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WAELTZ v. DELTA PILOTS RETIREMENT PLAN

March 30, 2001

JOHN A. WAELTZ AND HERBERT A. JOHNSON, JR., PLAINTIFFS,
V.
THE DELTA PILOTS RETIREMENT PLAN, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reagan, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

I. Introduction

On February 9, 2001, John Waeltz and Herbert Johnson, Jr. filed a putative class action suit in this Court against the Delta Pilots Retirement Plan, a defined benefit plan under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 or "ERISA," 29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq.*fn1

Waeltz, a retired Delta pilot who (until recently) resided in Belleville, Illinois, and Johnson, an active Delta pilot who resides in O'Fallon, Illinois, allege that the Delta Pilots Retirement Plan uses a method for calculating lump sum distributions which results in Plan participants receiving less than the total accrued benefits to which they are entitled.*fn2 Moreover, Waeltz and Johnson claim that the Plan's computation of lump sum distributions violates ERISA, the Internal Revenue Code, and regulations issued by the Department of the Treasury.

Approximately 9,500 active Delta pilots and 2,740 retired Delta pilots participate in the Plan (see Piper Affidavit, Exh. 7 to Doc. 11). Waeltz and Johnson ("Plaintiffs") seek to represent two classes of Plan participants: (1) those who have received, or will have the right to receive, a lump sum distribution from the Plan; and (2) those who accrued benefits under the "Minimum Benefit" formula used by the Plan but did not receive the full value of the Minimum Benefit at retirement. Each of the two proposed classes contains thousands of Plan participants.

The Court has granted extensions of the briefing deadlines on Plaintiffs' motion for class certification. Now before the Court, fully briefed, is the Plan's February 22, 2001 motion to transfer venue (Doc. 4).

In their complaint, Plaintiffs assert that venue is proper in the Southern District of Illinois under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e)(2), "in that the Plan may be found here." This assertion lies at the heart of the dispute presented to the Court in numerous pleadings (memoranda, affidavits, exhibits, and related documents) and further advanced through oral arguments at a hearing conducted on March 29, 2001. Having taken the motion under advisement at the conclusion of the hearing, and having carefully reviewed the voluminous record before it, the Court now rules as follows.

II. Analysis of Motion to Transfer

The ERISA venue provision, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e)(2), states:

Where an action under this subchapter is brought in a district court of the United States, it 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. . . .

As mentioned above, Plaintiffs' complaint asserts that venue is proper here, because the Plan "may be found" in the Southern District of Illinois (Complaint, Doc. 1, p. 1, ¶ 5). More specifically, Plaintiffs contend that the Plan may be found here, because (a) this Court has personal jurisdiction over the Plan, and (b) several Plan participants reside here (see Doc. 12, pp. 5-6).

The Plan contends that venue is not proper here, that this lawsuit has no connection whatsoever with the Southern District of Illinois, and that this Court should dismiss this case or transfer it to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia (Atlanta Division). For the reasons stated below, on the specific facts of the ERISA case before it, the Court finds that venue is not proper in this Judicial District under § 1132(e)(2).

The Southern District of Illinois is not the district where the Plan is administered. The Plan is administered in Atlanta, Georgia. The Southern District of Illinois is not the district where the alleged breach took place. The Plan calculates all benefits, communicates with all Plan participants, and authorizes payment of all benefits in Atlanta, Georgia. Obviously, the Plan does not "reside" here.

Nor is the Court persuaded that the Plan "may be found" in the Southern District of Illinois. Plaintiffs first argue that venue exists here, because the Court has personal jurisdiction over the Plan (see Doc. 12, pp. 3-4). For this argument, Plaintiffs rely on Board of Trustees, Sheet Metal Workers' National Pension Fund v. Elite Erectors, Inc., 212 F.3d 1031, 1037 (7th Cir. 2000). Elite Erectors did not hold that ยง 1132(e)(2) provides for nationwide venue in an ...


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