Rodgers v. Stater Bros. Markets

Filing 8

ORDER Denying 5 Motion to Transfer Venue. Signed by Judge Michael M. Anello on 5/24/2017. (ag)

Download PDF
1 2 3 4 5 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA Case No.: 16CV2614-MMA (MDD) JENNIFER LYNN RODGERS, ORDER DENYING MOTION TO TRANSFER VENUE Plaintiff, v. [Doc. No. 5] STATER BROS. MARKETS, Defendant. 13 14 15 Plaintiff Jennifer Lynn Rodgers has filed the instant action against Defendant 16 Stater Bros. Markets alleging causes of action for negligence and premises liability 17 pursuant to California law. See Compl., Doc. No. 1. Specifically, Plaintiff, a resident of 18 Idaho, alleges she visited one of Defendant’s grocery stores in Lake Elsinore, California 19 on September 7, 2015. She alleges she visited the store as a customer, and while walking 20 on Defendant’s property, “she slipped and fell on a puddle of water from melted ice on 21 the floor” and “sustained significant injuries.” See Compl. ¶ 6. 22 23 Defendant now moves to transfer venue, requesting the Court transfer this action to the Central District of California, Eastern Division. See Doc. No. 5. 24 LEGAL STANDARD 25 Section 1391(b) of Title 28 of the U.S. Code provides, in pertinent part, that a 26 “civil action may be brought in—(1) a judicial district in which any defendant resides, if 27 all defendants are residents of the State in which the district is located; [or] (2) a judicial 28 district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim -1- 16CV2614-MMA (MDD) 1 occurred, or a substantial part of property that is the subject of the action is situated[.]” 2 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b); see Costlow v. Weeks, 790 F.2d 1486, 1488 (9th Cir. 1986); see 3 Decker Coal Co. v. Commonwealth Edison Co., 805 F.2d 834, 842 (9th Cir. 1986). 4 “[T]he district court of a district in which is filed a case laying venue in the wrong 5 division or district shall dismiss, or if it be in the interests of justice, transfer such case to 6 any district or division in which it could have been brought.” 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a). 7 Even where venue is proper, “[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the 8 interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or 9 division where it might have been brought or to any district or division to which all 10 parties have consented.” 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). 11 DISCUSSION 12 Defendant argues transfer is proper under sections 1404 and 1406, but does not 13 make any arguments in support of its assertion that 1406 applies here. In other words, 14 Defendant does not argue that venue is improper in this district as would be required for 15 the Court to transfer this case pursuant to section 1406. Rather, Defendant only argues in 16 terms of 1404(a), which generally applies where venue is proper, and allows courts to 17 transfer actions in their discretion. See Allstar Mktg. Grp., LLC v. Your Store Online, 18 LLC, 666 F. Supp. 2d 1109, 1130 (C.D. Cal. 2009). Further, based on Plaintiff’s 19 opposition brief, Plaintiff treats Defendant’s motion as a motion to transfer venue 20 pursuant to section 1404(a). Accordingly, because neither party argues otherwise, the 21 Court assumes venue is proper in this district and analyzes Defendant’s motion as a 22 motion to transfer venue pursuant to section 1404(a).1 23 24 25 26 27 28 “[T]he purpose of [section 1404(a)] is to prevent the waste of time, energy, and                                                                   1 Some district courts have required that the moving party seeking transfer pursuant to section 1404 to first make a showing that venue is proper in the transferor district. See e.g., Vu v. Ortho–McNeil Pharm., Inc., 602 F.Supp.2d 1151, 1155–56 (N.D. Cal. 2009); Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. v. McDonnell Douglas Corp., 820 F. Supp. 503, 506 (C.D. Cal. 1992). However, because the Court presumes venue is proper, the Court takes no position on this requirement, which has not been addressed or sanctioned by the Ninth Circuit or the United States Supreme Court to the Court’s knowledge. -2- 16CV2614-MMA (MDD) 1 money to protect litigants, witnesses and the public against unnecessary inconvenience 2 and expense.” Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 616 (1964) (internal quotations 3 omitted). Pursuant to 1404(a), district courts have “discretion to adjudicate motions for 4 transfer according to an ‘individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and 5 fairness.’” See Jones v. GNC Franchising, Inc., 211 F.3d 495, 498 (9th Cir. 2000) 6 (quoting Stewart Org. