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Joellyn Cawley v. the Advocacy Alliance (Taa)

March 6, 2012

JOELLYN CAWLEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE ADVOCACY ALLIANCE (TAA), ALEX JOSEPH HAZZOURI, DEBBIE ZIELINSKI, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff Joellyn Cawley ("Cawley") brings claims against her former employer and two of its employees, Defendants The Advocacy Alliance ("TAA"), Alex Joseph Hazzouri ("Hazzouri"), and Debbie Zielinski ("Zielinski"), for alleged violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3) and (b)(6), alleging that Plaintiff's Complaint should be dismissed for improper venue and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. In the alternative, Defendants move for the case to be transferred to an alternative venue under either 28 U.S.C. §§ 1404(a) or 1406. For the reasons that follow, the Court transfers this action to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania pursuant to § 1404(a).

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On January 25, 2002, Cawley was hired and employed as an administrative assistant by Defendant TAA in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania. (Compl. ¶¶ 2, 8.) TAA is headquartered in Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Id. ¶ 2.) Defendant Hazzouri served as Cawley's supervisor and Defendant Zielinski was her fellow employee at TAA. (Id. ¶¶ 3, 4.)

While employed at TAA in January of 2011, Cawley was diagnosed with "physical and mental conditions," and therefore took a short-term leave of absence.*fn1 (Id. ¶¶ 9, 10.) Plaintiff returned to work on January 24, 2011, but found she was unable to continue working because certain work tasks exacerbated her physical symptoms. (Id. ¶ 15(b).) Plaintiff therefore resumed her short-term leave of absence on February 4, 2011.*fn2 (Id. ¶ 15(f).) Plaintiff asserts that TAA unlawfully terminated her employment on April 29, 2011 while she was on legally-protected FMLA leave. (Id. ¶ 15(l).) Additionally, she asserts that TAA unlawfully denied employment benefits owed to her by ERISA, (Id. ¶ 26), and that Defendants Hazzouri and Zielinski breached fiduciary duties that they owed her under ERISA by making affirmative misrepresentations and conflicting and ambiguous statements to an employee. (Id. ¶ 23.)

On October 28, 2011, Plaintiff filed a Complaint with this Court alleging that the Defendants violated both the FMLA and ERISA when they unlawfully terminated her employment position. On January 30, 2012, Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3) and (b)(6), asserting that Cawley filed suit in an improper venue and failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. In the alternative, Defendants requested that this case be transferred to an alternative venue pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) or § 1406. Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition*fn3 on February 7, 2012.

II. DISCUSSION

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3) states that improper venue may serve as a basis for dismissal of a case. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(3). When deciding whether to dismiss a case based upon improper venue, the Court must accept as true all allegations set forth in the plaintiff's complaint. See Leone v. Cataldo, 574 F. Supp. 2d 471, 483 (E.D. Pa. 2008) (further citation omitted). Moreover, the defendant moving to dismiss bears the burden of showing that venue is improper. Id. (further citation omitted).

The parties dispute whether venue was appropriately laid in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Plaintiff contends that venue is proper here because Defendants regularly conducted business here and the alleged acts of unlawful conduct arose in this District. (Compl. ¶ 7.) Defendants respond that venue is improper because Plaintiff has failed to allege sufficient facts to establish venue in the Eastern District. (Defs.' Mot. Dismiss 12.) Defendants therefore request the Court to dismiss Plaintiff's claims, or, in the alternative, transfer the case to the Middle District of Pennsylvania. (Id.)

In federal court, change of venue is governed by either 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) or 28 U.S.C. §1406. Section 1404(a) provides for the transfer of a case where both the original and requested venue are proper, but the transferor court finds another venue to be more appropriate "for the convenience of the parties and witnesses [and] in the interest of justice." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a); Jumara v. State Farm Ins. Co., 55 F.3d 873, 878 (3d Cir. 1995); see also Silva v. Mayo Clinic, No. Civ.A.04-1519, 2004 WL 1563018, at *2 n.1 (E.D. Pa. July 13, 2004). On the other hand, § 1406 applies where the original venue is improper, and provides that the district court in the originating venue can either transfer the case or dismiss it, regardless of whether or not the court had personal jurisdiction over the defendants in the first place. See Wojtunik v. Kealy, No. Civ.A. 02-8410, 2003 WL 22006240, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 26, 2003) (citing Goldlawr v. Heiman, 369 U.S. 463, 466 (1962)). A determination of which statutory provision applies in a given case is important because the Third Circuit requires the application of different factors under each statute. Wojtunik, 2003 WL 22006240, at *3. In order to properly make such a determination, the Court must first decide whether venue was properly laid in the originating district. Id.; Jumara, 55 F.3d at 878. Thus, the Court will first consider whether venue was originally proper in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and then will move to the second step of applying the factors under the relevant statutory provision to determine if transfer is appropriate in this case.

A. Venue

The general venue provision governing federal courts is 28 U.S.C. § 1391. Under certain federal statutes, however, Congress has provided specific provisions that control the proper venue of a claim. See Wojtunik, 2003 WL 22006240, at *3 (applying specific venue provisions provided for in 15 U.S.C. § 78aa); Silva, 2004 WL 1563018, at *1--2 (applying specific venue provisions provided for by Title VII in civil rights actions). For actions brought under ERISA, the federal statute itself provides its own requirements for where venue may be properly laid. See Children's Hosp. of Phila. v. Tricorp Enters., Ltd., No. Civ.A.06-65, 2006 WL 3229940, at *1 (E.D. Pa. May 11, 2006). Claims brought under the FMLA, however, are governed by the general venue provision. See James v. Verizon Servs. Corp., 639 F. Supp. 2d 9, 15 (D.D.C. 2009).

In her Complaint and Response in Opposition, Plaintiff only asserts that venue is proper under the general venue provision. In their Motion to Dismiss, Defendants allege venue is improper under both the general venue provision and the specific venue provision provided for by ERISA. In such circumstances, the Court should analyze whether venue is proper under either or both ...


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