In re Becker, No. 20-72805, __F.3d__, 2021 WL 1219745 (9th Cir. Apr. 1, 2021) (Before Siler, Rawlinson, and Bumatay).
The Ninth Circuit denied Becker’s petition for a writ of mandamus to cancel the district court’s order transferring her case against Wells Fargo from the Northern District of California to the District of Minnesota pursuant to a forum selection clause in the company’s 401(k) Retirement Plan. The Ninth Circuit explained that ERISA’s goal of “ready access to the Federal courts” “does not mean parties cannot agree to litigate in a specific forum in advance.” The district court did not commit clear error in transferring the case because the forum selection clause is valid. ERISA’s venue provision states where an action “may” be brought: (1) where the plan is administered; (2) where the breach took place; and (3) where a defendant resides or may be found. 29 U.S.C. § 1132. ERISA does not require that an action must be able to be brought in any of the possible venues. Wells Fargo could have foreclosed access to the federal courts through an arbitration clause. See Dorman v. Charles Schwab Corp., 934 F.3d 1107, 1109 (9th Cir. 2019). Forum selection clauses further ERISA’s other goal of encouraging uniformity in the decisions of the interpretation of the plan. Uniformity decreases costs and furthers ERISA’s goal of providing low-cost plans. The court dismissed Becker’s reliance on other forum selection cases dealing with other federal laws because the forum selection clauses conflicted with those laws. The court concluded that courts are in near universal agreement that ERISA does not bar forum selection clauses.