The 6th Circuit’s Ruling on the Validity of Forum Selection Clauses in ERISA Plans Stands

March 5, 2016

The Sixth Circuit held in Smith v. Aegon Companies Pension Plan that ERISA plan sponsors may designate the federal courts in which the plan’s participants may bring claims under ERISA. Although district courts routinely hear forum selection clause issues under ERISA, the Sixth Circuit is the only court of appeals that has considered this question. For plan sponsors, forum selection clauses help bring uniformity to a plan’s legal treatment when the plan’s participants may live in a number of different states. Opponents of the Sixth Circuit’s decision, including the U.S. Secretary of Labor, argued that upholding forum selection clauses is inconsistent with ERISA’s liberal venue and service provisions. However, the Supreme Court denied certiorari of the Aegon case without comment. Once more appellate courts weigh in on the issue of forum selection clauses in ERISA plans, many analysists anticipate that the Supreme Court will grant certiorari, particularly if a circuit spilt develops.

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