Goldsby et al v. Ash et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER granting defs' 39 motion to transfer venue; transferring this case to the US District Court for the Southern District of Alabama-Selma Division; directing the clerk to take the appropriate steps to promptly effect the transfer, as further set out in order. Signed by Honorable Terry F. Moorer on 4/22/10. (djy, )
IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES F O R THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA N O R T H E R N DIVISION S H E R R Y GOLDSBY and T E Y O N N A OLDS, individually and o n behalf of all others similarly situated, P la in tif f s , v. D A V ID ASH, et al., D e f e n d a n t. ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) )
Case No. 2:09-cv-975-TFM [w o]
M E M O R A N D U M OPINION AND ORDER T h is action is assigned to the undersigned magistrate judge to conduct all proceedings a n d order entry of judgment by consent of all the parties (Docs. 42-43, filed January 19, 2 0 1 0 ) and 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Transfer V e n u e and Supporting Brief (Doc. 39, filed January 19, 2010). For good cause, it is O R D E R E D that the motion is GRANTED. I . JURISDICTION T h e district court has subject matter jurisdiction over the claims in this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question jurisdiction) and 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq (Fair Labor S ta n d a rd s Act). The parties do not contest personal jurisdiction, and there are adequate a lle g a tio n s to support it. Defendants move to transfer venue and that is the subject of this o p in io n .
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BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
O n October 19, 2009, Plaintiffs filed a Complaint against Defendants asserting claims u n d e r the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201, et seq. ("FLSA"). See Doc. 1 , Complaint. Defendants are six individuals who are current or former management-level a n d supervisory employees at Renosol Seating, LLC's Selma, Alabama manufacturing f a c ility (hereinafter "Renosol"). On November 25, 2009, Plaintiffs filed their Amended C o m p la in t. See Doc. 26, Amended Complaint. Plaintiffs aver they were routinely provided u n p a id rest and meal breaks that were twenty minutes or less in violation of FLSA. Id. Next, th e y assert Defendants failed to pay Plaintiffs and others similarly situated the statutory rate f o r overtime for hours worked in excess of forty hours each week. Id. Plaintiffs seek to re c o v e r unpaid wages, liquidated damages, costs and attorneys fees. Id. Defendants timely f ile d their motion to transfer venue on January 19, 2010. See Doc. 39. Defendants c o n c u rre n tly filed a motion to dismiss, which is not addressed in this opinion. See Doc. 40. The motion to transfer venue has been fully briefed and is ripe for review. See Docs. 39, 47, a n d 48. III. A. F ir s t-F ile d Rule T h e "first-filed rule" is a well established rule of comity which holds that when parties h a v e instituted competing or parallel litigation in separate courts, the court initially having ju ris d ic tio n should hear the case. Allstate Ins. Co. v. Clohessy, 9 F.Supp.2d 1314, 1315-16 STANDARD OF REVIEW
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(M.D. Fla. 1998); see also Manuel v. Convergys Corp., 430 F.3d 1132, 1136 (11th Cir. 2005) (c ita tio n s omitted) ("where two actions involving overlapping issues and parties are pending in two federal courts, there is a strong presumption across the federal circuits that favors the f o r u m of the first-filed suit."). Consequently, the Eleventh Circuit requires that "the party o b je c tin g to jurisdiction in the first-filed forum carry the burden of proving compelling c i r c u m s t a n c e s to warrant an exception to the first-filed rule." Id. (internal quotations o m itte d ). The purpose of the rule is "to avoid the waste of duplication, to avoid rulings which m a y trench upon the authority of sister courts, and to avoid piecemeal resolution of issues th a t call for a uniform result." West Gulf Maritime Ass'n v. ILA Deep Sea Local 24, 751 F.2d 7 2 1 , 729 (5th Cir. 1985). Moreover, it simply promotes judicial efficiency. That said, "the f irs t-f ile d rule should not be applied too rigidly or mechanically and a District Court may in its discretion decline to follow the first-filed rule if following it would frustrate rather than f u rth e r these purposes." United States v. 22.58 Acres of Land, 2010 WL 4311254, *5 (M.D. A la . 2010) (citing Alltrade, Inc. v. Uniweld Prods, Inc., 946 F.2d 622, 628 (9th Cir. 1991)). Duplicative lawsuits are those in which the issues "have such an identity that a d e te rm in a tio n in one action leaves little or nothing to be determined in the other." Fuller v. A b e r c r o m b ie & Fitch Stores, Inc., 370 F. Supp.2d 686, 688 (E.D. Tenn. 2005) (quoting Smith v . S.E.C., 129 F.3d 356, 361 (6th Cir. 1997)). To determine whether actions are duplicative a n d the first-to-file rule applies, courts consider three factors: (1) the chronology of the
