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Battle v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 16, 2019

WAL-MART STORES, INC., et al., Defendants


          C. Darnell Jones, II J.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On or about February 8, 2019, Philadelphia resident James Battle (“Plaintiff”) initiated the present personal injury action against Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores East, LP (collectively “Defendants”) in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. On March 8, 2019, Defendants removed the case to this Court. (Defs.' Mot. Transfer Venue 4, ECF No. 16.) Defendants now move under 28 U.S.C. § 1404 for transfer of venue to the Middle District of Pennsylvania. (Defs.' Mot. Transfer Venue.)

         Plaintiff is employed by and makes deliveries for Leonards Express, Inc., a Delaware company. (Pl.'s Resp. 2, ECF No. 17-1.) He alleges that, on March 13, 2017, he was making a delivery-and as such, was a business invitee-at the Wal-Mart store located at 390 Highridge Park, Pottsville, Pennsylvania when he allegedly fell and sustained personal injuries. (Compl. ¶¶ 4, 7, Notice of Removal Ex. A, ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff asserts his fall was caused by “raised concrete” at the Wal-Mart. (Compl. ¶ 7.) He alleges he sought and received treatment for his injuries from facilities located in Philadelphia and Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, and from facilities located in Wilmington and Newark, Delaware. (Pl.'s Resp. 2.) Plaintiff intends to call witnesses from the Pennsylvania and Delaware medical providers at trial. (Pl.'s Resp. 6-7.) Plaintiff is also engaged in an ongoing worker's compensation matter in Philadelphia. (Pl.'s Resp. 2.)

         In support of their motion, Defendants argue that Plaintiff fell at the Pottsville Wal-Mart, which is located within the Middle District, and that said Wal-Mart is 110 miles from this Court, and 55.9 miles from the Middle District's courthouse. (Defs.' Mot. Transfer Venue 6, 7 nn.1-2.) Defendants also assert their key witnesses-Mr. Baggett and Mr. Hanley, who are full-time employees at the Pottsville Wal-Mart-would experience “substantial interference” in their business and personal lives if the matter were to move forward in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. (Defs.' Mot. Transfer Venue 7.) Defendants claim they and their witnesses would experience “extreme inconveni[ence]” due to travel, time, and expense, if this matter were to continue in this Court. (Defs.' Mot. Transfer Venue 8.)


         28 U.S.C. § 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 division where it might have been brought.” 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Venue is proper for a civil action when the claim is brought in “a judicial district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred[.]” 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2). The decision of whether to grant a transfer pursuant to § 1404(a) lies in the discretion of the trial court. See Shutte v. ARMCO Steel Corp., 431 F.2d 22, 25 (3d Cir. 1970), cert. denied, 401 U.S. 910 (1971); Weinstein v. Friedman, 859 F.Supp. 786, 788 (E.D. Pa. 1994). The discretion to transfer is broad, and the defendant has the burden of showing transfer is proper. See Jumara v. State Farm Ins. Co., 55 F.3d 873, 879 (3d Cir. 1995); Tranor v. Brown, 913 F.Supp. 388, 391 (E.D. Pa. 1996). In determining whether to grant a motion to transfer pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404, courts in the Third Circuit “consider all relevant [pubic and private] factors [(hereinafter “§ 1404 factors”[1])] to ascertain whether, on balance, the litigation would more conveniently proceed and the interest of justice be better served by transfer to a different forum.” Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879.

         The relevant private factors include: (1) plaintiff's forum preference as manifested in the original choice; (2) 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). See id.

         The relevant 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. See id. at 879-80. “Unless the balance of convenience of the parties is strongly in favor of defendant, the plaintiff's choice of forum should prevail.” Shutte, 431 F.2d at 25 (emphasis in original).


         The threshold question is whether the action could have originally been brought in the proposed transferee court. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1391(b)(2), 1404(a). Plaintiff alleges he fell and sustained injuries while making a delivery at the Pottsville Wal-Mart. (Pl.'s Resp. 1.) This Court takes judicial notice that Pottsville is in Schuylkill County, and Schuylkill County is in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Because the events giving rise to the claim occurred in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, this action could have originally been brought there. See 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2). As such, this Court turns to the § 1404 factors.

         A. Private Interest Factors

         The first two private interest factors consider the parties' respective preferred venues. Here, the parties each prefer their local courts. However, “[i]t is black letter law that a plaintiff's choice of a proper forum is a paramount consideration in any determination of a transfer request, and that choice should not be lightly disturbed.” Shutte, 431 F.2d at 25 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Plaintiff argues he chose Philadelphia County because he is a resident of that county, he currently has an open worker's compensation claim in that county, the medical providers he will call during trial are based in or near that county, and Philadelphia is between the situs of his accident (Pottsville) and the headquarters of his employer (Delaware). (Pl.'s Resp. 6-7.) Defendants argue the case should proceed in the Middle District of Pennsylvania because the incident occurred within the territory of that jurisdiction and the Middle District courthouse is approximately half as far as the Eastern District courthouse is from the Wal-Mart where Plaintiff fell. However, “transfer is not warranted where the effect would be to shift inconvenience from defendant to plaintiff.” Edwards v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC, 313 F.Supp.3d 618, 622 (E.D. Pa. 2018). On balance, the parties' venue preferences cancel each other out.

         The third private interest factor-the situs of the event giving rise to the suit-favors transfer to the Middle District. The fourth private interest factor is the convenience and burdens on the parties with respect to their respective physical and financial conditions. Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879. The record reflects that Defendants are a large corporation and Plaintiff makes deliveries for Leonards Express, Inc. Defendants have not apprised the court that ...

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