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Mroch v. Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Inc.

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

December 10, 2014

CYNTHIA MROCH, Plaintiffs,
v.
SEDGWICK CLAIMS MANAGEMENT SERVICES, INC., and ASCENSION HEALTH LONG-TERM DISABILITY PLAN, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN W. DARRAH, District Judge.

Defendants Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Inc. and the Ascension Health Long-Term Disability Plan filed a Motion to Transfer Venue [14] pursuant to a forum selection clause and 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). For the reasons stated below, the Motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Cynthia Mroch, is an employee of Alexian Brothers Health System, which is owned by Ascension Health. (Dkt. 1. ¶ 8). Plaintiff was a participant in their long-term disability plan (the "LTD plan"). ( Id. at ¶¶ 8, 10). Claims for benefits are decided by Sedgwick, and eligibility and coverage decisions are made by Ascension. ( Id. at ¶ 10.) Plaintiff further claims that Ascension also acts as the Plan Administrator. ( Id. at ¶ 12.) Plaintiff applied for short-term and long-term disability benefits, due to endometriosis, and was denied long-term benefits. (Id. at ¶¶ 18-19). Sedgwick denied Plaintiff long-term benefits, claiming that the endometriosis was a pre-existing condition. ( Id. at ¶ 19.)

Plaintiff filed the current suit against Ascension and Sedgwick, (collectively, the "Defendants") in the Northern District of Illinois on June 3, 2014. ( Id.) Plaintiff seeks to recover benefits under the terms of the LTD plan pursuant to Section 502(a)(1)(B) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. ( Id. at ¶¶ 53, 54.) Defendants filed a motion to transfer venue to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern Division of Missouri pursuant to a forum-selection clause and 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). (Dkt. 15.)

LEGAL STANDARD

ERISA's venue provision provides that an action "may be brought where a plan is administered, where the breach took place, or where a defendant resides or may be found." 29 U.S.C § 1132(e)(2). Venue can be changed for convenience of the parties, in the interest of justice, or upon motion, consent, or stipulation of all parties. 28 U.S.C.§ 1404 (a), (b). The court must weigh private and public interests on a case-by-case basis in determining the best forum for a particular case. Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 622 (1964).

Forum-selection clauses "are prima facie valid and should be enforced unless enforcement is shown by the resisting party to be unreasonable' under the circumstances." M/S Bremen v. Zapata Off-Shore Co., 407 U.S. 1, 10 (1972). "[A]bsent a showing that trial in the contractual forum will be so gravely difficult and inconvenient that [the party challenging the clause] will for all practical purposes be deprived of his day in court... there is no basis for concluding that it would be unfair, unjust, or unreasonable to hold that party to his bargain.'" Heller Fin., Inc. v. Midwhey Powder Co., 883 F.2d 1286, 1291 (7th Cir. 1989) (quoting Bremen, 407 U.S. at 18.)

ANALYSIS

Forum Selection Clause

An amendment to the LTD plan, effective January 1, 2006, added a Forum Selection Clause which provides:

Except as the laws of the United States may otherwise require, any action by any Plan Participant or Beneficiary relating to or arising under the Plan shall be brought and resolved only in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri and in any courts in which appeals form such court are heard, and such court shall have personal jurisdiction over any Participant or Beneficiary named in such action.

(Dkt. 15-3, p. 45.) The Summary Plan Description gives participants notice of the mandatory forum selection clause:

The Plan contains a forum selection clause, which requires that any action relating to or arising under this Plan shall be brought in and resolved only in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, and ...

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