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Stanley v. Columbia Sussex Management, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 14, 2018



          KEARNEY, J.

         We today address venue in a personal injury case brought by a Florida citizen against a Kentucky citizen arising from an accident involving a hotel van in Chicago. Congress does not permit venue here - except the injured Floridian hired a Philadelphia lawyer who originally sued a Maryland/Delaware citizen in Philadelphia state court. The defendant removed here. The parties cannot show a reason to litigate the case in this federal court and, at one point, the defendant requested transfer to the Northern District of Illinois. Hours later, the defendant filed an amended memorandum deleting its request for transfer to the Northern District. This curious change resulted in our rule to show cause as to why we should not transfer under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). In response, we now confirmed the only connection to this District is the parties' lawyers and a treating physician are here. As venue is properly focused on the parties, not their lawyers, we must transfer to the district where the accident occurred, with the key witnesses and most familiar with the Illinois negligence standards. In the accompanying Order, we transfer venue to the Northern District of Illinois.

         I. Facts

         Floridian James Stanley allegedly sustained injuries in a Chicago Marriott O'Hare transportation van owned by Columbia Sussex Management, LLC.[1] He seeks damages for negligence under Illinois law.

         Mr. Stanley's Philadelphia lawyer sued Marriott International in the Court of Common Pleas for Philadelphia County.[2] Marriott, a Maryland/Delaware citizen, removed to this Court.[3]In response to our first show cause order, Marriott's Philadelphia lawyer asked we transfer the case to the Northern District of Illinois.[4] A few hours later, Marriott amended its response and deleted the request to transfer to Illinois.[5] It offered no reason for this amendment. Before we could address venue, Mr. Stanley amended his complaint to remove Marriott and sue Columbia Sussex Management, LLC as the real owner of the hotel van. He admitted his Florida citizenship and Columbia Sussex's Kentucky citizenship. We issued a show cause order as to why we should not transfer to the Northern District of Illinois.

         II. Analysis

         Mr. Stanley's only reason for retaining venue is because his Philadelphia lawyer and the Kentucky defendant's Philadelphia lawyer agreed not to object to venue. Neither party is a Pennsylvania citizen. The only nexus is the lawyers and his treating physician practices here. The lawyers' preference - especially when neither party resides here - is not enough. This is a federal court responsible to annually resolve thousands of disputes involving issues affecting Pennsylvania interests. We are not a private arbitration forum. We are not reviewing a contractual forum selection clause. We are reviewing venue for a personal injury case brought by a Florida citizen against a Kentucky citizen occurring in Chicago and governed by Illinois negligence law.

         Under 28 U.S.C. §1404(a), a district court "[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, . . . 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 consented." "Section 1404(a) is intended to place discretion in the district court to adjudicate motions for transfer according to an individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness."[6]

         Under § 1404(a), we first ask whether the alternate venue is one in which the case "might have been brought."[7] Congress defined proper venue in 28 U.S.C. §1391(b): "A civil action may be brought in (1) a judicial district in which any defendant resides, if all defendants are residents of the State in which the district is located; (2) a judicial district in which 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) if there is no district in which an action may otherwise be brought as provided in this section, any judicial district in which any defendant is subject to the court's personal jurisdiction with respect to such action."[8] Mr. Stanley could have sued Columbia Sussex in Florida, Kentucky or Illinois under § 1391(b).

         Having found Mr. Stanley might have brought his personal injury case in Florida, Kentucky or Illinois, we enjoy broad discretion and decide the most convenient venue on a case-by-case basis.[9] Our court of appeals directs under discretion requiring we consider whether Jumara 's private and public interest factors support a transfer for the convenience of the parties and witnesses and in the interests of justice.

         The Jumara private interest factors include:

[1] plaintiffs forum preference as manifested in the original choice; [2] the defendant's preference; [3] whether the claim arose elsewhere; [4] the convenience of the parties as indicated by their relative physical and financial condition; [5] 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 [6] the location of books and records (similarly limited to the extent that the files could not be produced in the alternative forum).[10]

         The Jumara public interest factors include:

[1] the enforceability of the judgment; [2] practical considerations that could make the trial easy, expeditious, or inexpensive; [3] the relative administrative difficulty in the two fora resulting from court congestion; [4] the local interest in deciding local controversies at home; [5] the public policies of the fora; and [6] the familiarity of the trial judge with the applicable state law in diversity cases.[11]

         The totality of these private and public interest factors weigh in favor of transfer to the Northern District of Illinois. While we ordinarily give deference to a plaintiffs choice of forum, he chose the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County which is not the state court for his residence. Columbia Sussex's challenged conduct occurred entirely in the Northern District of Illinois. The knowledgeable witnesses to the auto accident are located in Illinois. The accompanying records are generated in Illinois. The witnesses in this District can be deposed to the extent necessary. While Columbia Sussex does not challenge our personal jurisdiction over it, we find a claim based entirely upon conduct relating to an accident involving witnesses and documents in Illinois is more appropriately resolved under Fed.R.Civ.P. 1 and Section 1404(a) in the Northern District of Illinois which enjoys personal jurisdiction over Columbia Sussex for a personal injury occurring within its District.

         A. Jumara's private interest factors are neutral.

         The private interest factors, considered as a whole, are neutral. While contractual forum selection clauses may eliminate our need to consider the parties' private interests, we are not addressing a forum selection clause signed by the parties. Even when reviewing a forum selection clause, we only presume the parties' intent is defined by their agreement subject to our review. As the Supreme Court recently reminded us, forum selection is not the same as venue.[12] We cannot blindly presume venue simply because Philadelphia lawyers decide to keep the case in their home city when no party is in this District and the incident occurred in Chicago.

         1. Mr. Stanley's preferred forum is not given paramount consideration.

         Mr. Stanley is a Florida citizen. He retained a Philadelphia lawyer to recover for alleged negligence in Illinois. He treated with a Pennsylvania doctor after the alleged negligence. But he argues it will be more convenient to him personally if the case remains in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania because he travels here for work and has family here.[13] Mr. Stanley offers no legitimate reason as to why the case should remain here.

         His preference for a venue which is not his home is entitled to less deference. His choice "is not dispositive and receives less weight when none of the operative facts occurred" here.[14]"When 'the chosen forum has little connection with the operative facts of the lawsuit, such that retaining the action conflicts with the interests in efficiency and convenience, other private interests are afforded less weight.'"[15]

         Mr. Stanley concedes his choice of forum is given less deference since the incident did not occur here, but claims his choice is "still most important" in reference to the Jumara factors.[16] This is not true. The court decides the weight of each factor, but we do look to what both the plaintiff and defendant cite as their forum preference. We give his preference exactly what Mr. Stanley says, consideration. Without links to the Commonwealth, the mere convenience to him based on visiting family or having a treating physician here is not persuasive. The consideration we give to Mr. Stanley's preference will not dictate where the venue will be.

         2. Columbia Sussex's preference is ...

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