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988)). To determine whether 7 transfer is appropriate, courts weigh “multiple factors,” including the convenience to the 8 parties and witnesses. See Jones, 211 F.3d at 498–99. Courts may also consider the 9 following factors, if relevant: 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 (1) the location where the relevant agreements were negotiated and executed, (2) the state that is most familiar with the governing law, (3) the plaintiff’s choice of forum, (4) the respective parties’ contacts with the forum, (5) the contacts relating to the plaintiff’s cause of action in the chosen forum, (6) the differences in the costs of litigation in the two forums, (7) the availability of compulsory process to compel attendance of unwilling non-party witnesses, and (8) the ease of access to sources of proof. 17 18 Jones, 211 F.3d at 498–99. The burden is on the defendant seeking transfer to show why 19 transfer is justified. See Allstar, 666 F. Supp. at 1131. 20 As an initial matter, for transfer to be appropriate, the Central District of 21 California, Eastern Division must have been a district in which the case “might have been 22 brought.” See 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Here, the parties do not dispute that this action might 23 have been brought in the Central District. The events giving rise to Plaintiff’s causes of 24 action occurred in the Central District of California, Eastern Division. See 28 U.S.C. § 25 1391(b); see also Doc. No. 5-2, Decl. of Tamara Ulufanua-Ciraulo (stating that the 26 location at which Plaintiff allegedly fell is located in Riverside County); see also 28 27 U.S.C. § 84(c)(1) (stating that the Central District of California, Eastern Division 28 includes Riverside county). -3- 16CV2614-MMA (MDD) 1 Because Defendant bears the burden of demonstrating that the balance of equities 2 weighs in favor of transferring this case, the Court outlines Defendant’s arguments. First, 3 regarding the convenience of witnesses, Defendant argues that “the witnesses to the 4 incident include Defendant Stater employees who work and reside in Riverside and San 5 Bernardino counties” and litigation would be “substantially less burdensome” for those 6 witnesses in the Central District, Eastern Division. See Doc. No. 5. Defendant states that 7 “[w]itnesses would include the store manager, assistant manager, and courtesy clerks, all 8 of whom are located in Riverside County.” See Doc. No. 5. 9 Second, regarding convenience of the parties, Defendant argues it would be “far 10 less burdensome for Defendant to litigate this action in the Central District-Eastern 11 Division” because Defendant’s corporate headquarters and its principal place of business 12 are in San Bernardino, California, which is in the Eastern Division. See Doc. No. 5; see 13 also 28 U.S.C. § 84(c)(1) (stating that the Central District of California, Eastern Division 14 includes San Bernardino county). Defendant also contends that “all of the documentary 15 evidence in this case regarding the incident, investigation and policies and procedures are 16 located in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.” See Doc. No. 5. 17 Third, Defendant argues the interests of justice would be served by transferring the 18 case because “sources of proof” such as witnesses and evidence “are almost exclusively 19 in Lake Elsinore, in Riverside, [sic] County and San Bernardino.” See Doc. No. 5. 20 In sum, Defendant concludes that “the foregoing factors are either neutral as to 21 both the Southern and Central Districts or weigh in favor of transfer to the latter district,” 22 and “[t]ransfer is therefore proper.” See Doc. No. 5. 23 Based on the foregoing, Defendant has not satisfied its burden to show transfer is 24 proper. For example, Defendant has not sufficiently shown that the convenience of 25 witnesses, which is often considered the most important factor, weighs in favor of 26 transfer. See Costco Wholesale Corp. v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 472 F. Supp. 2d 1183, 27 1193 (S.D. Cal. 2007). Defendant merely argues that its unnamed witnesses, all of whom 28 are Defendant’s employees, would be burdened by litigation in this district. But, courts -4- 16CV2614-MMA (MDD) 1 “accord[] less weight to the inconvenience of party witnesses” because “they can be 2 compelled to testify regardless of the forum in which the lawsuit is ultimately litigated.” 