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Irwin v. CSX Transportation

March 23, 2010

CORNELIUS B. IRWIN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC., DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Presently before this Court is Defendant's Motion to Transfer Venue (Doc. 8) and Plaintiff's Response in Opposition thereto (Doc. 9). For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Defendant's Motion.

BACKGROUND

On October 22, 2009, Plaintiff, a resident of Climax, New York, commenced this action in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania seeking damages under the Federal Employers' Liability Act ("FELA"), 45 U.S.C. §§ 51, et seq., against Defendant, his current employer (Doc. 1). Plaintiff alleges that at all material times, Defendant, a Florida corporation with a principle place of business in Jacksonville, Florida, has engaged in interstate commerce as a common carrier by rail operating in Pennsylvania, New York, and other states across the country (Doc. 1). Plaintiff claims he suffered repetitive stress injuries during the course of his employment, specifically, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome requiring him to undergo left and right carpal tunnel releases in January 2009, as a result of Defendant's failure to provide safe and adequate working conditions at its yard in Selkirk, New York (Doc. 1).

On November 18, 2009, Defendant filed an Answer (Doc. 4) generally denying the allegations set forth in Plaintiff's Complaint. On November 24, 2009, an Arbitration Hearing was scheduled for February 24, 2010. On January 29, 2010, Defendant filed a Motion to Transfer Venue (Doc. 8). Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition thereto (Doc. 9) on February 12, 2010. In an Order (Doc. 10) dated February 17, 2010, the Court postponed the arbitration hearing until March 23, 2010 to allow the Court to rule on the pending motion.

LEGAL STANDARD

28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) ("Section 1404(a)") provides that "[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought." Though the decision to transfer a given action is within the trial court's discretion, transfers should not be granted liberally. Stewart Org. v. Ricoh, Inc., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988); Shutte v. Armco Steel Corp., 431 F.2d 22, 25 (3d Cir. 1970). District courts should not transfer venue if it merely shifts the inconvenience from one party to another. Kimball v. Schwartz, 580 F. Supp. 582, 588 (W.D. Pa.1984). Rather, the Third Circuit directs district courts to weigh several public and private interest factors enumerated in Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501 (1947). See Jumara v. State Farm Ins. Co., 55 F.3d 873, 879 (3d Cir. 1995). Relevant private interest factors include: (1) the plaintiff's choice of forum; (2) the defendant's preference; (3) the location where the claim arose; (4) the convenience of the parties and witnesses; and (5) the relative ease of access to source of proof. See id. Relevant public interest factors include: (1) the enforceability of the judgment; (2) the relative congestion of court dockets; (3) the local interest in deciding local controversies; (4) the public policies of the fora; and (5) any relevant choice of law considerations. See id. At all times, the party seeking transfer bears the burden of establishing that "a balancing of proper interests weigh[s] in favor of the transfer." Shutte, 431 F.2d at 25.

DISCUSSION

Two federal statutes are relevant to Defendant's Motion to Transfer Venue: Section 1404(a), which governs transferring cases from one venue to another generally; and 45 U.S.C. § 56, which describes which venues are proper in FELA actions. Section 1404(a) gives the district court the authority to transfer any civil action to another venue for the convenience of parties and witnesses and in the interest of justice. The purpose of Section 1404(a) " 'is 'to prevent the waste of time, energy and money and to protect litigants, witnesses and the public against unnecessary inconvenience and expense.' " Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 616 (1964). See also Barr v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp. (Amtrak), No. 08-cv-2529, 2009 WL 3297776, at * 1 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 28, 2009) (citing In re Corel Corp., 147 F. Supp. 2d 363, 366 (E.D. Pa. 2001)) ("The primary concern... is avoiding a plaintiff's 'temptation to resort to a strategy of forcing the trial at a most inconvenient place for an adversary...'".). "This transfer power is, however, expressly limited by the final clause of Section 1404(a) restricting transfer to those federal districts in which the action 'might have been brought.'" Id. Under FELA's venue provision, a plaintiff may bring his or her an action in one of three places: (1) a district court of the United States where the defendant resides; (2) a district court in the United States in which the cause of action arose; or (3) a district court in the United States in which the defendant shall be doing business at the time of commencing such action. 45 U.S.C. § 56.

As an initial matter, the Court must determine whether venue would be proper in the transferee district. Weber v. Basic Comfort, Inc., 155 F. Supp. 2d 283, 284 (E.D. Pa. 2001). As Plaintiff alleges he sustained injuries while working for Defendant in Selkirk, New York, it is undisputable that Plaintiff could have brought this action in the Northern District of New York. That said, it is also apparent that Plaintiff's decision to bring his action in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania complies with FELA's venue provision. Defendant regularly conducts business in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania; Defendant has a rail yard in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and advertises in the area.*fn1

Because both the chosen forum and the transferee forum are proper under FELA, the only remaining issue is whether Defendant has met its burden of establishing that the public and private factors weigh strongly in favor of transfer. Askew, No. 05-cv-5915, 2008 WL 4347530, at * 1 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 22, 2008) (citing Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. at 508). The Court will now address those factors discussed infra to determine if Defendant has met its burden.

A. Plaintiff's Choice of Forum

Defendant argues that transfer of venue is not more restrictive in FELA matters and that Defendant does not have a higher burden simply because the requested transfer involves a FELA action. Defendant goes on to cite a string of cases decided in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to support its claim that Plaintiff's choice of forum should be accorded only slight deference because the forum chosen has little or no connection with his underlying allegations. Relying on Windt v. Qwest Commc'ns Int'l, Inc., 529 F.3d 183, 190 (3d Cir. 2008), Defendant also argues that a "foreign plaintiff" must make a "strong showing of convenience" for his or her choice to be given deference. Plaintiff disagrees and relying on Szabo v. CSX Transp., Inc., No. 05-4390, 2006 WL 263625, at * 1 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 1, 2006), argues that in the context of FELA, his choice of forum should be given notable deference, notwithstanding where he resides or the location of the underlying events.

The plaintiff's choice of forum is "the primary consideration when deciding venue and it should not be lightly disturbed." Gonzales v. Elec. Control Sys., Inc., No. 93-3107, 1993 WL 372217, at * 3 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 17, 1993). Generally, courts give great deference to the plaintiff's choice of forum, unless "the plaintiff has not brought suit in his home forum and the cause of action did not occur in the forum." See Shutte, 431 F.2d at 25; Askew, 2008 WL 4347530, at * 1. In some instances, when a plaintiff has brought suit in a forum that is neither his or her home forum nor a forum in which the cause of action occurred, courts give plaintiff's forum selection some, albeit lower,weight. See Szabo, 2006 WL 263625, at * 1 (citing Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 255--56 (1981)). When the case involves FELA, however, "courts have held that the plaintiff's choice of forum require[s] notable deference, notwithstanding plaintiff's residence ...


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