Fedonczak et al v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company et al

Filing 28

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER: The motions to transfer venue (Docs. 7 , 17 , & 19 ) are DENIED as further set out in the order. Signed by Hon. Chief Judge Mark E. Fuller on 5/4/2010. (dmn)

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT F O R THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA N O R T H E R N DIVISION J O N EDWARD FEDONCZAK, et al., ) ) P l a i n t if f s , ) ) v. ) C A S E NO. 2:10-cv-61-MEF-TFM ) S T A T E FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE ) (W O ) IN S U R A N C E COMPANY, et al., ) ) D e f e n d a n ts . ) M E M O R A N D U M OPINION AND ORDER I . INTRODUCTION J o n Edward Fedonczak ("Jon Fedonczak") and Candace Leann Fedonczak ("Candace F e d o n c z ak " ) (collectively, "Plaintiffs") brought this case against State Farm Mutual A u to m o b ile Insurance Company ("State Farm"), EMC Insurance Company ("EMC"), and K e n n e th Ray Grissom ("Grissom") (collectively, "Defendants"). (Doc. #1). Plaintiffs seek d a m a g e s stemming from an automobile collision they allege Grissom caused. Now pending b e f o re this Court is State Farm's motion to transfer venue to the Northern District of A la b a m a , Eastern Division pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1404(a), joined by all other defendants. (D o cs. #7, 17, & 19). For the reasons set forth in this Memorandum Opinion and Order, th o s e motions are due to be DENIED. I I . JURISDICTION AND VENUE J u ri s d ictio n over Plaintiffs' claims is proper under 28 U.S.C. 1332(a) (diversity). -1- T h e parties do not contest personal jurisdiction, and Defendants concede that venue is proper. T h e Court finds adequate allegations in support of both personal jurisdiction and venue. I I I . LEGAL STANDARD U n ite d States Code Title 28, Section 1404(a) authorizes district courts to transfer an a c t io n from one proper district or division to another proper district or division "[f]or the co n v en ienc e of parties and witnesses" and "in the interest of justice." 28 U.S.C. 1404(a); P & S Bus. Machs., Inc. v. Canon USA, Inc., 331 F.3d 804, 807 (11th Cir. 2003); Jenkins B r ic k Co. v. Bremer, 321 F.3d 1366, 1368 & n.1 (11th Cir. 2003). The movant has the b u rd e n to show that the requested forum is more convenient or that litigation there would be in the interest of justice, as federal courts afford deference to a plaintiff's choice of forum. C .M .B . Foods, Inc. v. Corral of Middle Ga., 396 F. Supp. 2d 1283, 128586 (M.D. Ala. 2 0 0 5 ) (citing In re Ricoh Corp., 870 F.2d 570, 573 (11th Cir. 1989)). The district court has b ro a d discretion in weighing the litigants' arguments for and against a transfer pursuant to 1404(a). Id. at 1286; see also Ross v. Buckeye Cellulose Corp., 980 F.2d 648, 654 (11th C ir. 1993). However, while 1404(a) allows a transfer to a more convenient forum, it does n o t allow a transfer to a district "likely to prove equally convenient or inconvenient." Van D u s e n v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 64546 (1964). The decision on a motion to transfer p u rs u a n t to 28 U.S.C. 1404(a) must be an individualized, case-by-case consideration of c o n v e n ie n c e and fairness. Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988) (quoting V a n Dusen, 376 U.S. at 622). -2- I V . FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND P la in tif f s filed their complaint in this Court on January 21, 2010, alleging that on or a b o u t August 28, 2008, Grissom negligently or wantonly drove his automobile into the rear o f an automobile driven by Jon Fedonczak. Plaintiffs sue Grissom for negligence or w a n to n n e ss and State Farm and EMC for coverage limits under separate underinsured m o to ris t policies. Plaintiff Candace Fedonczak also seeks damages for loss of consortium. J o n and Candace Fedonczak reside in Crestview, Florida, and Jon Fedonczak works in Luverne, located in the Middle District of Alabama. EMC issued a policy of insurance to F e d o n c z ak 's employer in Luverne, demonstrating that it does business in the Middle District o f Alabama. State Farm does business by agent in both the Northern and Middle District of A la b a m a . Grissom resides in Piedmont, located in the Northern District of Alabama. T h e alleged automobile collision giving rise to this case occurred on Interstate 20, w h ich in Alabama passes through only the Northern District of Alabama. Cleburne County E m e rg e n c y Medical Services ("CCEMS") responded to an emergency call involving Jon F e d o n c z a k on the alleged date of the automobile collision. CCEMS only responds to e m e r g e n c y calls within Cleburne County, which sits in the Northern District of Alabama. A laba m a State Troopers that responded to the automobile collision also reside and are sta tio n e d for work in the Northern District of Alabama. On the day of the alleged automobile co llisio n , Jon Fedonczak was treated for injuries at Anniston Regional Medical Center, lo c a te d in the Northern District of Alabama. He received subsequent treatment in Pensacola, -3- F lo rid a and in the Middle District of Alabama. In s te a d of answering, on February 17, 2010 State Farm filed its motion to transfer v e n u e to the Northern District of Alabama, Eastern Division pursuant to pursuant to 28 U .S .C . 1404(a). (Doc. #7). This Court responded with an order that set a March 24, 2010 d e a d lin e for briefing on the motion. (Doc. #11). State Farm, with leave of Court, filed s u p p le m e n ta l evidence in support of its motion on February 26, 2010. (Doc. #15). Grissom jo in e d the motion on that same date. (Doc. #17). EMC joined the motion on March 2, 2010. ( D o c . #19). Plaintiffs filed their response in opposition to the motion on March 17, 2010. (D o c . #24). State Farm filed a reply brief on March 24, 2010. (Doc. #25). Grissom filed a re p ly brief on March 25, 2010, which the Court does not consider due to its being unsolicited an d untimely. (Doc. #26). V . DISCUSSION R e s o lu t io n of a 1404(a) motion requires a two-step process. First, the court must c o n sid e r whether the case could have properly been brought in the requested transferee d is tric t. Okongwu v. Reno, 229 F.3d 1327, 1331 (11th Cir. 2000). Second, the court d e te rm in e s whether the case should be transferred, based on all convenience factors and the in te re s ts of justice. Id. A l l parties agree that the first prong of the test is met in this case. Therefore, the C o u rt will proceed directly to discussion of the second prong. Factors a court should c o n sid e r for this second prong include (1) the convenience of the witnesses, (2) the location -4- o f relevant documents and the relative ease of access to sources of proof; (3) the convenience o f the parties, (4) the locus of operative facts, (5) the availability of process to compel the atten d an ce 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. M a n u e l v. Convergys Corp., 430 F.3d 1132, 1135 n.1 (11th Cir. 2005). D e f en d a n ts argue that the case should be transferred to the Northern District of A l a b a m a , Eastern Division for the following reasons: It is a more convenient forum for p a rtie s State Farm and Grissom. It is a more convenient forum for all witnesses connected to the date of the alleged automobile collision--except for Jon Fedonczak--including G ris s o m , Alabama State Troopers who responded, CCEMS personnel who responded, and m e d ic a l personnel at Anniston Regional Medical Center. Defendants also dispute the in c o n v e n ie n c e to Plaintiffs of transferring to the Northern District of Alabama, as Plaintiffs a re residents of Florida rather than of the Middle District of Alabama. P lain tiff s counter that the main issue in this case is the extent of Jon Fedonczak's d a m a g e s , not the cause of the automobile collision. Therefore, the key witnesses are medical p e rs o n n e l and people involved in Jon Fedonczak's employment, not Grissom or law e n f o rc e m e n t that responded to the accident. Because Jon Fedonczak received medical tre a tm e n t subsequent to the date of the automobile collision in Florida and the Middle D is tric t of Alabama and his fellow employees work in the Middle District of Alabama, that -5- is a significantly more convenient forum for key witnesses than the Northern District of A la b a m a . Plaintiffs add that documents related to his medical care and work history are, as a result, also located either in the Middle District of Alabama or in Florida, closer to the M id d le District of Alabama than the Northern District. P lain tiff s also dispute some of the arguments made by Defendants in favor of transfer. B e c au s e Plaintiffs live in Florida and work in the Middle District of Alabama, they claim that th e time and cost of traveling to the Northern District of Alabama would inconvenience them a s both parties and witnesses. Plaintiffs further dispute the affidavit of State Farm claims a d ju ste r Scott Goodall ("Goodall"), submitted by State Farm in