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actions; (2) the similarity of the parties involved; and (3) the similarity of the issues at stake. Id. (citations omitted). It is important to note that the parties and issues need not be identical, b u t rather the parties and issues should substantially overlap. Save Power Ltd. v. Syntek Fin. C o r p ., 121 F.3d 947, 950-51 (5th Cir. 1997); Wallace B. Roderick Revocable Living Trust v . XTO Energy, Inc., -- F.Supp.2d -- , -- , 2010 WL 126171 (D. Kan. 2010); Fuller, 370 F .S u p p .2 d at 688; 22.58 Acres of Land, 2010 WL 431254 at *5; SPEC Intern, Inc. v. Patent R ig h ts Protections Group, LLC, 2009 WL 736826, *3 (W.D. Mich. 2009). B. 2 8 U.S.C. § 1404(a) U n d e r 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), a district court may transfer any civil action to a district w h e re it could have been brought for (1) the convenience of the parties, (2) the convenience o f the witnesses, and (3) the interests of justice. 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a); Robinson v. Giamarco & Bill, P.C., 74 F.3d 253, 260 (11th Cir. 1996). However, "[t]he plaintiff's choice of forum s h o u ld not be disturbed unless it is clearly outweighed by other considerations." Robinson, 7 4 F.3d at 260 (quoting Howell v. Tanner, 650 F.2d 610, 616 (5th Cir. Unit B 1981)).1 The b u rd e n is on the movant to establish that the suggested form is more convenient. In re Ricoh C o r p ., 870 F.2d 570, 573 (11th Cir. 1989); see also Cent. Money Mortgage Co. v. H o lm a n ,1 2 2 F.Supp.2d 1345, 1346 ("the movant has the burden of persuading the trial court th a t the transfer of venue should be granted"); Verret v. State of Alabama Dep't of Mental
Bonner v. City of Prichard, 661 F.2d 1206 (11th Cir. 1981, en banc) (adopting as binding precedent all of the decisions of the former Fifth Circuit handed down prior to the close of business on September 30, 1981). Page 4 of 11
Health, 2007 WL 2609777 (M.D. Ala. 2007) (unpublished) (burden is on the movant). Nevertheless, the decision whether to transfer is within the discretion of the trial court, and th e decision must be an "individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and f a irn e s s ." Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S.22, 29, 108 S.Ct. 2239, 2244, 101 L .E d .2 d 22 (1988) (quoting Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 622, 84 S.Ct. 805, 812, 11 L .E d .2 d 945 (1964)). Resolution of a § 1404(a) motion involves a two-pronged analysis. C.M.B. Foods, In c . v. Corral of Middle Ga., 396 F.Supp.2d 1283, 1286 (M.D. Ala. 2005). First, the court m u s t determine whether the action could "originally have been brought in the proposed tra n s f e re e district court," Id. (quoting Folkes v. Haley, 64 F.Supp.2d 1152, 1155 (M.D. Ala. 1 9 9 9 ). Then, the court must determine whether the action should be transferred "for the c o n v e n ie n c e of the parties [and] in the interest of justice." Id. Only where both prongs are s a tis f ie d will a § 1404(a) motion be granted. IV . A. DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS
T r a n s fe r pursuant to the First-Filed Rule D e f e n d a n ts contend that Plaintiffs' action is duplicative of an action previously filed
in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, Sherry Goldsby, on b e h a lf of herself and all others similarly situated v. Renosol Seating, LLC, Civ. Act. No. 2 : 0 8 - c v -1 4 8 (S.D. Ala. 2008) (hereinafter "Renosol case"). See Doc. 39, Ex. A. In the R e n o s o l case, Goldsby claims that Renosol violated the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA")
