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Flynn v. Ekidzcare, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 9, 2019

STEPHEN FLYNN, Plaintiff,
v.
EKIDZCARE, INC. and EPEOPLE HEALTHCARE, INC., Defendants

          OPINION DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS OR TRANSFER, ECF NO. 5 - DENIED IN PART

          JOSEPH F. LEESON, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Stephen Flynn alleges that his former employers, Defendants eKidz Care, Inc. and ePeople Healthcare, wrongfully terminated him based on his disability. Defendants, relying on a forum selection clause in Flynn's employment contract, move to dismiss the case for improper venue or, in the alternative, to transfer the case to the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Defendants also move to dismiss the punitive damages claims for failure to state a claim. For the reasons set forth below, although the forum selection clause governs the claims raised herein, the clause is permissive, not mandatory, and the public and private interests do not support dismissal or a transfer. The motion to dismiss the case or, in the alternative, to transfer the case is denied. At this early stage of the proceedings, the motion to dismiss the punitive damages claim is denied without prejudice as to the ADA count, but granted as to the PHRA count as a matter of law.

         II. BACKGROUND

         The Complaint alleges the following. Flynn did not disclose his seizure disorder to Defendants when he was hired. But, immediately after Flynn began working on or about March 13, 2018, at Defendants' Allentown location, his co-workers observed the physical side effects of his medication. His co-workers repeatedly made comments complaining about his shaking hands and loud typing. Also, Defendants' Office Manager told Flynn almost daily that Defendants did not need anyone in his position. Flynn apologized to his coworkers for his loud typing, explaining that it was due to the medication for his seizure disorder, but the negative commentary did not cease. A few weeks later, on April 9, 2018, Defendants' Human Resources Director advised Flynn that he was being terminated. Defendants purported reasons for his termination, that he “hated his job” and was “actively job searching, ” were false.

         The Complaint raises two claims: (1) a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (“ADA”), and (2) a violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. § 955 (“PHRA”). Each count includes a claim for punitive damages.

         Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss the case for improper venue under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3), arguing that an employment contract entered between the parties includes a forum selection clause requiring the instant claims to be litigated in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Defendants move, in the alternative, to transfer all claims to the Western District of Pennsylvania pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Finally, the Motion to Dismiss seeks to dismiss the requests for punitive damages.

         Flynn responds that the forum selection clause is inapplicable to the instant claims because the clause only applies to those claims arising “hereunder, ” meaning from a breach of the contract, or for a violation of the “Confidentiality” and “Non-Competition and Non- Solicitation” portions of the contract. Flynn contends that actions under the ADA and PHRA are not covered by the contract. Next, Flynn asserts that the § 1404(a) interests do not favor transferring the case. Finally, Flynn argues that the allegations in the Complaint support his request for punitive damages under the ADA because Defendants knew of his open and obvious disability and gave false reasons for his termination.[1]

         III. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         A. Motion to Dismiss - Rule 12(b)(3)

         “In considering a motion to dismiss for improper venue under Rule 12(b)(3), the Court must generally accept as true the allegations in the Complaint, unless contradicted by Defendants' affidavits.” Joe Hand Promotions, Inc. v. Shehadeh, No. 18-4119, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79206, at *4 (E.D. Pa. May 10, 2019). “Because improper venue is an affirmative defense, the burden of proving lack of proper venue remains-at all times-with the defendant.” Great W. Mining & Mineral Co. v. ADR Options, Inc., 434 Fed.Appx. 83, 86 (3d Cir. 2011).

         B. Motion to Transfer Venue - 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a)

         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). In ruling on a § 1404(a) motion, the court should consider the following factors:

(1) the plaintiff's choice of forum; (2) the defendant's choice of forum; (3) where the claim arose; (4) “convenience of the parties as indicated by their relative physical and financial conditions”; (5) “the convenience of the witnesses--but only to the extent that the witnesses may actually be unavailable for trial in one of the for a”; (6) the location of books and records; (7) the enforceability of the judgment;
(8) practical considerations that could expedite or simplify trial; (9) the level of court congestion in the two fora; (10) “the local interest in deciding local controversies at home”; (11) the public policies of the fora; and (12) in a diversity case, the familiarity of the two courts with state law.

In re Amendt, 169 Fed.Appx. 93, 96 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Jumara v. State Farm Ins. Co., 55 F.3d 873, 879-80 (3d Cir. 1995)). The first six factors are private interests, while the remaining six are public interests. See Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879. “[W]here the court has considered all relevant public and private interest factors, and where its balancing of these factors is reasonable, its decision deserves substantial deference.” Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 257 (1981). See 28 U.S.C. § 1404(b) (providing that transfer is in “the discretion of the court”). “The burden of establishing the need for transfer ... rests with the movant.” Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879-80.

         C. Motion to Dismiss - Rule 12(b)(6)

         In rendering a decision on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), this Court must “accept all factual allegations as true [and] construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Pinker v. Roche Holdings, Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Only if “the ‘[f]actual allegations . . . raise a right to relief above the speculative level'” has the plaintiff stated a plausible claim. Id. at 234 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 540, 555 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). However, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Id. (explaining that determining “whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief . . . [is] a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its ...


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