support of its motion to tra n sf e r venue. Goodall states in his affidavit that it would be more convenient to him to h a v e the case tried in Cleburne County in the Northern District of Alabama than in its current lo c a tio n in Montgomery County in the Middle District. However, Plaintiffs argue that G o o d a ll's office in Birmingham, Alabama is only 13.57 miles closer to Cleburne County than to Montgomery County, a significantly shorter extra distance to travel than would be required o f the Fedonczak's and those they argue are key witnesses if the case were transferred to the N o rth e rn District of Alabama. D ef en d an ts reply that the facts surrounding the automobile collision itself are c o n te ste d , so witnesses connected to that collision are key witnesses. Defendants add that P la in tif f s' choice of forum should be given less deference when none of the conduct at issue to o k place in that forum. Finally, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs took additional expense -6- in to account when filing their lawsuit in the Middle District of Alabama, rather than near th e ir residence in Crestview, Florida. W h ile Plaintiffs cite to the case of Holmes v. Freightliner, LLC, 237 F. Supp. 2d 690 (M .D . Ala. 2002), Defendants argue that this case, also arising from an automobile collision, a c tu a lly supports transfer of this case to the Northern District of Alabama. Defendants point o u t the Court's statement that substantial weight is given to the plaintiff's chosen forum " w h e n that forum is connected with the subject matter of the lawsuit," id. at 693 (emphasis ad d ed ), and argue that the Middle District of Alabama is not connected with this lawsuit's s u b je c t matter. However, the Court went on to note that, while the automobile collision o cc u rred in the proposed transferee forum of the Middle District of Georgia, the claims were f o r products liability and negligence connected with the maintenance and repair of one of the in v o lv e d automobiles. Id. at 69394. Because that maintenance and repair occurred in A la b a m a , the plaintiff's chosen forum of the Middle District of Alabama was accorded s ig n if ic a n t deference. Id. at 694. P lain tiff s in this case bring tort claims with regards to the specifics of the automobile c o llis io n as well as underinsured motorist claims and a claim for loss of consortium. T h e re f o re , both the details of the automobile collision and the extent of any subsequent d a m a g e s and injury suffered by Plaintiffs are connected with the subject matter of the law su it. Because the Middle District of Alabama is one of the forums connected with this s u b je c t matter, Plaintiffs' chosen forum is given substantial deference. -7- T h e Northern District of Alabama is more convenient to witnesses and parties and is c lo s e r to relevant documents related to Plaintiffs' tort claim. Additionally, the locus of o p e ra tiv e factors surrounding the automobile collision, central to the tort claim, exist in the N o rth e r n District of Alabama. However, the Middle District of Alabama, looking to the to ta lity of the circumstances, is more convenient to the parties and witnesses and contains m a n y of the operative facts and relevant documents for the underinsured insurance and loss o f consortium claims. Furthermore, the relative means of the parties counsels towards k e e p in g the case closer to the location of Plaintiffs' residence and workplace, given that two o u t of three defendants are insurance companies with greater resources than the two in d iv id u a l plaintiffs. At most, the balance of all factors only slightly favors the movant. U n d er these circumstances, and with deference given to Plaintiffs' choice of forum, the Court c a n n o t say that transfer would be in the interest of justice. See Johnston v. Foster-Wheeler C o n s tr u c to r s , Inc., 158 F.R.D. 496, 503 (M.D. Ala. 1994) ("If the transfer would merely shift th e inconvenience from one party to the other, or if the balance of all factors is but slightly in favor of the movant, the plaintiff's choice of venue should be given deference." (inner q u o tation s omitted)). T h e re f o re , the motions to transfer venue are due to be DENIED. -8- V I. CONCLUSION F o r the foregoing reasons, it is hereby ORDERED that the motions to transfer venue (D o c s . #7, 17, & 19) are DENIED. D O N E this the 4th day of May, 2010. /s/ Mark E. Fuller CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE -9-

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