ERISA-Sixth Circuit Holds That The Plan’s Venue Selection Clause Is Valid And Enforeceable Against The Plaintiff

In Smith v. Aegon Companies Pension Plan, No.13-5492 (6th Cir. Oct. 14, 2014), plaintiff Roger Smith (“Smith”) appeals the district court’s dismissal of his claims without prejudice because of improper venue. The district court held that the venue selection clause in the ERISA governed Aegon Pension Plan, which requires that suit be brought in federal court in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was enforceable and applied to Smith’s claims. Accordingly, the court dismissed his complaint for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

In analyzing this case, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”) agreed with the district court, that the plan’s venue selection clause is enforceable and applies to Smith’s claims. It said that ERISA’s statutory scheme is built around reliance on the face of written plan documents. Plan administrators and employers are generally free under ERISA, for any reason at any time, to adopt, modify, or terminate a plan. The Court felt that there is no reason-such as a conflict with other ERISA provisions- why the plan’s written document cannot contain a venue selection clause.

Further, the Court felt that the venue selection clause in the Aegon Pension Plan is enforceable against Smith, since Smith did not complain that the clause: (1) resulted from fraud, duress, or other unconscionable means or (2) designated a forum that would ineffectively or unfairly handle the suit, or would be so seriously inconvenient such that requiring the plaintiff to bring suit there would be unjust. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court’s decision.

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