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De Lage Landen Financial Services, Inc. v. Elite Technology

September 30, 2009

DE LAGE LANDEN FINANCIAL SERVICES, INC.
v.
ELITE TECHNOLOGY (NY), INC., ET AL



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Savage, J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Defendant PTA of Public School 41 ("PTA"), a non-profit association which supports Public School 41 in New York City, has moved to transfer this breach of contract and unjust enrichment case brought by the plaintiff, De Lage Landen Financial Services, Inc. ("DLL"), a Michigan corporation with a place of business in Wayne, Pennsylvania, to the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York. PTA asserts that the Southern District of New York is the more appropriate forum because both defendants reside in New York, certain PTA cross-claims are governed by New York law, the contracts at issue were negotiated in New York, and the majority of witnesses and documents are in New York. In addition, it contends that the significant financial burden of litigating this case in Philadelphia supports transfer. In opposition, DLL argues that this matter should remain in the district which it has chosen, and where it conducts business and significant events giving rise to the litigation occurred. DLL also invokes the forum selection clauses of the contracts that provide that DLL may select this district as the appropriate forum.

After weighing all relevant factors and giving consideration to the plaintiff's preference and the forum selection provisions, we conclude the balance tips in favor of transferring this action to the Southern District of New York. Therefore, PTA's motion to transfer will be granted.

Background Facts

As alleged in the complaint, DLL entered into two lease agreements with the PTA in which it agreed to provide copy machines to PTA (respectively, the "Savin 4051/4075 Lease," and the "Savin 4090 Lease")*fn1 . DLL, through an assignment, acquired a third lease originally entered into between PTA and Ricoh Business Systems, Inc (the "Ricoh Lease").*fn2 PTA has discontinued making payments under all three leases.*fn3

On April 9, 2009, DLL initiated this action against PTA and Elite Technology (NY) Inc. ("Elite") for breach of contract and unjust enrichment.*fn4 In its Amended Answer, PTA admits it discontinued making lease payments to DLL, but not until the validity of those agreements came into question.*fn5 Specifically, PTA contends that certain agreements relating to the leased copiers were forged.

PTA is a non-profit association of parents, teachers and staff. Its mission is to support and provide resources for the benefit of children attending Public School 41 in New York City. It is funded solely through donations and fund raising, and uses its resources to supplement student enrichment programs and provide administrative support to the school. PTA negotiated and signed the lease agreements in New York. The copy machines at issue are located in New York.

Summary of Law

A defendant moving for transfer of venue bears the burden of demonstrating that (1) the case could have been brought initially in the proposed transferee forum; (2) the proposed transfer will be more convenient for the parties and witnesses; and (3) the proposed transfer will be in the interest of justice. 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a); Jumara v. State Farm Ins. Co., 55 F.3d 873, 879 (3d Cir. 1995); Shutte v. Armco Steel Corp., 431 F.2d 22, 25 (3d Cir. 1970). Once the defendant establishes that the action could have been brought in the proposed district, the court must weigh several private and public interest factors to determine whether the balance of convenience tips in favor of transfer. Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879-80.

Among the factors considered when determining whether transfer is more convenient for the parties and in the interest of justice are: (1) the plaintiff's choice of forum; (2) the defendant's preferred forum; (3) the place where the claim arose; (4) the relative ease of access to the sources of proof; (5) the convenience of the parties as demonstrated by relative financial status and physical location; (6) the availability of compulsory process for the attendance of witnesses; (7) the convenience of the witnesses; (8) the practical problems that make trial of a case expensive and inefficient; and, (9) "public interest" factors, such as congestion of court dockets and the relationship of the jury and the community to the underlying district. Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879-80. Depending on the nature and facts of the case, these factors overlap and are intertwined.

Because the analysis involved is "flexible and individualized," the court has broad discretion in deciding a motion for transfer of venue. Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988). Despite this wide latitude, a transfer motion is not to be granted without a careful weighing of factors favoring and disfavoring transfer. See Shutte, 431 F.2d at 24-25. Indeed, because the defendant bears the burden of demonstrating that the balance of convenience and the interest of justice clearly favor transfer, a court's analysis should begin by favoring the plaintiffs' selection of venue. Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879-80.

Analysis

There is no question that this action could have been brought in the Southern District of New York. It is a district where PTA and Elite are both residents, and where PTA signed the leases in question. See 28 U.S.C. § 1391(a).

The inquiry turns to weighing the private and public interest factors to determine which forum is more convenient for the parties and the witnesses, and will serve the interest of justice.

(1) The Plaintiff's Choice of Forum and the Forum Selection Clauses

a. Choice of Forum

The plaintiff's choice of forum typically receives "paramount consideration." Shutte v. Armco Steel Corp., 431 F.2d 22, 25 (3d Cir. 1970). However, the plaintiff's choice is given less deference when none of the operative facts underlying the claim occurred there. See McMillan v. Weeks Marine, Inc., No. 02-CV-6741, 2002 WL 32107617, at *1 (E.D. ...


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