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Argo v. Marriott International, Inc.

United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania

June 6, 2014

KATIEDRA ARGO, Plaintiff,
v.
MARRIOTT INTERNATIONAL, INC., DETROIT HOTEL SERVICES, LLC, MARRIOTT HOTEL SERVICES, INC., and LOEWENSTEIN, INC., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

DuBOIS, JAN E., J.

I. INTRODUCTION

This personal-injury action arises out of plaintiff, Katiedra Argo’s, fall from an allegedly defective chair, manufactured by defendant Lowenstein, Inc. (“Lowenstein”), while she was in her hotel room at the Detroit Marriott at Renaissance Center, Detroit, Michigan. On October 17, 2013, plaintiff commenced the instant action against Marriott International, Inc. and Marriot Hotel Services, Inc. (collectively the “Marriott Defendants”), Detroit Hotel Services, LLC (“DHS”), [1] and Lowenstein.

Presently before the Court are (1) Marriott Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss and Marriott Defendants and Detroit Hotel Services, LLC’s Motion to Transfer, (2) Plaintiff’s Motion for Enlargement of Time to Respond to and/or Supplement Plaintiff’s Response to Defendants’ Motion and for Leave to Conduct Discovery, and (3) Defendant Lowenstein, Inc.’s Motion to Join Defendant Marriott Intentional Inc. and Marriott Hotel Services, Inc.’s Motion to Dismiss. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies all three Motions.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff avers that, on July 26, 2012, while staying as a guest at the Detroit Marriott at Renaissance Center, located in Detroit, Michigan, the chair on which plaintiff was sitting “suddenly and without warning, . . . separated from the base causing her to fall backwards onto the floor.” Compl. ¶¶ 7-8, 11. As a result of this fall, plaintiff allegedly “sustained severe and serious permanent personal injuries.” Id. at ¶ 11.

Plaintiff brings negligence claims (Count I) against the Marriott Defendants and DHS, alleging, inter alia, that they failed to maintain and inspect the chair from which plaintiff fell. Plaintiff brings negligence (Count II), strict liability in tort (Count III), and breach-of-warranty (Count IV) claims against Lowenstein, alleging, inter alia, that they manufactured and sold the chair in question despite its “dangerous and defective condition.” Id. ¶ 28. According to plaintiff’s Complaint, all four defendants “regularly conduct[] business in the City and County of Philadelphia.” Id. ¶¶ 2-5.

III. MOTION TO TRANFER VENUE

First, the Court considers the Marriott Defendants and DHS’s Motion to Transfer Venue to the Eastern District of Michigan under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). “[I]n deciding a motion under § 1404(a), the Court must consider both the public and private interests affected by the transfer.” Automated Med. Prods. Corp. v. Int’l Hosp. Supply Corp., No. 97-cv-2328, 1998 WL 54351, at *5 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 30, 1998). Those private interests include: the parties’ choice of forum; the place where the claim arose; the convenience of the parties and witnesses; and the location of relevant books and records. Id. The public interests include: the enforceability of the judgment; practical considerations that would make the trial “easy, expeditious, or inexpensive;” the states’ relative interests in resolving the controversy in a local forum; the relative court congestion in each forum; and the respective courts’ familiarity with the applicable state law. Id. “The burden is on the moving party to establish that a balancing of proper interests weigh in favor of transfer.” Shutte v. Armco Steel Corp., 431 F.2d 22, 25 (3d Cir. 1970).

As an initial matter, the Court concludes that several of these factors are neutral, and defendants appear to concede as much.[2] The Marriott Defendants and DHS argue, however, that some private and some public factors weigh heavily in favor of transfer. The Court addresses these private and public factors in turn.

A. Private Factors

The Marriott Defendants and DHS argue that four private factors weigh in favor of transfer: (1) where the claim arose, (2) the moving defendants’ choice of forum, (3) the convenience of the witnesses, and (4) access to relevant books and records. Plaintiff concedes, and the Court agrees, that the first two of these four factors weigh in favor of the transfer. Thus, the Court focuses on the latter two, the import of which are disputed.

When ruling on a § 1404(a) motion, a court may consider the convenience of the witnesses “only to the extent that the witnesses may actually be unavailable for trial in one fora.” Jamara v. State Farm Ins. Co., 55 F.3d 873, 879 (3d Cir. 1995). Defendants assert, in their briefing, that “the material fact witnesses all reside in Michigan” and “would be unavailable and unwilling to testify without a subpoena in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.” Mem. of Law in Supp. of Marriott Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss & Marriott Defs. & DHS’s Mot. to Transfer at 12-13 [hereinafter Marriott Defs. & DHS’s Mem. of Law]. However, this conclusory assertion - even with defendants’ belated identification of specific witnesses - does not constitute evidence sufficient to establish these witnesses’ unavailability. “[T]he Third Circuit has explicitly stated that defendants have the burden of proof to ‘support their motion to transfer with any affidavits, depositions, stipulations, or other documents containing facts that would tend to establish the necessary elements for a transfer under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).’” Sec. Police & Fire Prof’ls of Am. Ret. Fund v. Pfizer, Inc., No. 10-cv-3105, 2011 WL 5080803, at *7 (D.N.J. Oct. 25, 2011) (quoting Plum Tree, Inc. v. Stockment, 488 F.2d 754, 756-57 (3d Cir. 1973)). Because defendants have proffered no such evidence, the Court concludes this factor is neutral.

Likewise, the Court rejects defendants’ argument that the location of relevant books and records weighs in favor of transfer. Again, the Court may consider this factor “only to the extent [these records] may be unavailable in one fora.” Leatherman v. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., No. 12-cv-3783, 2013 WL 1285491, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 29, 2013) (DuBois, J.) (quoting Cole v. McGuire Bros. Const., Inc., No. 05-cv-678, 2005 WL 3077902, at *7 (D.N.J. Nov. 15, 2005)). Even if defendants’ records are located in Michigan, the Court has no reason to doubt ...


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