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with regard to her compensation and demands payment of unpaid wages, liquidated damages, a tto rn e ys ' fees and other damages. Id. On October 19, 2009, Plaintiffs Sherry Goldsby and Teyonna Olds, on behalf of th e m s e l v e s and all others similarly situated, filed the instant suit in the Middle District of A la b a m a against a group of six individual current and former management level and s u p e rv is o ry employees from Renosol's Dallas County Facility. See Doc. 1, Complaint. Again, Plaintiffs assert violations of FLSA and demand unpaid wages, liquidated damages, a tto rn e ys ' fees and costs. See Doc. 26, Amended Complaint. T o determine whether transfer under the first-filed rule is appropriate, the Court looks to the chronology of the actions, the similarity of the parties involved, and the similarity of th e issues at stake. XTO Energy, -- F. Supp.2d at -- , 2010 WL 126171 (citation omitted); F u lle r , 370 F. Supp.2d at 688. The Renosol action is undoubtedly the first filed action as it w a s initiated on March 18, 2008, while the instant suit was filed October 19, 2009. A s c h e d u lin g order was entered in the Renosol case on June 30, 2008 (Renosol Doc. 18) and th e collective action was conditionally certified on December 12, 2008 (Renosol Doc. 31). Next, an amended scheduling order was entered on May 5, 2009 (Renosol Doc. 54). In short, p rio r to the action being stayed pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 362(a), the case was already u n d e rw a y. In contrast, no scheduling order has been entered in this lawsuit and discovery h a s not begun in part due to the pendency of these motions. Defendants contend that this a c tio n is substantially similar to the Renosol action while Plaintiffs aver that the action is not
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substantially similar because the named defendants are different and there is no substantial o v e rla p p in g of the claims. T h e Court finds that the parties in the two actions substantially overlap. Though the n a m e d defendants are different, the six named defendants in this suit are all current or former e m p lo ye e s of Renosol and each held a management level/supervisory position as the Dallas C o u n ty facility. Plaintiffs assert that because these six defendants "are not parties to the R e n o s o l suit, the Defendants have failed to establish that there are substantial overlapping p a rtie s involved." See Doc. 47 at p. 8. While it is true none of them are individually named in the Renosol case, they are being sued for their actions as Renosol supervisors. Again, it is important to note that the parties need not be identical. The Court finds here that the d e f e n d a n ts are effectively substantially similar. Moreover, there are overlapping plaintiffs. The named plaintiffs in both cases are current and former employees at the Renosol m a n u f a c tu rin g facility in Selma, Alabama. Further, the named plaintiff Sherry Goldsby is th e same. Therefore, the collective classes are the same. Based on all the above the Court f in d s substantial overlap in the parties. Next, the Court looks to whether there is substantial overlap in the claims. Both a c tio n s seek certification of the same class, defining the class as "all current and former h o u rly employees of [Defendant / Defendants] that were employed at [its / Renosol Seating, L L C 's ] Selma, Alabama facility and was not compensated the required statutory pay for all h o u rs worked." Compare Renosol Doc. 1 with Doc. 26 in instant suit. Based on the above,
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the Court finds that the case is due to be transferred under the first-filed rule. B. T r a n s fe r pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) T h e Court notes that this case is being transferred pursuant to the Court's inherent a u th o rity under the first-filed rule. However, in the alternative, even if the first-filed rule was in a p p lic a b le , the Court determines the case would also merit transfer under 28 U.S.C. § 1 4 0 4 (a ) in the interests of justice. L o o k in g at the first prong of the two prong analysis, there is no question that the case c o u ld have originally been brought in the Southern District of Alabama. Plaintiffs
a c k n o w le d g e that the actions occurred in Dallas County and that some of the plaintiffs live in the Southern District of Alabama.2 See Doc. 47 at p. 10-11. Therefore, the court may m o v e beyond the threshold question of could the suit be brought in the Southern District and n o w look to the second prong of whether it should be transferred to the Southern District. Section 1404 factors include (1) the convenience of the witnesses; (2) the location of relevant d o c u m e n ts and the relative ease of access to sources of proof; (3) the convenience of the p a rtie s ; (4) the locus of operative facts; (5) the availability of process to compel the a tte n d a n c e of unwilling witnesses; (6) the relative means of the parties; (7) a forum's f a m ilia rity with the governing law; (8) the weight accorded a plaintiff's choice of forum; and (9 ) trial efficiency and the interests of justice, based on the totality of the circumstances.
