Watson v. Earthbound Holding, LLC et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Chief Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn on 8/27/2012. (KAM, )
2012 Aug-27 PM 01:56
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
EARTHBOUND HOLDING, LLC
d/b/a EARTHBOUND TRADING
CASE NO. 2:12-CV-2263-SLB
This case is currently before the court on defendant Earthbound Holding, LLC’s
(“defendant”) Motion to Transfer Venue. (Doc. 12.)1 Upon consideration of the record,
the submissions of the parties, the arguments of counsel, and the relevant law, the court is
of the opinion that defendant’s Motion is due to be granted.
I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
William Watson (“plaintiff”), is a resident of Mississippi. (Doc. 1 ¶ 3.) Defendant
is a corporation organized under the laws of Delaware with its principal office in Farmers
Branch, Dallas County, Texas. (Doc. 13 ¶ 5.) Plaintiff was employed by defendant as a
manager at defendant’s store #342 in Florence, Alabama. (Id. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff claims
defendant terminated his employment based on race in violation of Title VII of the Civil
Reference to a document number, [“Doc. ___”], refers to the number assigned to each
document as it is filed in the court’s record.
Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. (Doc. 1 ¶ 7.)
On April 27, 2012, plaintiff initiated this suit in the U.S. District Court for the
Southern District of Mississippi, Jackson Division. (See doc. 1.) Defendant filed a
Motion to Dismiss for Improper Venue on May 22, 2012. (Doc. 4.) The U.S. District
Court for the Southern District of Mississippi found that the case was improperly filed in
Mississippi, but in lieu of dismissal, the court transferred the case to the Northern District
of Alabama, Southern Division. (See doc. 8.) The court reasoned that rather than
dismissing plaintiff’s case altogether, transferring the case to the division where
plaintiff’s termination occurred would better serve the local interests of this forum. (Doc.
8 at 4.) Also, the court opined that Alabama would be a more convenient forum for
witnesses likely to testify on behalf of plaintiff. (Id.) After the case was transferred to
this court, defendant moved to transfer venue to the Northern District of Texas, Dallas
Division pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404. (Doc. 12.)
II. LEGAL STANDARD: TRANSFER OF VENUE - 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a)
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), venue may be transferred by the district court
“[f]or the convenience of the parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice . . . to any
other district or division where it might have been brought.” “The decision to transfer a
case to another district is left to the sound discretion of the trial court.” Brown v. Conn.
Gen. Life Ins. Co., 934 F.2d 1193, 1197 (11th Cir. 1991). However, “the burden [is] on
the defendant to demonstrate why the forum should be changed.” Johnston v.
Foster-Wheeler Constructors, Inc., 158 F.R.D. 496, 503 (M.D. Ala. 1994). Although the
purpose of the transfer statute is convenience afforded to the parties and witnesses, the
district court’s power to transfer is “expressly limited . . . to those federal districts in
which the action ‘might have been brought.’” Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 616
(1964) (quoting 28 U.S.C. §1404(a)). Therefore, the court’s analysis is a “two-part
inquiry”: first, to determine if the case could have been brought initially in the transferee
court, and second, whether the factors of convenience and interests of justice under
Section 1404 favor shifting venue to the transferee court. See A.J. Taft Coal Co. v.
Barnhart, 291 F. Supp. 2d. 1290, 1307 (N.D. Ala. 2003).
A. Whether the Case “Might Have Been Brought” in the Northern District of
Texas, Dallas Division
First the court must determine if this case could have originally been brought in the
Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division where defendant proposes to transfer venue.
Therefore, the court must not only verify that venue would have been proper in the
Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division, but also, whether jurisdiction exists in that
The Northern District of Texas would have original subject matter jurisdiction
over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 as a result of plaintiff’s claims under Title VII
of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (See doc. 1.)
Additionally, personal jurisdiction over defendant would exist in the Northern
District of Texas as defendant’s principal place of business is located in Farmers Branch,
Dallas County, Texas. (Doc 13 ¶ 5.)
Venue in the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division would have been proper
if the case had initially been brought there. The exclusive venue provision of Title VII,
set forth in 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3), provides inter alia that actions under Title VII
“may be brought . . . in the judicial district in which the employment records relevant to
such practice are maintained and administered.” See also Pinson v. Rumsfeld, 192 F.
