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Racca v. Prudential Insurance Company of America

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

October 31, 2019

SANDRA K. RACCA
v.
THE PRUDENTIAL INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA

         SECTION “R” (2)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          SARAH S. VANCE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is defendant Prudential Insurance Company of America's motion to transfer venue.[1] The plaintiff does not object to the transfer of this action to the Western District of Louisiana.[2] Because the Court finds that venue is proper in the transferee district and that it is in the interest of justice to transfer, the Court grants the defendant's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This ERISA dispute arises out of Sandra Racca's claim for long-term disability benefits. Racca, a resident of Kaplan, Louisiana, works for Compass Health and is a participant and beneficiary of its ERISA plan.[3] Compass Health is headquartered in Crowley, Louisiana and has an office in Kaplan, Louisiana.[4] Compass Health employees are insured through a group disability policy issued by Prudential, a New Jersey company.[5] Racca asserts that she filed a disability claim and was unlawfully denied benefits to which she is entitled.[6] Racca appealed the denial of her benefits, and the appeal was denied.[7] Racca then filed suit in the Eastern District of Louisiana, alleging that Prudential has abused its discretion and that she is entitled to benefits it withholds.[8]

         Prudential filed a motion to transfer venue pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) to either the Western District of Louisiana or the District of New Jersey.[9] The plaintiff's response noted that after discussion “both parties agree to transfer of this matter to the Western District of Louisiana.”[10]

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A district court may transfer an action to any other district where the plaintiff could have filed suit “for the convenience of parties and witnesses” when such a transfer is “in the interest of justice.” 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Although plaintiffs' choice of forum is important, it is not determinative. See In re Volkswagen of Am., Inc., 545 F.3d 304, 314 (5th Cir. 2008) overturned on other grounds, 545 F.3d at 304 (In re Volkswagen II) (explaining that under Section 1404(a) the plaintiff's choice of forum is to be considered, but also noting that “the statute requires only that the transfer be ‘[f]or the convenience of the parties, in the interest of justice.'” (quoting Veba-Chemie A.G. v. M/V Getafix, 711 F.2d 1243, 1247 (5th Cir. 1983))).

         The defendant moving to transfer venue must first demonstrate that the plaintiff could have brought the action in the transferee court initially. See Hoffman v. Blaski, 363 U.S. 335, 343-44 (1960) (“[t]he power of a District Court under section 1404(a) to transfer an action to another district is made to depend . . . upon whether the transferee district was one in which the action ‘might have been brought' by the plaintiff.”); In re Volkswagen AG, 371 F.3d 201, 203 (5th Cir. 2004) (In re Volkswagen I) (“In applying the provisions of § 1404(a), we have suggested that the first determination to be made is whether the judicial district to which transfer is sought would have been a district in which the claim could have been filed.”). The defendant must then show “good cause” for transfer. In re Volkswagen II, 545 F.3d at 315 (explaining that the “good cause” burden reflects the appropriate deference to which the plaintiff's choice of venue is entitled); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). To show good cause, a defendant must satisfy the statutory requirements and clearly demonstrate that the transferee venue is more convenient for the parties and witnesses. Id.

         In deciding a transfer motion, the district court must consider the private and public interest factors enunciated in Gulf Oil Corp v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501, 508 (1947). See In re Volkswagen II, 545 F.3d at 315. The private interest factors include: (1) the relative ease of access to sources of proof; (2) the availability of compulsory process to secure the attendance of witnesses; (3) the cost of attendance for willing witnesses; and (4) all other practical problems that make a trial easy, expeditious and inexpensive. In re Volkswagen I, 371 F.3d at 203 (citing Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 241 (1981)). The public interest factors are: (1) the administrative difficulties flowing from court congestion; (2) the local interest in having localized interest decided at home; (3) the familiarity of the forum with the law that will govern the case; and (4) the avoidance of unnecessary problems of conflict of laws or application of foreign law. Id. These Gilbert factors “are appropriate for most transfer cases, [but] they are not necessarily exhaustive or exclusive.” In re Volkswagon II, 545 F.3d at 315. Nor is any one factor dispositive. Id.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Jurisdiction

         The Court must first determine whether Racca could have sued Prudential in the Western District of Louisiana. Here, it is undisputed that federal jurisdiction arises under federal ERISA law. See 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e)(1). ERISA contains a venue provision which states that 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.” Id. at § 1132(e)(2).

         The parties do not dispute that Racca could have sued Prudential in the Western District of Louisiana. Racca lived in that District and worked for a company located in that District at the time Prudential terminated her claim for benefits. The district where the plaintiff's pension benefits were received or denied is the district where the breach took place. See, e.g., Wallace, v. Am. Petrofina, 659 F.Supp. 829, 832-33 (E.D. Tex. 1987); Nat. Shopmen Pension Fund v. Stamford Iron and Steel Works, Inc., 999 ...


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