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Central States Southeast and Southwest Areas v. Cargo Carriers

June 9, 2011

CENTRAL STATES SOUTHEAST AND SOUTHWEST AREAS PENSION FUND, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CARGO CARRIERS, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Samuel Der-yeghiayan, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the court on Defendants' motion to transfer. For the reasons stated below, the motion to transfer is granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Fund (Fund) is an employee benefit plan and trust. Plaintiff Howard McDougall is a trustee of the Fund. Billings Transportation Group, Inc. (Billings) was allegedly required to make contributions to the Fund on behalf of Billings' employees. At one point, Defendant Cargo Carriers, Inc. (Cargo) was a trade or business under common control with Billings and other businesses. Certain individual Defendants allegedly owned significant shares of stock in either Billings or Cargo. Plaintiffs contend that the group of businesses, including Billings, effectuated a complete withdrawal from the Fund and that Defendants are liable for withdrawal liability. The Fund brought the instant action pursuant to The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. seeking to recover the unpaid withdrawal liability. Defendants have filed a motion to transfer.

LEGAL STANDARD

A district court may transfer an action to another district where the action might have been brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) (Section 1404(a)) "[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, [if it is] in the interest of justice . . . ." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). In order to transfer a case, the transferor court must first find that:

(1) venue is proper in the transferor district, see Coffey v. Van Dorn Iron Works, 796 F.2d 217, 219 (7th Cir. 1986)(stating that a court "in which a suit is filed with proper venue" may transfer an action pursuant to § 1404(a)), and (2) venue is proper in the transferee district, see 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a)(stating that transfer can only be made to a district in which the action "might have been brought").

DISCUSSION

Defendants move to transfer the instant action to the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. The parties have not disputed that the Northern District of Illinois and the Middle District of North Carolina are proper venues. (Mem. Trans. 5); (Ans. Mot. 4).

I. Plaintiffs' Choice of Forum

Plaintiffs argue that their choice of forum is entitled to deference. In considering whether to transfer an action, the court should "give some weight to the plaintiff's choice of forum." Federal Deposit Ins. Corp. v. Citizens Bank & Trust Co. of Park Ridge, Ill., 592 F.2d 364, 368 (7th Cir. 1979); See also In re National Presto Industries, Inc., 347 F.3d 662, 664 (7th Cir. 2003)(stating that "'unless the balance is strongly in favor of the defendant, the plaintiff's choice of forum should rarely be disturbed'")(quoting in part Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501, 508 (1947)). Plaintiffs cite non-controlling precedent that they contend indicates that pension funds' choice of a forum should be given special deference. (Ans. Mot. 4). Plaintiffs argue that the assets of pension plans will be drained if pension plans are forced to litigate throughout the country. However, simply because the Fund is a pension plan does not mean that Plaintiffs are entitled to pursue an action in the forum of their choice and Plaintiffs have not cited any precedent to support such a notion. Section 1404(a) does not provide any express provision exempting pension funds from a transfer under that statute. Nor does caselaw hold that a pension fund is exempt from transfers from a forum that the pension fund chooses. See, e.g., Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Fund v. John R. Concrete & Supply Co., 2008 WL 4066399, at *3 (N.D. Ill. 2008)(holding that a case brought by a pension fund should be transferred based on the substantial burden for the defense to proceed in the chosen forum). If, after a consideration of all the factors considered for a motion to transfer venue, a transfer is appropriate, even a pension fund under certain circumstances that opted to deal with parties located in a certain forum may be required to pursue an action in that forum. In the instant action, it is undisputed that Plaintiffs opted to deal with Defendants, which are not in Illinois. Thus, Plaintiffs' choice of forum, while accorded deference, particularly in an ERISA case brought by a pension fund, is not dispositive. As will be explained further below, despite Plaintiffs' choice of the instant forum, based on the unique circumstances in this case, a transfer is warranted.

II. Convenience of Parties and Witnesses

Defendants argue that the convenience of the parties and witnesses would be best served by a transfer of the instant action. Defendants have shown that the individual Defendants were residents of North Carolina with the exception of Mary Fisher, who is a resident of Virginia. It is undisputed that Cargo is a dissolved North Carolina corporation. Defendants have shown that a significant amount of relevant documents and witnesses in this case are located in North Carolina.

Plaintiffs contend that the location of witnesses should not be considered because Cargo has waived all challenges to withdrawal liability and the testimony of witnesses will not be necessary. However, as Defendants point out, whether any Defendants waived challenges to liability, and whether witness testimony can be introduced, relates to the merits of Plaintiffs' claims. Such decisions concerning the merits are not properly made until the transfer issue has been resolved and the case is proceeding in the proper court. Plaintiffs also complain that Defendants have not properly identified potential witnesses and their potential testimony. However, Defendants have put forth details in affidavits ...


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