App’x 811, 817 (11th Cir. 2006) (per curiam) (“The venue provisions of [42 U.S.C.] §
2000e-5(f)(3) were intended to be the exclusive venue provisions for Title VII
employment discrimination actions and that the more general provisions of § 1391 are not
controlling in such cases.” (citation omitted)). Defendant asserts and plaintiff does not
contest2 that plaintiff’s personnel records relating to his employment and/or termination
are maintained at defendant’s principal office in Farmers Branch, Texas. (Doc. 13 at 7,
doc. 12-1 at 12.) Accordingly, plaintiff could have initially filed this action in the
Defendant’s Motion is styled as “opposed” and states that counsel for plaintiff indicated
via email that plaintiff opposes the Motion. (Doc. 13 at 2.) However, plaintiff never filed a
response in opposition, despite the court’s July 6, 2012 Order directing that a response in
opposition, if any, should be filed “on or before July 23, 2012.” (Doc. 14 at 1.) Where it is
relevant, the court will look to plaintiff’s Response to defendant’s Motion to Dismiss for
Improper Venue, (doc. 6), filed in the Southern District of Mississippi, which defendant attached
as an exhibit to its Motion to Transfer, (doc. 12-1 at 14-17).
Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division. Therefore, the first requirement for transfer
B. Convenience of the Parties and Witnesses and the Interest of Justice
Second, the court must determine whether transfer of venue promotes, on the
whole, greater convenience of the parties and witnesses and advances the interest of
justice. 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). “The analysis under § 1404(a) requires a balancing of
practical considerations, which centers on convenience of the parties and witnesses, with
the interest of justice, which focuses on fairness and efficiency.” Barnhart, 291 F. Supp.
2d. at 1309. The Eleventh Circuit has noted nine factors to be considered on a motion to
(1) the convenience of the witnesses; (2) the location of relevant
documents and the relative ease of access to sources of proof;
(3) the convenience of the parties; (4) the locus of operative
facts; (5) the availability of process to compel the attendance of
unwilling witnesses; (6) the relative means of the parties; (7) a
forum’s familiarity 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
Manuel v. Convergys Corp., 430 F.3d. 1132, 1135 n.1 (11th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted).
1. Plaintiff’s Choice of Forum
The court finds that plaintiff’s choice of forum is due no weight in deciding the
Motion to Transfer. As discussed above, the Northern District of Alabama was not where
plaintiff first brought his case. Initially, plaintiff chose to file suit in the Southern District
of Mississippi, Jackson Division. (See doc. 1.) Therefore, this factor does not figure into
the court’s analysis.
2. Location of Relevant Documents and Access to Sources of Proof
The court now examines in which forum the relevant documents and other sources
of proof are located. Defendant maintains its principal office in Dallas County, Texas.
(Doc. 13 ¶ 5.) Defendant asserts that “[a]ll of the . . . records . . . relating to [plaintiff’s]
employment are physically located at [defendant’s] principal place of business in Farmers
Branch, Dallas County, Texas.” (Doc. 12-1 at 12.) According to defendant, none of
plaintiff’s employment records are maintained in Alabama. (Id.) Plaintiff does not
contest these assertions. Although defendant claims that this factor “weighs . . . heavily
in favor of . . . transfer,” (doc. 13 at 9), it has been noted, that while still relevant, the
location of documents carries less weight as the burden of producing evidence may be
lessened where documents are stored in electronic format. See Dendy v. Decker Truck
Line, Inc., 2:10CV459-MHT, 2010 WL 3398987, at *3 (M.D. Ala. Aug. 26, 2010)
(“[T]he fact ‘[t]hat access to some sources of proof presents a lesser inconvenience now
than it might have absent recent developments does not render this factor superfluous.’
Accordingly, this factor provides some additional weight in favor of transfer.” (quoting In
re Volkswagen of Am., Inc., 545 F.3d 304, 316 (5th Cir. 2008))). Thus, the court finds
that the location of plaintiff’s employment records weighs in favor of transfer.
3. The Convenience of the Parties
Next, the court addresses the relative convenience of the parties litigating this case
in either Alabama or Texas. Transfer is inappropriate where it “merely shift[s]
inconvenience from the defendant to the plaintiff.” Robinson v. Giarmarco & Bill,
P.C., 74 F.3d 253, 260 (11th Cir. 1996). Neither of the parties reside in the Northern
District of Alabama. Plaintiff is a resident of Mississippi, (doc. 1 ¶ 3), and defendant’s
principal office is located in Dallas County, Texas, (doc. 13 ¶ 5). As defendant points
out, regardless of whether this case is transferred, both of the parties will be
inconvenienced to some extent. (Doc. 13 at 9.) Plaintiff’s place of residence, Meridian
Mississippi, is closer to this court than the proposed transferee venue in Texas. However,
based on the remaining factors discussed below, transferring this case would be more
convenient overall, and not merely shift the burden from defendant to plaintiff. That
being said, this factor weighs slightly against transfer.
