United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
SHEILAR SMITH and KASANDRA ANTON, on Behalf of Themselves, Individually, and on behalf of all others similarly situated, and on behalf of the OSF Plans, Plaintiffs,
OSF HEALTHCARE SYSTEM, an Illinois Non-Profit Corporation, et al., Defendants.
AMENDED MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
M. YANDLE DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes before the Court on Defendants OSF HealthCare
System, OSF HealthCare System Human Resources Committee and
Plan Administrator for the OSF Plans’ (hereinafter,
“Defendants”) Motion to Change Venue (Doc. 33).
Plaintiffs responded in opposition (Doc. 37) and Defendants
replied (Doc. 44). For the following reasons,
Defendants’ motion is
action brought on behalf of all participants and
beneficiaries of the OSF HealthCare System Plans claimed to
be “Church Plans” under ERISA (hereinafter,
“OSF Plans”), Plaintiffs allege that the OSF
Plans do not qualify as “Church Plans” under
ERISA and that the Plans have been underfunded by Defendants.
Plaintiffs further allege that even if the OSF Plans qualify,
the Church Plan exemption violates the Establishment Clause
of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and
is therefore void. Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive
request a transfer of this action to the Central District of
Illinois. Specifically, Defendants contend that this case
should be consolidated with a related case currently pending
in the Central District, that the claims raised in
Plaintiffs’ Complaint arose in the Central District,
that Plaintiffs’ choice of forum is not entitled to
deference and that both private and public interests weigh in
favor of transfer. Plaintiffs respond that the related case
is distinguishable, that the Southern District is more
convenient, that Plaintiffs’ choice of forum is
entitled to deference and that material events occurred in
this District. With leave of Court, Defendants replied and
set forth details of the related case including the recent
filing of an amended complaint which added an OSF Plan that
is also named in the case at bar.
the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of
justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to
any other district or division where it might have been
brought or to any district or division to which all parties
have consented.” 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a); see
Coffey v. Van Dorn Iron Works, 796 F.2d 217, 219
(7th Cir. 1986). The statute permits a flexible analysis and
requires a “case-by-case consideration of convenience
and fairness.” Research Automation, Inc. v.
Schrader-Bridgeport Int'l, Inc., 626 F.3d 973, 977
(7th Cir. 2010), quoting Stewart Organization, Inc. v.
Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988). While the order of
filing is one factor for consideration in a motion to
transfer, the “first-to-file” rule is not
controlling in the Seventh Circuit. Id. at 982.
weighing the private interests involved, the Court should
consider: “1) plaintiff's choice of forum; 2) the
situs of material events; 3) the relative ease and access to
sources of proof; 4) the convenience of the parties; and 5)
the convenience of the witnesses.” Stock v.
Integrated Health Plan, Inc., No. 06-CV-00215-DRH, 2006
WL 3420289, at *2 (S.D. Ill. Nov. 28, 2006), quoting
Amoco Oil Co. v. Mobil Oil Corp., 90 F.Supp.2d 958,
960 (N.D. Ill. 2000). “Where the balance of convenience
is a close call, merely shifting inconvenience from one party
to another is not a sufficient basis for transfer.”
Research Automation, 626 F.3d at 978. The
“interest of justice” (public interest) element
of the statute relates to efficient administration of the
courts and requires examination of factors such as docket
congestion, likely speed to trial, each court’s
familiarity with the relevant law, the respective
desirability of resolving controversies in each locale and
the relationship of each community to the controversy.
Id. at 978.
case was filed on April 27, 2016-six days before the related
case was filed, Bailey, et al. v. OSF HealthCare Sys., et
al., 16-CIV-01137 (C.D. Ill)-and set forth claims on
behalf of “all participants and beneficiaries of
defined benefit pension plans that are established… by
OSF… and operated as or claimed to be “Church
Plans” under ERISA.” (Doc. 1). The Amended
Complaint added, “[t]he OSF Plans include, without
limitation, The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis
Employees Pension Plan and the Retirement Plan for Employees
of Saint Anthony’s Health Center.” (Doc. 7).
Likewise, the Bailey plaintiffs amended their
complaint on June 29, 2016-two days after Plaintiffs’
response to the current motion was filed-to clarify that
Bailey involves the St. Francis Pension Plan and to
add reference to the St. Anthony Health Center Retirement
plaintiffs in Bailey were employed by St. Francis.
Plaintiff Smith in this case was employed by St. Anthony. The
claims are similar, however the scope of the claims in the
instant case is more expansive as the Bailey
plaintiffs are not seeking a declaration that the Church Plan
Exemption under ERISA violates the Establishment Clause and
the present case was first to be filed, this factor weighs in
favor of denying the transfer. Regarding the private
interests, Plaintiff Smith’s choice of forum is the
Southern District and Plaintiff Anton elected to join her.
Additionally, Plaintiff Smith in the present case was
employed by St. Anthony Health Center, which is located in
Alton, Illinois. Alton is located in Madison County, which is
within the Southern District. Moreover, Plaintiffs assert
that, according to Defendants’ calculations,
approximately 6, 700 OSF Plan participants reside in the
Southern District (see Doc. 37). While the Court declines to
make a finding as to actual numbers, the fact that many OSF
Plan participants reside in this district weighs against
Defendants’ motion to transfer.
the OSF Plans may be administered at OSF Headquarters in
Peoria, Plaintiffs participated in the Southern District.
Thus, the situs of material events in this case lies in both
the Southern and Central Districts. These factors likewise
weigh in favor of denying transfer. Further, the denial of
transfer will have minimal impact on the parties’
access to sources of proof, as relevant documents appear to
be maintained in both districts.
convenience of the parties and witnesses likewise favors
venue in the Southern District. Plaintiff Smith resides in
this district. Witnesses at this stage are largely
unidentified, but at least some of them reside or work in the
Southern District. Private interest factors simply do not
weigh in favor of transfer.
reviewing the public interest factors, the Court must first
clarify the statistics cited by Defendants. Defendants assert
that the Southern District has a congested docket and a
slower “speed-to-trial” as compared to the
Central District. However, Defendants fail to consider the
number of multidistrict cases that are assigned to Judge
David Herndon, which should be extracted prior to a
statistical comparison. Further, as Plaintiffs correctly
state, the “speed to trial” statistics are
over-inclusive and do not take into account the number of
cases that are voluntarily dismissed or otherwise terminated
prior to trial. As such, Defendants have failed to meet their
burden to show that judicial economy weighs in favor of
forgoing reasons, Defendants’ Motion to Transfer Venue