United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
MICHAEL HOLDER, JR. and HEATHER WILLIAMS, Individually and as Administrators of the Estate of Michael Karl Holder, deceased, Plaintiffs,
WILFREDO SUAREZ, Individually, et al., Defendants.
A. RICHARD CAPUTO, District Judge.
Presently before me is the Motion to Transfer Venue (Doc. 18) filed by Defendants Wilfredo Suarez, individually, Wilfredo Suarez d/b/a Suarez Trucking, LLC, Evans Delivery Company, Inc., and Evans Delivery Company, Inc. d/b/a All Points Transportation (collectively, "Moving Defendants"). Because Moving Defendants fail to carry their burden of establishing that the relevant private and public interest factors weigh in favor of a transfer to the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Moving Defendants' motion to transfer venue pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) will be denied.
Plaintiffs Michael Holder, Jr. and Heather Williams, individually and as Administrators of the Estate of Michael K. Holder, deceased (collectively "Plaintiffs"), commenced this wrongful death and survival action in September 2014 against Moving Defendants and Interpool, Inc. d/b/a Trac Intermodal ("Trac"). ( Am. Compl .) The action relates to an accident that occurred on Interstate 80 in Mercer County, Pennsylvania on April 10, 2013 involving an automobile driven by Michael K. Holder and a tractor-trailer driven by Wilfredo Suarez. Michael K. Holder died as a result of that accident.
In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs allege that Michael K. Holder was a citizen of Michigan prior to his death and that they are therefore citizens of Michigan. ( Am. Compl., ¶ 8.) Defendants Wilfredo Suarez and Suarez Trucking, LLC are alleged to be citizens of New Jersey. ( Id . at ¶¶ 3-4). Defendants Evans Delivery Company, Inc. and Evans Delivery Company, Inc. d/b/a All Points Transportation are alleged to be citizens of Pennsylvania with their principal place of business in Schuylkill Haven, which is located in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. ( Id . at ¶¶ 5-6.) Lastly, Trac is alleged to be a citizen of Delaware and New Jersey. ( Id . at ¶ 7.)
On January 28, 2015, Moving Defendants filed the instant motion to transfer venue to the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. (Doc. 18.) Moving Defendants contend that Plaintiffs' choice of forum should be given little deference in this case because neither the decedent nor Plaintiffs are citizens of Pennsylvania. (Doc. 19, 5-6.) Moving Defendants further emphasize that the accident occurred in the Western District of Pennsylvania and that the eyewitnesses, investigators, and medical responders are all from that district. ( Id . at 6-9.) Moving Defendants therefore conclude that the interests of justice and convenience weigh in favor of a transfer to the Western District of Pennsylvania.
Plaintiffs filed a timely brief in opposition to the motion to transfer venue on February 10, 2015. (Doc. 21.) Plaintiffs maintain that their choice of forum is still of paramount importance even though the accident did not occur in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Moreover, they emphasize that events relevant to this action involving the terminal manager's instructions to Wilfredo Suarez "to turn around which set in motion the events leading to Michael Karl Holder's death" occurred while the terminal manager was located in this District. ( Id . at 6-7.) Plaintiffs further reason that Moving Defendants fail to meet their heavy burden to establish that the relevant interests weigh strongly in favor of transfer. ( Id . at 10.) Accordingly, Plaintiffs request that the motion to transfer be denied. ( Id .) In addition, Trac opposes the motion to transfer venue for the same reasons set forth by Plaintiffs. (Doc. 22.) As the time period for Moving Defendants to file a reply brief in further support of their motion has expired, the motion to transfer venue is now ripe for disposition.
Moving Defendants' motion to transfer venue is brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Section 1404(a) provides: "[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...." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Courts have "broad discretion to determine, on an individualized, case-by-case basis, whether convenience and fairness considerations weigh in favor of transfer." Jumara v. State Farm Ins. Co., 55 F.3d 873, 883 (3d Cir. 1995) (citing Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 30-31, 108 S.Ct. 2239, 101 L.Ed.2d 22 (1988)). However, "[t]he burden of establishing the need for transfer still rests with the movant, " and "the plaintiff's choice of venue should not be lightly disturbed." Id . at 879 (quotation and citation omitted). "[U]nless the balance of convenience of the parties is strongly in favor of defendant, the plaintiff's choice of forum should prevail." Shutte v. Armco Steel Corp., 431 F.2d 22, 25 (3d Cir. 1970) (quotation and citation omitted).
In considering whether to transfer an action pursuant to § 1404(a), courts are not limited to consideration of the three factors enumerated in the statute. See Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879. Rather, courts should "consider all relevant factors to determine whether on balance the litigation would more conveniently proceed and the interests of justice be better served by transfer to a different forum." Id . (citation omitted). Both public and private interest factors are considered in evaluating a transfer under § 1404(a). Private interest factors include: (1) the plaintiff's choice of forum; (2) the defendant's preferred forum; (3) where the claim arose; (4) the convenience of the parties; (5) the convenience of the witnesses, but only to the extent that the witnesses may be unavailable for trial in one of the fora; and (6) the location of books and records, again, only to the extent that they may not be available in one of the fora. Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879. Relevant public interest considerations include: (1) the enforceability of the judgment; (2) practical considerations that could make the trial easier, quicker, or less expensive; (3) court congestion; (4) local interest in the controversy; (5) public policies of the fora; and (6) the trial judge's familiarity with the applicable state law in diversity cases. Id . at 879-80.
Before considering the private and public interest factors, the court must determine whether the action "might have been brought" in the proposed transferee district. See High River Ltd. P'ship v. Mylan Labs., Inc., 353 F.Supp.2d 487, 492 (M.D. Pa. 2005) (citation omitted); see also E. Roof Sys., Inc. v. Simon Prop. Grp., Inc., No. 14-717, 2015 WL 679220, at *2 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 17, 2015) (before the court analyzes the public and private factors when presented with a motion to transfer venue, the court must first "decide whether the district to which the movant seeks to transfer the case has proper jurisdiction and venue, i.e., could the case have been brought in the transferee district in the first instance."). Here, as is undisputed that the action could have been brought in the Western District of Pennsylvania, consideration of the private and public interest factors is warranted.
A. Private Interest Factors
The first Jumara private interest factor is Plaintiffs' choice of forum. See Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879. As noted, a plaintiff's choice of forum should not be disturbed lightly. See Shutte, 431 F.2d at 25. However, "a plaintiff's choice of forum is given less deference where the plaintiff chooses a forum outside of its state of residence.'" Sinclair Cattle Co. v. Ward, ___ F.Supp. 3d ___, 2015 WL 268784, at *7 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 21, 2015) (quoting Advanced Fluid Sys., Inc. v. Huber, No. 13-3087, 2014 WL 1808652, at *17 (M.D. Pa. May 7, 2014)). A plaintiff's choice of forum is also entitled to "less deference when none of the conduct complained of occurred in plaintiff's selected forum.'" Id . (quoting Lomanno v. Black, 285 F.Supp.2d 637, 644 (E.D. Pa. 2003)).
Here, Moving Defendants note that Pennsylvania is not Plaintiffs' home forum, and that the accident giving rise to this action occurred outside of this District. Nevertheless, Plaintiffs assert that operative facts relating to the terminal manager's instructions to Wilfredo Suarez prior to the accident took place in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. In view of these considerations where Plaintiffs' choice is not their home forum but some of the operative facts occurred here, Plaintiffs' choice is entitled to some, albeit limited, deference. See, ...