4. The Locus of Operative Facts
Defendant contends that the operative decisions regarding plaintiff’s termination
occurred in Texas, and thus, weigh in favor of transfer. (Doc. 13 at 10.) Plaintiff was
terminated for allegedly violating defendant’s harassment policy while working at
defendant’s store in Florence, Alabama. (Doc. 1 ¶ 7.) However, defendant maintains that
the decision to terminate plaintiff “was made by [defendant’s] management officials
located in Texas.” (Doc. 12-1 at 12.) Plaintiff does not dispute this, and he further
speculates that the decision to terminate him was actually made while he was employed at
defendant’s store in Mississippi, and thus, prior to him working in Alabama. (Id. at 16.)
Because plaintiff alleges that he was terminated based on his race, and the key decisions
regarding plaintiff’s termination were allegedly made by defendant’s managers in Texas,
the court finds that this factor weighs in favor of transfer. See Dendy, 2010 WL 3398987,
at *3 (finding that the occurrence of key employment decisions in another district
weighed in favor of transfer).
5. Convenience and Availability of Witnesses
Next, the court addresses the overall convenience of the witnesses likely to testify
in this case and to what extent this court or the transferee court may compel the
attendance of any unwilling witnesses. The court begins its analysis by noting that “[i]t is
often said that ‘the most important factor in passing on a motion to transfer under §
1404(a) is the convenience of the witnesses.’” Harper v. Am. Airlines, Inc., No.
CV-08-S-2410-NE, 2009 WL 1605800, at *5 (N.D. Ala. May 18, 2009) (quoting
Hutchens v. Bill Heard Chevrolet Co., 928 F. Supp. 1089, 1091 (M.D. Ala. 1996)). In
support of its Motion to Transfer, defendant specifically identifies two employees
residing in Texas who conducted the investigation leading to plaintiff’s termination and
who made the decision to terminate plaintiff. (Doc. 12-1 at 12.) Defendant also
identifies a district manager located in Tennessee who oversaw defendant’s Florence,
Alabama store. (Id.) Finally, defendant states generally that there are “many relevant
witnesses” located in the transferee district and that any unwilling witnesses would likely
be within the subpoena power of the transferee court. (Doc. 13 at 10.) While it may be
that former coworkers of plaintiff may have relevant knowledge of the facts of this case,
plaintiff does not make any attempt to identify likely witnesses or state whether or not any
former coworkers still reside in this district or elsewhere in Alabama. Given that
defendant’s likely relevant witnesses all reside in Texas (except for the district manager),
the court finds that the convenience and availability of witnesses weighs in favor of
6. The Relative Means of the Parties
The court affords this factor little weight. As defendant points out, this district is
not plaintiff’s original choice of forum nor his place of residence. Further, plaintiff offers
no arguments that he would be unable to litigate his case in Texas. It may be assumed
that defendant, as a company doing business in several states, has greater resources than
plaintiff; however, it is not apparent that plaintiff would endure substantially greater
hardship by traveling to Texas rather than Alabama to litigate this case.
7. The Forum’s Familiarity with the Governing Law
All of plaintiff’s claims are brought pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
(See doc. 1.) Therefore, the court grants this factor no weight as any federal district court
would be familiar with the law governing such a claim.
8. Efficiency and the Interests of Justice
Lastly, the court looks at the totality of the circumstances and weighs the
efficiency and the interests of justice in litigating this case in either Alabama or Texas.
As an initial matter, the court notes that there is little if any connection between Alabama
and plaintiff’s case aside from the fact that defendant terminated plaintiff’s employment
while he was working at a store in Alabama. Also, neither party is located in this state.
The majority of defendant’s likely witnesses reside in Texas, including the two employees
identified as making the decision to terminate plaintiff. (Doc. 12-1 at 12.) Plaintiff has
failed to apprise the court of the existence of any witnesses, including any potential
witnesses residing in Alabama.3 Although plaintiff would travel a shorter distance to
litigate in this court, nothing in the record indicates he would endure substantially more
hardship by traveling to Texas. Finally, nothing in the record indicates that litigating this
case in Texas would be any more or less efficient than in Alabama.
Based on the foregoing, defendant’s Motion to Transfer is due to be granted. This
case will be transferred to the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division as directed in
the court’s Order entered contemporaneously with this Opinion.
During oral argument on defendant’s Motion to Transfer, counsel for plaintiff identified
two potential witnesses but was unable to state whether these individuals still reside in Alabama
or the relevance of their testimony to plaintiff’s claims.
DONE, this 27th day of August, 2012.
SHARON LOVELACE BLACKBURN
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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