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Board of Trustees of Automobile Mechanics'local No. 701 Union and Industry Welfare Fund v. Brown

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

August 14, 2014

BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE AUTOMOBILE MECHANICS' LOCAL NO. 701 UNION AND INDUSTRY WELFARE FUND, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT LEE BROWN, an individual; and CASSANDRA SORENSEN a/k/a KASSANDRA SORENSEN, an individual, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN W. DARRAH, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Board of Trustees of the Automobile Mechanics' Local No. 701 Union and Industry Welfare Fund ("the Fund"), brought a claim against Defendants, Robert Lee Brown and Cassandra Sorensen, to recover money under § 502(a)(3) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"). Defendants have filed a joint motion to transfer this case, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), to the District of Montana.

BACKGROUND

For purposes of a motion to transfer, all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint are accepted as true unless controverted by affidavit. Plotkin v. IP Axess, Inc., 168 F.Supp.2d 899, 900 (N.D. Ill. 2001). The Fund is a fiduciary of the Automobile Mechanics' Local No. 701 Union and Industry Welfare Plan ("the Plan"). The Plan is a self-funded welfare benefit plan that provides medical and disability benefits for participants and is administered in Countryside, Illinois.

Brown and Sorensen are both residents of Vaughn, Montana. Sorensen is Brown's domestic partner. On September 17, 2004, Brown, a participant in the Plan, suffered a work-related bodily injury. The Plan expended a total of $35, 728.55 in medical and short-term disability benefits on Brown's behalf as a result of the injury. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 3-10.)

In 2005, Brown brought a workers' compensation claim with the Missouri Department of Labor, Division of Workers' Compensation. On or about April 23, 2012, Brown settled the workers' compensation claim for $112, 500.00. ( Id. ¶ 14.) Brown used a portion of that settlement money to purchase a recreational vehicle, which he transferred to a third party, a Mr. Cox. Brown also transferred a parcel of real property and part of the settlement amount to Sorensen. ( Id. ¶¶ 16-17.)

The Fund brought this action against Brown in December 2012. The Fund added Sorensen as a Defendant in its First Amended Complaint, which was filed in November 2013. The Fund alleges that the Plan is entitled to reimbursement in the amount of $35, 728.55 from Defendants. ( Id. ¶ 26.) As a participant of the Plan, Brown executed a Subrogation and Reimbursement Agreement, which stipulates that the "Fund shall be entitled to reimbursement for the money the fund paid... for the claimant's benefits and necessary medical expenses incurred as a result of this occurrence." ( Id. ¶ 12.) The Fund alleges that by refusing to reimburse the amount of $35, 728.55, Brown has violated the terms of the Plan. ( Id. ¶ 25.) The Fund seeks appropriate equitable relief to enforce the terms of the Plan and the reimbursement agreement under ERISA § 502(a)(3). ( Id. ¶ 30.)

ANALYSIS

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), a district court may "for the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice... transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought." Broken down into its statutory factors, transfer is appropriate where: (1) venue is proper in both the transferor and the transferee courts; (2) the transfer will serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses; and (3) the transfer is in the interest of justice. 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a); see Coffey v. Van Dorn Iron Works, 796 F.2d 217, 219 (7th Cir. 1986). The district court considers these factors in light of all the circumstances, on a case by case basis, and has the sound discretion regarding the weight accorded to each factor. Coffey, 796 F.2d at 219. In so ruling, the court may consider facts presented by way of "affidavit, deposition, stipulation, or other relevant documents." Midwest Precision Servs., Inc. v. PTM Indus. Corp., 574 F.Supp. 657, 659 (N.D. Ill. 1983). Furthermore, the party seeking transfer bears the burden of establishing that the transferee court is clearly more convenient. Coffey, 796 F.2d at 219-20.

Venue

In this case, the first requirement is not in dispute. Both parties agree that venue is proper in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and the United States District Court for the District of Montana. The remaining factors are discussed below.

Convenience of the Parties and Witnesses

A transfer of venue must also serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses. Courts consider five "private" factors of the parties in evaluating convenience: (1) the plaintiff's initial choice of forum; (2) the situs of material events; (3) the relative ease of access to sources of proof; (4) the convenience of the parties litigating in the respective forums; and (5) the ...


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