ERISA cases are complicated, as any attorney handling ERISA cases can tell you. This is exemplified in an April 2018, opinion from the U.S. District Court, Western Division, Austin Texas. The opinion is styled, Kimberley Phillips v. Charter Communications, Inc. Welfare Benefit Plan.
Charter filed a motion to transfer the case to the District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. This court granted the motion.
This ERISA plan contains a forum-selection clause (FSC) that states, “any legal action to appeal a denial of claims for benefits shall be brought in a federal court sitting within the Eastern District of Missouri. Charter argues that the FSC is valid and controlling, warranting transfer. Phillips, meanwhile, argues that the controlling document to this dispute is the Summary Plan Description (SPD) for the Charter Short-Term Disability Program ( STD Program), which is a component program of the Plan. The SPD contains a clause that states, “at the completion of that review process, you have the right to file suit in federal or state court.” Phillips argues that the SPD’s clause supersedes the Plan’s FSC and confers broad forum-selection authority upon Phillips. In the alternative, Phillips argues that even if the Plan’s FSC is valid, the Court should refuse to apply it because doing so would be unfair.
regulated plan, interpreting the SPD clause is governed by federal law.
insurance contract its ordinary and generally accepted meaning if such a meaning exists.
To do so, the Court interprets the contract language in an ordinary and popular sense as would a person of average intelligence and experience, such that the language is given its generally accepted meaning if there is one. A provision is not ambiguous simply because of a “lack of clarity, or because the parties proffer different interpretations of the contract.”