaid benefits and be instated into a group long-term disability plan and to be instated into a group life insurance plan, both issued by defendant Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada. Before the Court is Defendant's motion to transfer venue (ECF 13). For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion to transfer is DENIED.[1]

         Background

         Plaintiff resides in Minnesota. He worked for an international company headquartered in Italy, with an office incorporated in Pennsylvania and a human resources division in Eugene, Oregon. When not traveling for work, Plaintiff worked from his home office in Minnesota. Plaintiff's employer offered long-term disability insurance and life insurance benefits through Defendant. Defendant “delivered” the policies in Oregon, subject to the laws of Oregon. ECF 22, Ex. B. Defendant is a Canadian corporation with its principal place of business in the United States in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts.

         An ERISA action “may be brought 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). Defendant concedes that the plan was administered in Oregon but moves to transfer venue pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) on the grounds that “the convenience of the parties and witnesses, and the interest of justice are best served by transferring this action to the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota.” ECF 13, ¶ 8. Plaintiff objects.

         Standard

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), “[f]or the convenience of the 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 USC § 1404(a). To determine whether transfer is proper, the court engages in a two-step analysis. First, the court determines whether the action might have been brought in the transferee district. Hoffman v. Blaski, 363 U.S. 335, 343-44 (1960). If so, then the court considers the facts of the case and whether considerations of convenience and fairness favor transfer. Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988). In making this determination, the court weighs several factors: (1) the plaintiff's choice of forum; (2) the convenience of the parties; (3) the convenience of the witnesses; (4) ease of access to the evidence; (5) familiarity of each forum with the applicable law; (6) feasibility of consolidation of other claims; (7) any local interest in the controversy; and (8) the relative court congestions and the time of trial of each forum. Robertson v. Standard Ins. Co.¸2014 WL 7240682 at *2 (D. Oregon 2014). The district court has broad discretion to adjudicate motions to transfer venue and must make its determination on a case-by-case basis. See Jones v. GNC Franchising, Inc., 211 F.3d 495, 498 (9th Cir. 2000). The party seeking the transfer bears the burden of showing that transfer is appropriate, supported by a strong showing of inconvenience to justify upsetting the plaintiff's choice of forum. Commodity Futures Trading Comm'n v. Savage, 611 F.2d 270, 279 (9th Cir. 1979); Decker Coal Co. v. Commonwealth Edison Co., 805 F.2d 834, 843 (9th Cir. 1986).

         Analysis

         This Court must first determine whether the case could have been brought in Minnesota - the forum to which Defendant seeks transfer. An ERISA claim “may be brought 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). Plaintiff resides in Minnesota and resided there when Defendant denied his claim. At least one court in this district has found that the place where a plaintiff expects to receive benefits is the place “where the breach took place” for ERISA jurisdiction purposes. Smart v. Southwest Carpenters Pension Plan, 2014 WL 412568 (D. Oregon 2014); 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e)(2). Plaintiff does not dispute that he could have brought this case in Minnesota. Accordingly, the Court finds Plaintiff could have brought this case in Minnesota.

         Next, the Court must consider whether convenience and fairness tip the scales enough towards transfer to disturb Plaintiff's choice of forum. As an initial matter, the Court notes that ERISA claims are governed by federal law and “this Court presumes that all federal courts have equal familiarity with the applicable law.” Robertson v. Standard Ins. Co., 2014 WL 7240682 at *3 (D. Oregon 2014). Additionally, in ERISA cases “a district court may [generally] review only the administrative record when considering whether the plan administrator abused its discretion[.]” Abatie v. Alta Health & Life Ins. Co., 458 F.3d 955, 970 (9th Cir.2006). Both parties have indicated that it is unlikely any discovery will be warranted in this matter. ECF 13 at 10; ECF 19 at 11. Therefore, considerations of applicable law, convenience of the witnesses, and ease of access to the evidence are neutral. Likewise, the court is not aware of any other related pending claims that might be consolidated with this claim, nor of any evidence suggesting that the District of Minnesota has a significantly lighter case load than the District of Oregon. Accordingly, none of these factor weighs in favor of transfer.

         I. Plaintiff's Choice of Forum

         Defendant argues that Plaintiff's choice of forum is not entitled to any deference because it is either outweighed by other factors, or the other factors are neutral. Additionally, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's choice of forum is not entitled to deference because he chose a forum other than his own and the “operative facts occurred in different districts.” ECF 23 at 2. In support, Defendant notes that aside from delivery of the Group Policies in Oregon, communications regarding Plaintiff's claim have occurred outside of Oregon.[2]

         Plaintiff disagrees with Defendant's characterization of the facts. For additional support of his choice of forum, Plaintiff notes that he was enrolled in his employee-benefit plans via his employer's Oregon human resources office, that as part of the claim review, Defendant communicated with the Oregon human resources office, and that the Oregon human resources office provided the requested information to Defendant. Moreover, Plaintiff states that in denying his claim, Defendant relied upon erroneous information provided by the vice president of the ...


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