United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
MARK R. HORNAK, District Judge.
This is a trip-and-fall negligence action based on events that occurred in the parking lot of a Florida Horne Depot on or about November 5, 2013. ECF No.1-I. Darlene Robinson ("Mrs. Robinson") and her husband, Michael D. Robinson, Sr. ("Mr. Robinson"),  allege that Horne Depot, U.S.A., Inc. ("Horne Depot" or "Defendant") negligently operated and maintained a parking lot at its location in Punta Gorda, Florida, which caused Mrs. Robinson to lose her balance and sustain serious injuries. Id. Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Transfer Venue Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404. ECF No. 10. Having considered the Motion, Plaintiffs' Opposition, ECF No. 14, and the memoranda and supplemental memoranda in support and in opposition, ECF Nos. 11; 15; 25; 26, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court will transfer this action to the Middle District of Florida for appropriate disposition.
The Robinsons filed this suit in the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas in Lawrence County on or about July 28, 2014. ECF No.1, at ¶ 4. Horne Depot removed the action to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.c. § 1441 on diversity grounds on August 27, 2014. The Complaint essentially alleges that Mrs. Robinson, while walking from her vehicle to the store in Home Depot's parking lot on its premises in Punta Gorda, Florida, sustained injuries when defective design and/or maintenance of the parking lot caused her to "trip, slip, fall and/or otherwise lose her balance." ECF No. 1-1, at ¶¶ 6-15. Home Depot moved to transfer the case to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404 on September 12, 2014. ECF No. 10.
Section 1404(a) provides, "For 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 or to any district or division to which all parties have consented." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Transferring a case under § 1404(a) is appropriate in situations "where both the original and the requested venue are proper." Jumara v. State Farm Ins. Co., 55 F.3d 873, 878 (3d Cir. 1995).
As an initial matter, the Court notes that venue is proper in either the Western District of Pennsylvania or in the Middle District of Florida. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b), venue is proper in a civil action if the case is brought in (1) a district within the Defendant's state of residence, (2) a district wherein "a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred, or a substantial part of property that is the subject of the action is situated, " or (3) any district that has personal jurisdiction over any defendant. Because this Court could exercise personal jurisdiction over the Defendant in this action by virtue of its business dealings in Pennsylvania, venue is indeed proper in the Western District of Pennsylvania. See Jumara, 55 F.3d at 878-79 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 139I(c); Stewart Organization, Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 n.8 (1988)). By the same token, however, venue is proper in the Middle District of Florida, as the Defendant also transacts business in that district. Moreover, there is no doubt that events giving rise to the claim occurred substantially in that district, as the allegedly ill-designed and un-maintained parking lot which allegedly caused the fall is located in Punta Gorda, Florida. ECF No. 1-1, at ¶ 2.
The real issue is thus not whether venue is proper in either the Western District of Pennsylvania or the Middle District of Florida, but whether balancing the various interests at stake counsels in favor of transferring the case from one proper forum to another. Jumara, 55 F.3d at 878. In making its determination, the Court gives deference to the Plaintiffs' chosen forum, and the burden lies with the Defendant to show why transfer is appropriate. Id. at 879. Additionally, the Court must consider both public and private factors as set out by the Third Circuit in Jumara v. State Farm Insurance Company:
The private interests have included: plaintiff's forum preference as manifested in the original choice; the defendant's preference; whether the claim arose elsewhere; the convenience of the parties as indicated by their relative physical and financial condition; the convenience of the witnesses-but only to the extent that the witnesses may actually be unavailable for trial in one of the fora; and the location of books and records (similarly limited to the extent that the files could not be produced in the alternative forum).
The public interests have included: the enforceability of the judgment; practical considerations that could make the trial easy, expeditious, or inexpensive; the relative administrative difficulty in the two fora resulting from court congestion; the local interest in deciding local controversies at home; the public policies of the fora; and the familiarity of the trial judge with the applicable state law in diversity cases.
Id. at 879-80 (citations omitted).
Home Depot argues that both the private and public factors weigh in favor of transfer. "Pennsylvania has little to no connection to the facts underlying [the] claims, which entirely arose in Florida, " or so Home Depot contends, and argues that the Court should therefore afford little deference to the Robinsons' forum choice. ECF No. 11, at 6. The Robinsons assert the opposite: their forum choice should command great deference, ECF No. 15, at 2-3, and private and public factors alike weigh against transfer, id. at 3-7. Since neither party concedes even one factor weighs decidedly in favor of the opposing party,  the Court will address each factor in turn.
Beginning with the private factors, the parties' briefs make clear that the Robinsons prefer to remain in the Western District of Pennsylvania, while Home Depot would rather litigate the case in the Middle District of Florida. These positions could be read to cancel each other out, but because courts are to give a plaintiff s choice of forum deference and the burden is on the party seeking transfer to establish why it is appropriate, Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879, on this point, the tie goes to the Plaintiffs.
The next private factor, "whether the claim arose elsewhere, " weighs in Home Depot's favor. Id. There is no dispute between the parties that Mrs. Robinson's fall occurred at the Home Depot located in Punta Gorda, Florida. ECF Nos. 11, at 2; 15, at 1. There is similarly no dispute that her initial diagnosis was made and treatment provided over several weeks following the incident in Florida. ECF No. 25, at 5, see id. at 18 (referencing Mrs. Robinson's deposition testimony that she remained in Florida for "two weeks after surgery" following the incident). It is also worth noting that "[n]otwithstanding the deference given to PlaintiffT], s forum choice, courts give substantially less weight to a plaintiffT], s forum choice when the dispute at the heart of the lawsuit occurred almost entirely in another state, " meaning this factor holds particular weight in cases such as this. See Toll Processing Servs., LLC v. Kastalon, Inc., No. ClV. A. 2:12-00928, 2012 WL 6562763, at *2 (W.D. Pa. Dec. 17, 2012) (collecting cases holding the same). This factor cuts substantially in favor of transfer, because by its measure, this really is a "Florida case."
The "convenience of the witnesses" factor is only to be considered "to the extent that the witnesses may actually be unavailable for trial in one of the fora." Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879. Both sides claim the transfer decision will impact the expense incurred to ensure that witnesses appear in one way or another. ECF Nos. 15, at 4-5; 25, at 3-6; 26, at 5-7. However, neither side has advanced a position that one or more material witnesses will "actually be unavailable" to testify at a trial in one district as opposed to the other, and therefore the Court will give little weight to that factor. So, too, will the Court minimize the "location of books and records" factor, as our Court of Appeals has directed that consideration of it is "similarly limited to the extent that the files could not be produced in the alternative forum." Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879.
The most contentious private interest set forth in the briefs is that relating to the parties' convenience with regard to their relative physical and financial condition. Plaintiffs emphasize that they are Pennsylvania residents and that "transfer will greatly burden [them] because [it] would require significant travel costs, time, and expenses, " especially because the Robinsons "are both of advanced age, and Darlene Robinson's injuries make it difficult for her to ambulate." ECF Nos. 15, at 3-4; 26, at 3. The Robinsons also note that their ...