A potential client calling a long-term disability lawyer looking to file an ERISA lawsuit rarely thinks about things like where to file the lawsuit, and a time limit by when the suit must be filed. But we lawyers think about it, because a mistake about where to file the lawsuit can delay the case by months, and delaying can be fatal to the claim. Some benefit plans attempt to dictate where any lawsuit for benefits must be filed (the forum selection clause). In most other cases, we rely on ERISA’s jurisdiction and venue clauses—ERISA § 502(e)(2). The most logical place a claimant wants to file a lawsuit and seek a lawyer is where she resides. Sometimes claimants must search for out-of-town counsel. Sometimes, a nearby jurisdiction is actually more cost effective for the claimant. But some insurers insist on claimants filing the lawsuit where they reside—at least when the insurer sees that jurisdiction as more favorable to the case—and file a motion to dismiss or transfer venue. Michael Bartolic recently defeated such an effort by Hartford to move a case from Chicago to Madison, Wisconsin. Nagle v. Hartford Life & Accident Ins. Co., No. 15-cv-6073, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 169783 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 21, 2015).
Hartford argued that the court had no jurisdiction over Hartford to hear the dispute, and that the case should additionally be transferred to the Western District of Wisconsin as a matter of convenience because Nagle lives in that district, despite Nagle’s choice to file the lawsuit in Chicago. The dispute focused on the role Hartford’s regional sales office, located blocks away from the court in Chicago, played in forming the group insurance policy under which Nagle brought the lawsuit. The insurance policy stated that Hartford’s Chicago office was the sales office, and that participants should contact the sales office with any questions about their coverage.
Though insurers have experienced some success on this issue recently, Hopkins v. Life Ins. Co. of N. Am., No. 15-375 (W.D. Ky. Dec. 16, 2015) and Coffey v. Hartford Life & Accident Ins. Co., No. 15-378 (W.D. Ky. Jan. 12, 2016), the Nagle court rejected both of Hartford’s arguments. The court determined that Hartford’s sale of the policy from Chicago was sufficient to create personal jurisdiction over Hartford. Moreover, convenience did not warrant transferring the case to Madison, Wisconsin, as it was more economical for plaintiff to litigate the case in Chicago (near her family) than in Madison, Wisconsin (still hours away from her home). In addition, Chicago appeared more convenient for Hartford, located blocks away from the court.
If you have a claim for long term disability benefits would like to discuss when and where to bring a lawsuit, speak with a knowledgeable ERISA long term disability lawyer.