Hightower v. Celestron Acquisition, LLC et al

Filing 82

ORDER DENYING 16 MOTION TO TRANSFER CASE; granting in part and denying in part 22 Motion to Intervene. Signed by Judge Edward J. Davila on 9/10/2020. (ejdlc1, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 9/10/2020)Any non-CM/ECF Participants have been served by First Class Mail to the addresses of record listed on the Notice of Electronic Filing (NEF)

Download PDF
1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 6 SAN JOSE DIVISION 7 8 DANIEL HIGHTOWER, et al., Case No. 5:20-cv-03639-EJD Plaintiffs, 9 ORDER DENYING MOTION TO TRANSFER v. 10 11 Re: Dkt. Nos. 16, 22 CELESTRON ACQUISITION, LLC, et al., United States District Court Northern District of California Defendants. 12 13 This action is the lead case in a constellation of related actions arising out of alleged 14 antitrust violations in the consumer telescope industry. On June 30, 2020, Defendants Celestron 15 Acquisition, LLC (“Celestron”), SW Technology Corp (“SW”), Corey Lee, David Anderson and 16 Joseph Lupica (all together, the “Moving Defendants”) filed a Motion to Transfer Venue Pursuant 17 to 28 U.S.C. §1404(a) to the Central District of California (Dkt. No. 16, “Motion to Transfer”), as 18 well as a Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (Dkt. No. 15, 19 the “Motion to Dismiss”). Plaintiff Daniel Hightower opposes the Motion to Transfer (Dkt. No. 20 24, “Opposition”), but the Motion to Dismiss was terminated as moot following Plaintiff’s filing 21 of an amended complaint. The Court took the matter under submission without oral argument 22 pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7-1(b). For the reasons below, Plaintiff’s motion is DENIED. 23 The plaintiffs from related action Murphy v. Celestron, No. 20-cv-04049-EJD, Sigurd 24 Murphy and Keith Uehara (the “Murphy Plaintiffs”), filed a Motion to Intervene and Oppose 25 Defendants’ Motions to Transfer and the Motion to Dismiss. The Moving Defendants do not 26 oppose the Murphy Plaintiffs’ request to file an opposition to the Motion to Transfer. The Murphy 27 Defendants’ motion to intervene is GRANTED in part. 28 Case No.: 5:20-cv-03639-EJD ORDER DENYING MOTION TO TRANSFER 1 1 2 I. Background Plaintiff Daniel Hightower is a telescope consumer and amateur astronomy enthusiast. He 3 brought this action against a group of allegedly related telescope manufacturers and distributors, 4 including the Moving Defendants as well as Defendants Synta Canada Int’l Enterprises, Ltd., Sky- 5 Watcher USA, Sky-Watcher Canada, Olivon Manufacturing Co. Ltd., Olivon USA, LLC, Sylvia 6 Shen, Jean Shen, and Laurence Huen. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants conspired with their 7 competitor, Ningbo Sunny Electronic Co., Ltd. (“Ningbo Sunny”) to fix prices, divide the market, 8 retaliate against competitors, mislead U.S. authorities, illegally acquire assets, and dominate the 9 U.S. market. Plaintiff, who seeks to represent a nation-wide class of indirect purchasers, alleges that this conspiracy involved overcharging U.S. consumers like him for the last decade. FAC ¶ 2. 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 Plaintiff brought this action after a jury found Defendants’ alleged co-conspirator Ningbo 12 Sunny liable on similar, if not identical, claims brought by telescope retailer Optronic 13 Technologies, Inc. (“Orion”). See Optronic Technologies, Inc. v. Ningbo Sunny, et al., Case No. 14 16-cv-6370-EJD, Dkt. No. 501 (the “Orion Action”). Post-judgment proceedings in the Orion 15 Action are still pending before this Court. Although the allegations and claims in the two actions 16 are overlapping, none of the parties to this action are parties in the Orion Action. 17 The Moving Defendants filed this Motion to Transfer arguing that none of the Defendants 18 are located in this District, and “the vast majority of the Moving Defendants and witnesses 19 identified in the complaint” reside in the Central District of California. There is no dispute that 20 Celestron, SW Technology, and Sky-Watcher USA are all headquartered within the Central 21 District in Torrance, California. FAC ¶¶ 21-22, 29. Plaintiff opposes the Motion to Transfer. 22 Dkt. No. 24. The non-moving Defendants did not take a position. 23 Following the filing of this action, five other indirect purchasers and one direct purchaser 24 filed actions similar to this one. On August 17, 2020, the Court ordered that the indirect purchaser 25 actions be consolidated and that the consolidated action coordinate with the direct purchaser 26 action. Dkt Nos. 55-56. Thus, both the consolidated indirect purchaser action and the direct 27 purchaser action are currently proceeding before this Court. 28 Case No.: 5:20-cv-03639-EJD ORDER DENYING MOTION TO TRANSFER 2 1 II. Legal Standard A court may transfer an action to another district where the action might have been brought 2 3 for the convenience of the parties, the convenience of the witnesses, and in the interest of justice. 4 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). In determining whether to transfer an action pursuant to section 1404(a), a 5 court considers the following factors: (1) the plaintiff’s choice of forum, (2) the convenience of the 6 parties, (3) the convenience of the witnesses, (4) ease of access to the evidence, (5) familiarity of 7 each forum with the applicable law, (6) feasibility of consideration of other claims, (7) any local 8 interest in the controversy, and (8) the relative court congestion and time of trial in each forum. 9 Stovall v. Align Tech., Inc., No. 5:18-CV-07540-EJD, 2019 WL 3945104, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 21, 2019). “The burden is on the party seeking transfer to show that when these factors are 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 applied, the balance of convenience clearly favors transfer.” Alul v. American Honda Motor 12 Company, Inc., No. 16-04384 JST, 2016 WL 9116934 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 7, 2016) (citing 13 Commodity Futures Trading Comm’n v. Savage, 611 F.2d 270, 279 (9th Cir. 1979)). A transfer is 14 not appropriate if the result is merely to shift the inconvenience from one party to another. Van 15 Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 645-46 (1964). 