The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reagan, District Judge.
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.
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 § 1132(e)(2)
provides for nationwide venue in an ...