The opinion of the court was delivered by: MCGLYNN
On October 23, 1984, an explosion occurred on board the S.S. Puerto Rican while the vessel was at a pilot station approximately ten (10) miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge. The ship caught fire as a result of the explosion and, although the fire was extinguished, the structurally weakened vessel eventually broke in two in heavy seas. The stern section of the ship sank while the bow section remained afloat with one tank drifting free of this portion of the vessel.
At least one life was lost and many were injured in the explosion and fire. Cargo was destroyed and a resulting oil slick caused injury to wildlife and damaged shorelines, all of which resulted in claims being made. Claims for salvage services rendered the Puerto Rican have also been asserted. In short, a plethora of damage claims have arisen as a result of these tragic events.
Pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Supplemental Rule F(9), thirteen (13) claimants have moved or joined in motions to have this action transferred to the Northern District of California. Petitioners oppose the motion to transfer. In addition, counsel for fourteen (14) claimants has filed an answer in opposition to the motion to transfer.
The remaining claimants have neither joined nor opposed the motion.
Supplemental Rule F(9) provides, in pertinent part;
. . . . For the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, the court may transfer the action to any district; . . .
This rule, which replaces Admiralty Rule 54, conforms more closely to the wording of 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) which provides for transfer of civil actions. However, Supplemental Rule F(9) retains the phrase that explicitly allows transfer to any district unlike 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) which limits transfer to a district where the action might have been brought. 15 C. Wright, A. Miller, & E. Cooper, Federal Practice & Procedure § 3817 (1976).
Under Supplemental Rule F(9), as under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), transfer is at the discretion of the District Court. Humble Oil & Refining Company v. Bell Marine Service, Inc., 321 F.2d 53 (5th Cir. 1963); In Re Alamo Chemical Transportation Co., 323 F. Supp. 789 (S.D.Tex. 1970).
In Re Alamo Chemical Transportation Co., 323 F. Supp. 789 (S.D.Tex. 1970), provides a cogent application of this rule. Although the court denied a transfer, it did so after carefully balancing the convenience factors with respect to each of the parties and witnesses. The decision to deny transfer was reached when it became evident to the court that the factors weighed evenly for each district under consideration. In light of these circumstances, the court held that the moving party "had not met the burden which is his upon motion for transfer." In Re Alamo Chemical Transportation Co., 323 F. Supp. 789, (S.D.Tex. 1970).
However, in applying a similar analysis to the case at hand, we find that the balance weighs heavily in favor of transfer even before the "interests of justice" are considered, a factor on which the court was silent in In Re Alamo Chemical Transportation Co., 323 F. Supp. 789 (S.D.Tex. 1970).
The deadline has now passed for filing claims in this proceeding. At this point in time, according to the various documents submitted in support of and in opposition to this motion, at least six (6) of the individual claimants in this case reside in California. Three (3) have Pennsylvania addresses. The remaining individual claimants are scattered throughout the southern states. Most of those claimants who reside in states other than California or Pennsylvania are represented by counsel who maintain offices in both Philadelphia and San Francisco. Counsel for fourteen (14) of the claimants filed an answer opposing the motion for transfer which states merely that none of these claimants requested transfer. Counsel does not maintain that a California forum would be less convenient for these claimants than a Pennsylvania forum.