After a top-hat plan and pension plan denied a participant’s claims and appeals for additional benefits, the plan administrators preemptively filed a declaratory judgment action, seeking a declaration that:  (i) termination of defendant’s employment was not for the purpose of interfering with his ability to attain rights under the plans or ERISA; (ii) the top-hat plan is exempt from certain ERISA requirements; and (iii) the pension plan correctly denied defendant’s claim and appeal. 

The district court dismissed the action for want of personal jurisdiction.  It concluded that it would have personal jurisdiction over defendant, a Florida resident, only if plaintiff could take advantage of ERISA’s nationwide service of process provision to sue defendant in North Carolina.  Because a plaintiff may avail itself of the nationwide service of process provision only if the court has subject matter jurisdiction over the action, the court focused on deciding whether it could exercise subject matter jurisdiction in this case.   In concluding that it could not, the court observed that in order for it to have subject matter jurisdiction, the action must have been brought to (i) “enforce any provisions” of ERISA or the plan, or (ii) obtain “appropriate equitable relief.”  Here, the action was not brought to “enforce any provisions” of ERISA because, among other reasons, “a fiduciary’s declaratory judgment action to determine the extent of its liability is not an action that enforces ERISA.”  Moreover, the action was not brought to obtain “appropriate equitable relief,” because in the court’s view, to allow the action to proceed would “open[] the door to procedural fencing and circumventing a plaintiff’s chosen forum.”  The case is Exec. Ret. Plan of Thermal Ceramics Latin Am., Ret. Comm. v. Magasrevy, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 113197 (E.D.N.C. Aug. 26, 2015).