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Edwards v. Equifax Information Services LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 20, 2018

THOMAS C. EDWARDS, Plaintiff,
v.
EQUIFAX INFORMATION SERVICES, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          GERALD AUSTIN MCHUGH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This action arises under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Plaintiff Thomas Edwards is a Pennsylvania resident who initiated this action in state court, alleging that Defendant Equifax violated FCRA by failing to provide contact information for entities that accessed his credit information. Equifax removed the case, and now seeks to transfer it some eight hundred miles south to the Northern District of Georgia, where it is headquartered. In Jumara v. State Farm Insurance Company, 55 F.3d 873 (3d Cir. 1995), the Third Circuit instructed district courts to consider the “interests of justice” in deciding motions under 28 U.S.C. § 1401(a). Given that the FCRA is remedial legislation, Cortez v. Trans Union, LLC, 617 F.3d 688, 722 (3d Cir. 2010), this is a motion that has significant implications for consumers' access to the courts. If Defendant's reasoning is adopted, virtually any FCRA plaintiff could be forced to bring claims in a district far from home, a burden that would inevitably undermine enforcement of federal consumer protection laws under the system of private litigation that Congress sought to incentivize. For that reason, and others that follow, the Motion to Transfer will be denied.

         I. Motion to Remand

         As a preliminary matter, I must address Plaintiff's Motion to Remand to State Court on the basis that removal was untimely. The Motion will be denied, as Equifax filed its notice of removal within thirty days of being served with the complaint. Under Pennsylvania law, a plaintiff may initiate an action by filing either a praecipe for a writ of summons or a complaint with the prothonotary. Pa. R.C.P. 1007. Plaintiff initiated this litigation by filing a praecipe for writ of summons with the Bucks County prothonotary on August 2, 2017. But Plaintiff did not file his Complaint in the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas until February 22, 2018, Pl.'s Ex. G, ECF No. 10-7, serving Defendant's counsel on February 26, 2018. Pl.'s Ex. H, ECF No. 10-8. Defendant then filed its notice of removal on March 12, 2018, well within thirty days of service. Pl.'s Ex. I, ECF No. 10-9.

         For some period of time, the Third Circuit considered service of a writ of summons writ an “initial pleading” for purposes of triggering the time for removal under 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(1). Foster v. Mut. Fire, Marine & Inland Ins. Co., 986 F.2d 48, 54 (3d Cir. 1993). In 2005, however, the Third Circuit concluded that Murphy Brothers v. Michetti Pipe Stringing, Inc., 526 U.S. 344 (1999), had implicitly overruled Foster, holding that the “literal wording of Murphy Bros. requires the filing or receipt of a complaint before the 30-day period begins.” Sikirica v. Nationwide Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 214, 221 (3d Cir. 2005) (emphasis in original).

         Here, the notice of removal was filed well within the applicable time period, rendering Plaintiff's Motion meritless.

         II. Motion to Transfer Venue

         Having found that federal jurisdiction exists, I will now consider Defendant's Motion to Transfer Venue under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Equifax argues that the Northern District of Georgia provides a more convenient venue for the adjudication of this dispute. Because Equifax is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, venue there would be proper. In support of transfer, Equifax asserts that it adopted the policies giving rise to Plaintiff's claims at its headquarters, and that all documents, data, and witnesses pertinent to the claim are also located there. Assuming for purposes of discussion that all of that is true, I nonetheless find the argument for transfer unpersuasive.

         Under § 1404(a), district courts are to consider the “convenience of parties and witnesses, ” and “the interest of justice.” Within the Third Circuit, the classic formulation of the analysis under § 1404 is set forth in Jumara v. State Farm Ins. Co., 55 F.3d 873, 879 (3d Cir. 1995), and involves a series of private and public interest factors. Private-interest factors include (1) the “plaintiff's 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).” Id. Public 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.” Id. at 879-80.

         As a preliminary matter, it bears mention that Jumara was decided well before the era of e-commerce. This case involves economic activity that traffics in data over the internet as compared to physical things. Credit reporting agencies like Equifax operate nationwide, gathering consumers' personal information, which they then analyze, package, and sell. Unlike traditional commercial transactions, consumers do not in the first instance seek to contract with credit reporting agencies. The agencies operate in the background, gathering information on their own. In practical terms, the relationship is created unilaterally, and consumers such as the plaintiff here must react to the activities of the credit agencies. Information may be gathered centrally, but the effects of its disclosure are diffuse. This makes the locus of a dispute much harder to identify, and the nature of information-based commerce renders some of the concerns addressed by Jumara less pressing. It was the unique nature of the credit reporting industry led Congress to enact FCRA, recognizing the need for a national standard for regulating the relationship between credit reporting agencies and consumers.

         The Supreme Court has described the statute as follows:

FCRA creates a detailed remedial scheme. Its provisions “set out a carefully circumscribed, time-limited, plaintiff-specific' cause of action, and ‘also precisely define the appropriate forum.” . . . Claims to enforce liability must be brought within a specified limitations period, § 1681p, and jurisdiction will lie “in any appropriate United States district court, without regard to the amount in controversy, or in any other court of competent jurisdiction.”

United States v. Bormes, 568 U.S. 6, 15 (2012) (quoting Hinck v. United States, 550 U.S. 501, 502 (2007); see also 5 U.S.C. § 1681p. Against this background, rote application of the Jumara factors might not encompass all of the relevant considerations. The factors must be considered, but part of that consideration necessarily includes how well the factors fit the circumstances of the case before the court. Such a broader approach is specifically endorsed by Jumara itself, where the Court held:

In ruling on § 1404(a) motions, courts have not limited their consideration to the three enumerated factors in § 1404(a) (convenience of parties, convenience of witnesses, or interests of justice), and, indeed, commentators have called on the courts to “consider all relevant factors to determine whether on balance the litigation would more conveniently ...

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