United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
TERRENCE W. BOYLE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on defendant's motion [DE 10]
to dismiss or, in the alternative, to transfer.
Defendant's motion [DE 10] is GRANTED on the grounds
discussed below. The Court TRANSFERS this action to the
United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Wisconsin, Milwaukee Division pursuant to its authority under
28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).
ManpowerGroup Plan ("the Plan") is a benefit plan
organized and existing pursuant to the Employee Retirement
Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C.
§§ 1101 to 1151. Plaintiff was an employee of
ManpowerGroup U.S. at its Fayetteville, NC location.
brings this suit after defendant denied her claim for
benefits under the plan. Defendant has moved to dismiss or,
in the alternative, to transfer the case to the Eastern
District of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Division pursuant to a forum
and venue selection clause in the Plan. Plaintiff opposes the
motion, contending that ERISA grants her the right to bring
her claim in this district, that the forum selection clause
is unenforceable, and that transferring this case to
Wisconsin violates ERISA's legislative intent and public
seeks to dismiss or transfer the case pursuant to a clause in
the Plan documents that states "venue and forum shall
only be proper in a federal court located in Milwaukee,
Wisconsin." DE 12-1, ¶ 8.6. The threshold issue is
whether the forum and venue selection clause in the Plan
documents is valid and enforceable despite Section 502(e)(2)
of ERISA, which provides that an 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). Plaintiff
argues this provision guarantees her a right to litigate in
her choice of one of the three designated venues.
statutory scheme "is built around reliance on the face
of written plan documents." US Airways, Inc. v.
McCutchen, 569 U.S. 88, 101 (2013) (quoting
Curtiss-Wright Corp. v. Schoonejongen, 514 U.S. 73,
83 (1995)). The plan documents in this case state that
federal court in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is the only permissible
venue. While 29 U.S.C. §1132(e)(2) provides three
potential options for venue, "nothing in this text
expressly invalidates forum-selection clauses in
employee-benefits plans." In re Mathias, 867
F.3d 727, 732 (7th Cir. 2017). The relevant language says the
action "may be brought[, ]" not must be brought.
§ 1132(e)(2); see also Mathias, 867 F.3d at
732, and Smith v. Aegon Companies Pension Plan, 769
F.3d 922, 932 (6th Cir. 2014). This language is permissive
and does not preempt forum and venue selection clauses.
Accordingly, §1132(e)(2) does not invalidate the
plaintiff argues that the clause is unenforceable because
defendant did not make plaintiff aware of it in the denial of
her claim and that forcing this case to be litigated in
Wisconsin contravenes ERISA's legislative intent and
public policy by denying her "ready access to federal
courts." DE 13 at 4 (quoting 29 U.S.C. § 1001(b)).
arguments fail. First, plaintiff does not contend that the
Plan documents were somehow kept hidden or secret, and
nothing suggests that the forum selection clause was induced
by fraud. Forum-selection clauses are enforceable even when
not negotiated by the parties at arm's length.
Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc. v. Shute, 499 U.S. 585,
594 (1991). Absent fraud, it is irrelevant that plaintiff was
not aware of the clause when she filed this suit. Finally,
"forum-selection clauses should control except in
unusual cases." Atl. Marine Const. Co. v. U.S. Dist.
Court for W. Dist. of Texas, 571 U.S. 49, 64 (2013).
Forcing plaintiff to litigate in Wisconsin does not violate
ERISA's statutory intent or public policy, and it does
not deny her "ready access to federal courts[.]"
Instead, it simply directs the litigation to the venue stated
in the Plan documents. And the Plan "is at the center of
ERISA." McCutchen, 569 U.S. at 101.
determined that the forum and venue selection clause is valid
and enforceable, the Court finds that transfer pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1404(a)-not 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a)-is the
appropriate disposition. Atlantic Marine clarified
that when venue would otherwise be proper under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1391, forum-selection clauses are to be enforced via
§ 1404(a). 571 U.S. at 56-60. At first pass, venue seems
as if it would otherwise be proper, and so the Court finds
that § 1404(a) is the correct mechanism to transfer.
Accordingly, this action will be transferred to the Eastern
District of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Division.
motion [DE 10] is GRANTED on the grounds stated above. The
Court TRANSFERS this action to the United States District
Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, ...