Plaintiff argue that approximately half the plaintiffs and two defendants live in Montgomery, Chilton, and Autauga Counties, but implicitly acknowledge that the remaining parties reside in counties with the Southern District of Alabama. See Doc. 47 at p. 11; see also Doc. 1. Page 8 of 11
Manuel, 430 F.3d at 1135 n. 1 (citation omitted). In looking to these factors, the court first looks to the convenience of the witnesses w h ic h is often said to be the "most important factor" in deciding whether to transfer. Gould, 9 9 0 F.Supp. at 1359 (quoting Hutchens v. Bill Heard Chevrolet Co., 928 F.Supp. 1089, 1091 (M .D . Ala. 1996)). In the case at hand, as aptly noted by Plaintiffs, the difference between th e federal courthouse in Selma and the federal courthouse in Montgomery is fifty (50) miles, s o the difference is not a significant factor. See Bay County Democratic Party v. Land, 340 F .S u p p .2 d 802, 809 (E.D. Mich. 2004) (100 miles does not affect convenience of the parties); V e r r e t v. State of Ala. Dep't of Mental Health, 2007 WL 2609777 (M.D. Ala. 2007) (u n p u b lish e d ) (169 miles does not affect convenience of the parties). Tied in with this same a n a lys is is element three. As the difference in distance is minimal, these elements weigh a g a in s t transfer. E le m e n t four clearly weighs in favor of transfer since the facility is located in Selma w ith in the Southern District of Alabama. Element two also slightly tilts towards transfer as th e majority of the relevant documents are likely co-located with the company which is in the S o u th e rn District of Alabama, though admittedly given the difference in distance as noted a b o v e , the effect is slight. Elements five, six, and seven are not significant enough to affect th is analysis, so the Court need not address them. A s to element eight, Plaintiffs are correct that the court usually affords deference to th e ir selected forum. However, deference to a plaintiff's chosen forum is significantly
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lessened in two situations relevant to this case. First, Plaintiffs' choice of forum is entitled to less deference when the action is one brought on behalf of a class of persons similarly s itu a te d , as is the case here. See Koster v. Lumbermens Mut. Cas. Co., 330 U.S. 518, 524, 6 7 S.Ct. 828, 832, 91 L.Ed. 1067 (1947) ("[W]here there are hundreds of potential plaintiffs, a ll equally entitled voluntarily to invest themselves with the corporation's cause of action and a ll of whom could with equal show of right go into their many home courts, the claim of any o n e plaintiff that a forum is appropriate merely because it is his home forum is considerably w e a k e n e d ." ). Second, when "the operative facts underlying the cause of action did not occur w ith in the forum chosen by the Plaintiff, the choice of forum is entitled to less c o n s id e ra tio n ." Gould v. Nat'l Life Ins. Co., 990 F.Supp. 1354, 1358 (M.D. Ala. 1998) (q u o tin g Garay v. BRK Electronics, 755 F.Supp. 1010, 1011 (M.D. Fla. 1991)). As such, the C o u rt affords little deference to Plaintiff's selected forum. Element nine is the crux of the matter, in this Court's opinion. The most persuasive re a s o n to transfer this action is that a related action involving the same issues is currently p e n d in g in the Southern District of Alabama. This case is a collective class and at the time th is suit was filed, there was already such a class conditionally certified in the Southern D is tric t of Alabama. Even if this Court were to decline application of the first-filed rule, it s im p ly makes sense to transfer this case in the interest of judicial economy. Much of the d is c o v e ry will be the same and these actions clearly should be consolidated for the purposes o f adjudication in order to promote judicial economy, preserve judicial resources, and avoid
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inconsistent rulings and judgments. V. CONCLUSION P u rs u a n t to the foregoing Memorandum Opinion, the Court grants Defendants' M o tio n to Transfer Venue and Supporting Brief (Doc. 39). This case shall be transferred to th e United States District Court Southern District of Alabama - Selma Division. The Clerk is DIRECTED to take appropriate steps to promptly effect the transfer. Any other pending m o tio n s are left for resolution by the United States District Court Southern District of A la b a m a . DONE this 22nd day of April, 2010. /s/ Terry F. Moorer T E R R Y F. MOORER U N IT E D STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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