Forum selection is an important part of litigation strategy, as some jurisdictions are more friendly to class actions and plaintiffs than others. A lawyer considering a class action lawsuit is going to look at the different states they may be able to bring the action in as well as the choice between state and federal courts. Since this decision can have a major impact, the recent ruling by a Washington federal court regarding where a class action can be filed has gained serious attention.
Mayfield v. ACE American Ins. Co., 18-cv-1695 (W.D. Wash. May 13, 2019)
After plaintiffs choose a forum they feel is favorable, defendants often try to transfer the case to a different jurisdiction more favorable to their side. The courts generally apply a set series of considerations when deciding whether to allow the case to transfer to a different jurisdiction.
In the case at hand, Mr. Mayfield participated in his employer’s welfare benefit plan, including the purchase of accidental death and dismemberment (AD&D) insurance. This plan was insured by ACE American Insurance Company, the defendant. Mr. Mayfield filed a class action lawsuit in the Western District of Washington claiming that he, and others in the class similarly situated, did not get the full insurance proceeds due when a covered individual died. After the case was filed, ACE submitted a motion to transfer the case to the Northern District of Georgia. The argument was that Georgia was more convenient because more class members were from Georgia than were from Washington. Further, they argued, the AD&D plan was administered out of Georgia. ACE employees with knowledge of the case were also located in Georgia. Finally, ACE showed that the plan was initially negotiated with the business and executed in the state of Georgia.
The Northern District of Washington sided with the defendant and the case transferred. They ruled that the plaintiff’s choice was less important because the case was a putative class action, meaning that it has not yet been certified by the court as a class. In the court’s opinion, they give a fair amount of weight to the fact that the plan was negotiated and executed in Georgia, claiming these actions made for a “considerable technical connection” to making the forum for the lawsuit Georgia. Further, choosing Georgia reduced litigation and travel costs on both sides.
Considerations for Future Class Actions
Benefit plans are certified across the U.S. every day in almost every jurisdiction. Thanks to the ruling in Mayfield, plaintiffs and defendants both will now be considering where the plan was negotiated as part of their strategy in discussing where to best file their claims.