3 Allstar, 666 F. Supp. at 1132; Costco, 472 F. Supp. 2d at 1193 (“A party can compel the 4 testimony of its employees at trial.”). Further, if a motion to transfer is “for the 5 convenience of witnesses, [a] defendant must name the witnesses it wishes to call, the 6 anticipated areas of their testimony and its relevance, and the reasons why the present 7 forum would present a hardship to them.” See Bohara v. Backus Hosp. Med. Benefit 8 Plan, 390 F. Supp. 2d 957, 963 (C.D. Cal. 2005); Adoma v. Univ. of Phoenix, Inc., 711 F. 9 Supp. 2d 1142, 1151 (E.D. Cal. 2010) (“A party moving for transfer for the convenience 10 of the witnesses must demonstrate, through affidavits or declarations containing 11 admissible evidence, who the key witnesses will be and what their testimony will 12 generally include.”). Defendant has not provided any witness affidavits or declarations, 13 nor has Defendant named any witnesses, described their anticipated testimony, or 14 provided any specific reasons why the present forum would be a hardship for them. 15 Defendant instead “support[s] its motion with mere conclusory allegations.” See id. 16 Regarding the convenience of the parties, Defendant essentially argues that it 17 would prefer to litigate this case in the Central District, which is insufficient. “[It is not 18 enough that the defendant would prefer another forum, nor is it enough merely to show 19 that the claim arose elsewhere.” See Allstar, 666 F. Supp. at 1131 (quoting 15 Charles A. 20 Wright, Arthur R. Miller, & Edward H. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure § 3847 21 (2007)). “And, not surprisingly, transfer will not be ordered if the result is merely to shift 22 the inconvenience of where the action is located from one party to another.” Id. Further, 23 Defendant argues relevant “documentary evidence” is “located in San Bernardino and 24 Riverside counties.” See Doc. No. 5. However, “if [a motion to transfer] is based on the 25 location of records and documents, the movant must show particularly the location, 26 difficulty of transportation, and the importance of such records.” Bohara, 390 F. Supp. 27 2d at 963. Again, Defendant fails to do so, “instead supporting its motion with mere 28 conclusory allegations.” See id. -5- 16CV2614-MMA (MDD) 1 Regarding the interests of justice, Defendant reiterates that witnesses and physical 2 evidence regarding the incident are located within the Eastern Division. However, for the 3 reasons just stated, the Court discounts that argument based on Defendant’s unsupported 4 and conclusory assertions. Further, “[t]he interests of justice include such concerns as 5 ensuring speedy trials, trying related litigation together, and having a judge who is 6 familiar with the applicable law try the case.” See Allstar, 666 F. Supp. 2d at 1134 7 (quoting Heller Financial, Inc. v. Midwhey Powder Co., Inc., 883 F.2d 1286, 1293 (7th 8 Cir. 1989)) (internal quotations and alterations omitted). To the Court’s knowledge, there 9 is no other pending related litigation, and the same law would apply in either forum. It is 10 unclear how transferring this case based on the location of Defendant’s witnesses and 11 evidence would serve the interests of justice, particularly where Defendant does not argue 12 that witnesses would be unable to travel to this forum or that Defendant would be unable 13 to transport documents here. 14 15 16 For the foregoing reasons, Defendant has not satisfied its burden in demonstrating that the Court should transfer this case. Further, Plaintiff points out that her choice of forum carries weight. Plaintiff is 17 correct. While “a plaintiff’s selection of a forum is generally due heavy weight,” where 18 “the operative facts have not occurred within the forum” and the plaintiff is foreign, less 19 deference is given to the plaintiff’s choice. See Lou v. Belzberg, 834 F.2d 730, 739 (9th 20 Cir. 1987); Daisley v. Blizzard Music Ltd. (US), No. 3:16-CV-00519-HDM-WGC, 2017 21 WL 706605, at *2 (D. Nev. Feb. 22, 2017). Here, the operative facts occurred in the 22 Central District, Eastern Division, and Plaintiff is a resident of Idaho. However, “less 23 deference is not the same thing as no deference.” See Daisley, 2017 WL 706605, at *2 24 (quoting Lueck v. Sundstrand Corp., 236 F.3d 1137, 1145 (9th Cir. 2001)). Accordingly, 25 Plaintiff’s choice of forum tips the balance in favor of denying Defendant’s motion to 26 transfer. 27 28 Moreover, Plaintiff files a declaration under penalty of perjury in which she states that the forum is more convenient for her because she has family in San Diego and flies -6- 16CV2614-MMA (MDD) 1 into and out of the San Diego airport. As a party and a witness, Plaintiff’s convenience 2 deserves some deference in this analysis, and further tips the scale in favor of denying 3 Defendant’s motion. 4 5 6 7 CONCLUSION Based on the above reasons, the Court DENIES Defendant’s motion to transfer venue. Doc. No. 5. IT IS SO ORDERED. 8 9 10 11 12 Dated: May 24, 2017 _____________________________ Hon. Michael M. Anello United States District Judge 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 -7- 16CV2614-MMA (MDD)

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?