United States District Court, D. New Jersey
OPINION & ORDER
L. WALDOR UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
matter comes before the Court on Defendant Prudential
Insurance Company of America's (“Prudential”)
Motion to Transfer Venue to the United States District Court
for the Eastern District of Tennessee. (ECF No. 3). The Court
declined to hear oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 78, and, for the reasons set forth below,
Defendant's Motion is GRANTED.
ERISA action arises from Prudential's denial of long-term
disability benefits under an employee benefit plan issued by
Plaintiff's employer, Sprint Nextel Corporation
(“Sprint”). Plaintiff Westley Gonce, who resides
and worked in Tennessee, was a full-time Sprint employee
until he allegedly became disabled on September 12, 2012.
(Compl. ¶¶ 16, 19). Plaintiff was a covered
beneficiary under a long-term disability benefit plan
(“the Plan”) sponsored by Sprint. (Id.
¶¶ 8-9). After receiving short-term disability
benefits, Plaintiff filed for long-term disability benefits
under the Plan. (Id. ¶ 22). Prudential denied
Plaintiff long-term disability benefits on August 25, 2016.
(Id. ¶ 23). Plaintiff exhausted his
administrative remedies, which resulted in Prudential
upholding the denial. (Id. ¶¶ 26, 27, 43).
Plaintiff then brought this action, alleging that Prudential
wrongfully denied him benefits in violation of ERISA and the
Plan. (Id. ¶ 66).
6, 2018, Defendant filed its Motion to transfer this case to
the Eastern District of Tennessee. (ECF No. 3). Defendant
argues that the Eastern District of Tennessee is the proper
venue because Plaintiff lived, worked, and received medical
treatment in Tennessee, and very few of the operative facts
occurred in New Jersey. Plaintiff filed his Opposition on
July 23, 2018. (ECF No. 7). According to Plaintiff, Defendant
has not met its burden for demonstrating that transfer is
convenient and in the interest of justice. On July 30, 2018,
Prudential filed its Reply. (ECF No. 8).
28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), “[f]or 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[.]” Section
1404(a) gives district courts discretion to transfer cases
initially brought in the proper venue to alternative venues
after conducting an “individualized,
case-by-case” analysis. 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a);
Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 616, 622 (1964);
Jumara, 55 F.3d at 883; Cadapult Graphic Sys.,
Inc. v. Tektronix, Inc., 98 F.Supp.2d 560, 564 (D.N.J.
2000). The party seeking transfer “bears the burden of
establishing that the transfer is appropriate and must
establish that the alternative forum is more convenient than
the present forum.” Santi v. Nat'l Bus. Records
Mgmt., LLC, 772 F.Supp.2d 602, 606 (D.N.J. 2010).
1404(a) requires a two step inquiry to determine whether
transfer is appropriate. First, the Court must determine if
plaintiff could have originally brought suit in the proposed
forum. Ragner Tech. Corp. v. Berardi, 287 F.Supp.3d
541, 547 (D.N.J. 2018). If venue is proper in the transferee
forum, the Court then looks to “whether the transfer
would be in the interest of justice and for the convenience
of parties and witnesses.” Jumara v. State Farm
Ins. Co., 55 F.3d 873, 879 (3d Cir. 1995). In
Jumara, the Third Circuit articulated a multifactor
test that balances public and private interest factors to
determine if transfer is appropriate. 55 F.3d at 879-90. The
balancing of these factors is discretionary. Piper
Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 257 (1981). There
is “no definitive formula [as] courts have considered
many variants of the . . . interests protected by the
language of § 1404(a).” Jumara, 55 F.3d
Court finds that it is appropriate to exercise its discretion
under Section 1404(a) to grant Defendant's Motion. First,
under the ERISA venue statute, venue is proper in the Eastern
District of Tennessee. Second, the Jumara factors
weigh in favor of transferring this matter to the Eastern
District of Tennessee.
VENUE IS PROPER IN THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
threshold matter, the Court must determine whether
“venue and personal jurisdiction are proper” in
the Eastern District of Tennessee. Ragner, 287
F.Supp.3d at 547. The ERISA statute provides that actions
“may be brought in  the district where the plan is
administered,  where the breach took place, or  where
defendant resides or may be found.” 29 U.S.C. §
1132(e)(2). Here, Defendant claims that venue is proper in
the Eastern District of Tennessee because the alleged breach
of the Plan took place in Tennessee, which is where Plaintiff
would have received long term disability benefits.
(Def.'s Br., ECF No. 3-1, at p. 4-5).
in this District have taken different approaches to
determining “where the breach took place” under
the ERISA venue provision. In Moore v. St. Paul
Companies, Inc., the Court found that for venue
purposes, the location of the breach depends on its nature.
Where, as here, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant breached the
Plan by denying benefits, the breach takes place where the
plaintiff lives and would have received those benefits. No.
CIV. A. 94-1329, 1995 WL 11187, at *6 (D.N.J. Jan. 3, 1995);
see also Schwartz v. Employee Benefit Mgmt. Sys.,
No. CV17656SDWLDW, 2017 WL 2119446, at *2 (D.N.J. May 16,
2017) (noting that New Jersey was an improper venue under
Moore because “the alleged breach is based on
an improper denial of benefits” and Plaintiff lived in
Montana). By contrast, alleged breaches that stem from the
internal administration of ERISA plans, such as the
mismanagement of plan assets, “take place” where
defendants make plan decisions. Id.
Tyson v. Pitney-Bowes Long-Term Disability Plan, the
Court implicitly rejected Moore's distinction
and found that the breach of the Plan took place “where
the decision to terminate [Plaintiff's] benefits was
made, ” which was the Connecticut office of the
Defendant's employment benefits committee. No.
CIV.A.07CV3105(DMC), 2007 WL 4365332, at *3 (D.N.J. Dec. 11,
2007) (citing Mem'l Hermann Hosp. Sys. v. Boyd Gaming
Corp. Percs Plan, No. CIV. H-06-3570, 2007 WL 624334, at
*1 (S.D. Tex. Feb. 22, 2007)); see also Plastic Surgery
Ctr. V. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, No.
3:13-CV-02536 FLW, 2013 WL 5773120, at *3 (D.N.J. Oct. 23,
2013) (relying on Tyson to conclude that breach of
the ERISA plan took place in Michigan, where Defendant
decided to terminate Plaintiff's benefits). In