16 III. 17 Discussion Because the parties do not dispute that this action might have been brought in the Central 18 District, or that it was properly brought in the Northern District, the Court focuses on whether the 19 balance of convenience and the interest of justice clearly weigh in favor of transfer. 20 The Moving Defendants first argue that the Central District would be more convenient for 21 the parties and the witnesses because the majority of the Moving Defendants are located there, 22 whereas none of them, and none of the non-moving Defendants, are located in this District. 23 Specifically, the Moving Defendants argue that the convenience for the witnesses, including 24 Celestron employees, weighs in favor of transfer. Plaintiff argues that other vital witnesses, 25 including Orion employees and Mr. Hightower himself, are located in this District. Thus, 26 although some of Defendants’ employees, who may be called as witnesses, are located in the 27 Central District, the convenience for witnesses overall does not clearly weigh in favor of transfer. 28 Case No.: 5:20-cv-03639-EJD ORDER DENYING MOTION TO TRANSFER 3 1 The Moving Defendants further argue the majority of documents, including all Celestron 2 records, are located in the Central District and, therefore, the ease of access to evidence weighs in 3 favor of transfer. Plaintiff points out that the vast majority of evidence is likely to be produced 4 through electronic discovery. Moreover, depending on health regulations related to the COVID- 5 19 pandemic, depositions may take place virtually as well. Courts in this District have noted that 6 “[i]n the age of electronically stored information, the ease of access to evidence is neutral because 7 much of the evidence in this case will be electronic documents, which are relatively easy to obtain 8 in any district.” Prescott v. Bayer HealthCare LLC, No. 5:20-CV-00102 NC, 2020 WL 3505717, 9 at *5 (N.D. Cal. June 29, 2020) (quoting Doe v. Epic Games, Inc., 435 F. Supp. 3d 1024, 1042 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 (N.D. Cal. 2020)). Thus, the Court does not find that access to evidence favors transfer. The Moving Defendants next argue that the interests of justice require this Court to 12 transfer the action or maintain the action in light of this Court having presided over the Orion 13 Action. They argue that “[p]utting these cases in the same court, . . . is a transparent effort to 14 prejudice Moving Defendants by trying to bind them to the findings in the Orion Lawsuit, even 15 though they were not parties in that action.” Mot. at 7. Plaintiff argues that, on the contrary, this 16 Court is “especially well-suited to adjudicate the claims because this Court presided over the 17 Orion litigation and is already familiar with many of the facts and legal issues.” Opp. at 7. 18 Although the stars aligned to place these actions before this Court following the Orion action, the 19 Court already held that the Orion Action is not related to the present dispute. See Orion Action, 20 Dkt. No. 700. Thus, the Court finds that its familiarity with the issues is not relevant to the 21 transfer analysis, but neither does it weigh in favor of transfer. This Court is capable of 22 considering each action on its individual merits. To the extent that Plaintiff intends to invoke 23 rulings from the Orion Action, relevant doctrines of preclusion will operate to ensure that 24 Defendant is not improperly bound to any prior ruling. 25 Finally, the Moving Defendants argue that Plaintiff’s choice of forum should not given 26 much weight because he purports to represent a nationwide class. Lou v. Belzberg, 834 F.2d 730, 27 739 (9th Cir. 1987) (where “an individual . . . represents a class, the named plaintiff's choice of 28 Case No.: 5:20-cv-03639-EJD ORDER DENYING MOTION TO TRANSFER 4 1 forum is given less weight.”). Plaintiff brings this action on behalf of “all similarly situated 2 consumers who purchased a telescope manufactured or sold by Defendants.” Given the 3 geographically unlimited proposed class, the Court agrees that Plaintiff’s individual residence is 4 not particularly relevant to the transfer analysis. Nevertheless, even if Plaintiff’s choice of forum 5 is immaterial, the Moving Defendants have not otherwise met their burden of showing that the 6 balance of convenience weighs in favor of transfer. The Moving Defendants have, at best, demonstrated that the Central District would be an 7 8 equally convenient forum for all parties, given that many Defendants reside there and that the 9 Plaintiff’s proposed class does not have significant ties to the Northern District. But “Section 1404(a) exists to permit transfers to a more convenient forum, not to a forum likely to prove 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 equally convenient or inconvenient.” Adobe Sys. Inc. v. Childers, No. 5:10-cv-03571-JF/HRL, 12 2011 WL 566812, at *9 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 14, 2011). Thus, the Moving Defendants have not met 13 their burden to show that transfer is appropriate in this case. 14 IV. Conclusion 15 For the reasons stated above, the Moving Defendants’ Motion to Transfer is DENIED. 16 The Murphy Plaintiffs Motion to Intervene is GRANTED for the sole purpose of opposing the 17 Motion to Transfer. The Murphy Plaintiffs’ request to file an opposition to the first Motion to 18 Dismiss is DENIED as moot. 19 20 21 22 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: September 10, 2020 ______________________________________ EDWARD J. DAVILA United States District Judge 23 24 25 26 27 28 Case No.: 5:20-cv-03639-EJD ORDER DENYING MOTION TO TRANSFER 5

Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.

Why Is My Information Online?