United States District Court, D. Maryland
INTERNATIONAL MASONRY TRAINING AND EDUCATION FOUNDATION, et al., Plaintiffs,
HAWAII MASONS' TRAINING FUND, et al., Defendants.
Xinis United States District Judge
in this ERISA case is Defendants' motion to transfer
venue and to dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint. ECF No. 8.
The motion is fully briefed, and no hearing is necessary.
See Loc. R. 105.6. For the following reasons, the
Court grants the motion to transfer.
International Masonry Training and Education Foundation
(“IMTEF”) is an employee welfare benefit plan,
employee benefit plan, and multiemployer plan created to
provide apprenticeship training and educational benefits to
eligible participants. ECF No. 1 ¶ 8. IMTEF is
administered in Maryland. Id. ¶ 6. Defendant
Hawaii Masons' Training Fund (“Hawaii Fund”)
is also an employee welfare benefit plan, employee benefit
plan, and multiemployer plan. Id. ¶ 10. The
Hawaii Fund is administered in Hawaii, id., and all
of its trustees reside in Hawaii. ECF No. 8-5 ¶ 5; ECF
No. 8-6 ¶ 5; ECF No. 8-7 ¶ 6; ECF No. 8-8 ¶ 5;
ECF No. 8-9 ¶ 5; ECF No. 8-10 ¶ 5; ECF No. 8-11
¶ 5; ECF No. 8-12 ¶ 5. The Hawaii Fund has not
conducted any business in Maryland during the tenure of any
defendant-trustee. ECF No. 8- 5 ¶ 3; ECF No. 8-6 ¶
3; ECF No. 8-7 ¶ 3; ECF No. 8-8 ¶ 3; ECF No. 8-9
¶ 3; ECF No. 8-10 ¶ 3; ECF No. 8-11 ¶ 3; ECF
No. 8-12 ¶ 3.
collective bargaining agreements, which were consummated in
Hawaii, require participating employers to contribute to
IMTEF. According to Plaintiffs, the agreements require the
Hawaii Fund to collect and forward the contributions to
IMTEF. Id. ¶¶ 14-15. The Hawaii Fund,
however, has retained such contributions totaling in excess
of $430, 000. Id. ¶ 16. As a result, Plaintiffs
IMTEF and its Board of Trustees filed this action against the
Hawaii Fund and its trustees, alleging violations of the
Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended
(“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et
seq., as well as Hawaii common law claims of conversion,
breach of fiduciary duty, tortious interference with
contractual relations, and unjust enrichment. ECF No. 1.
Defendants moved to transfer this action to Hawaii and to
dismiss the Complaint. ECF No. 8.
propriety of transfer is governed by 28 U.S.C. §
1404(a), which states, “[f]or 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.” To
prevail on a transfer motion, “the defendant must show
by a preponderance of the evidence that the proposed transfer
will better and more conveniently serve the interests of the
parties and witnesses and better promote the interests of
justice.” Jones v. Koons Auto., Inc., 752
F.Supp.2d 670, 680-81 (D. Md. 2010) (quoting Helsel v.
Tishman Realty & Constr. Co., 198 F.Supp.2d 710, 711
(D. Md. 2002)) (internal quotation marks omitted). The
defendant cannot rely on conclusory allegations of hardship
to meet this burden but rather must demonstrate, by affidavit
or otherwise, evidence of “the hardships they would
suffer if the case were heard in the plaintiff's chosen
forum.” Dow v. Jones, 232 F.Supp.2d 491, 499
(D. Md. 2002).
deciding whether to transfer the matter, the Court first
considers if the action could have been brought in the
requested venue. In re: Volkswagen of Am., Inc., 545
F.3d 304, 312 (4th Cir. 2008). If venue is proper in the
requested forum, the Court next considers: “(1) the
weight accorded the plaintiff's choice of venue; (2)
witness convenience and access; (3) convenience of the
parties; and (4) the interest of justice.” Lynch v.
Vanderhoef Builders, 237 F.Supp.2d 615, 617 (D. Md.
request transfer to the District of Hawaii, a forum in which
this ERISA case could have been brought. Under ERISA, venue
is proper “in the district where the plan is
administered, where the breach took place, or where a
defendant resides or may be found.” 29 U.S.C. §
1132(e)(2). Defendants may all be found in Hawaii and the
alleged breaches occurred in Hawaii. ECF No. 1 ¶¶
10, 46, 53. Likewise, the Hawaii common law claims could all
be properly brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b).
Because venue is proper in Hawaii, the Court next weighs the
above-stated factors to determine the propriety of transfer.
The Court addresses each factor in turn.
Plaintiff's Choice of Venue
the “plaintiff's forum choice of venue is
‘entitled to substantial weight.'” Cross
v. Fleet Reserve Ass'n Pension Plan, 383 F.Supp.2d
852, 856 (D. Md. 2005) (quoting Bd. of Trs., Sheet Metal
Workers Nat'l Fund v. Baylor Heating & Air
Conditioning, Inc., 702 F.Supp. 1253, 1256 (E.D. Va.
1988)). Actions brought pursuant to ERISA accord
“somewhat greater” weight to the plaintiff's
choice of forum, as reflected in ERISA's liberal venue
provision. Trs. of the Plumbers & Pipefitters
Nat'l Pension Fund v. Plumbing Servs., 791 F.3d 436,
444 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting Cross, 383 F.Supp.2d at
856-57) (internal quotation marks omitted). That said, the
plaintiff's choice is “significantly
lessened” where, as here, the chosen forum
“‘has little connection to the merits of the
underlying dispute.'” Int'l Painters &
Allied Trade Indus. Pension Fund v. Marrero Glass &
Metal, Inc., No. ELH-18-452, 2019 WL 423409, at *4 (D.
Md. Feb. 1, 2019) (quoting Lynch, 237 F.Supp.2d at
only connection between Plaintiffs' chosen forum-the
District of Maryland-and this case is that IMTEF administers
its plan from Bowie, Maryland. But IMTEF's plan
administration is not at issue in this case. Rather, the
events giving rise to the Complaint all took place in Hawaii.
The pertinent collective bargaining agreements were executed
in Hawaii; the pertinent contributions were made to the
Hawaii Fund; and the funds are held in Hawaii.
Plaintiffs' choice of forum in this circumstance is, at
best, “significant, but neither dispositive nor
conclusive.” Baylor Heating, 702 F.Supp. at
1257; see also Marrero Glass, 2019 WL 423409, at *4.
Witness Convenience and Access
second factor, witness convenience, is “[p]erhaps the
most important factor to be considered by a court.”
Cronos Containers, Ltd. v. Amazon Lines, Ltd., 121
F.Supp.2d 461, 466 (D. Md. 2000). Defendants contend, and
Plaintiffs do not dispute, that all key witnesses and
documents are located in Hawaii. ECF No. 13 at 11; ECF No. 16
at 6. Plaintiffs nonetheless maintain that trial may still
conveniently occur in Maryland because, at trial, the parties
could submit depositions in lieu of ...