WINMAR CONSTRUCTION, INC. v. JK MOVING & STORAGE, INC.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER granting in part defendant's motion to transfer case 6 and directing the Clerk's Office to transfer this case to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Signed by Judge Emmet G. Sullivan on 3/7/2018. (lcegs3)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
WINMAR CONSTRUCTION, INC.
JK MOVING & STORAGE, INC.
) Civil Action No. 17-2164 (EGS)
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Pending before the Court is defendant JK Moving & Storage,
Inc.’s (“JK Moving”) motion to dismiss plaintiff Winmar
Construction, Inc.’s (“Winmar”) complaint, or, in the
alternative, transfer venue to the United States District Court
for the Eastern District of Virginia. See Def.’s Mot., ECF No.
6. Upon consideration of the motion, the response and reply, the
applicable law, and the entire record, JK Moving’s motion shall
be GRANTED IN PART and this proceeding shall be TRANSFERRED to
the United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Virginia (“Eastern District”).
Winmar, a District of Columbia (“D.C.”) commercial
construction corporation, brings this complaint against JK
Moving, a Virginia moving and storage corporation. See generally
Compl., ECF No. 1. In 2016, Winmar was hired to renovate the
Hilton Crystal City at Washington Reagan National Airport Hotel
(“the Hilton”). Id. ¶ 2. To accomplish the renovations, Winmar
entered into five contracts with JK Moving to move and store the
Hilton’s furniture. Id. ¶ 3. The relevant contracts were
negotiated and signed in D.C. between February and December
2016. Id. The furniture was moved from the Hilton, located in
Arlington, Virginia, and stored in JK Moving’s warehouse,
located in Sterling, Virginia. Exhibit 1 to Def.’s Mot., ECF No.
6-1 at 12. To date, Winmar has paid JK Moving nearly $115,000
for its services. Compl., ECF No. 1 ¶ 5. JK Moving has demanded
that that Winmar pay the additional $50,000 allegedly owed
pursuant to the contracts. Id. ¶ 6. Winmar alleges that JK
Moving damaged sixteen pieces of furniture and converted
thirteen pieces of furniture. Id. Winmar also alleges that the
contracts are void because JK Moving does not have a moving and
storage license, as required by D.C. law. Id. ¶¶ 13-17.
Seeking to collect the entire sum allegedly owed, JK Moving
sued Winmar and its President, Edwin Villegas, for breach of
contract and fraud in Loudoun County Circuit Court on October
12, 2017. See Eastern District Compl., ECF No. 6-1. Winmar then
removed the case to the Eastern District. Notice of Removal, ECF
No. 6-3. Winmar answered JK Moving’s complaint on November 7,
2017, denying the allegations and asserting the affirmative
defenses “set forth in Winmar’s Complaint filed against JK
Moving in the United States District Court for the District of
Columbia.” Eastern District Answer, ECF No. 6-2 ¶¶ 1, 2.
On October 18, 2017, Winmar filed its Complaint against JK
Moving in this Court. See generally Compl., ECF No. 1. Winmar’s
three count complaint seeks: (1) a declaratory judgment that the
contracts are void under D.C. law; (2) damages resulting from JK
Moving’s alleged conversion of thirteen pieces of furniture; and
(3) damages resulting from JK Moving’s alleged negligence in
moving and/or storing the furniture. Id. ¶¶ 13-27. Winmar’s
complaint concerns the same contracts at issue in the Eastern
District case. Compare D.C. Compl., ECF No. 1 with Eastern
District Compl., ECF No. 6-1.
Standard of Review
As stated by this Court:
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), “[f]or the
convenience of the parties and witnesses, in
the interest of justice, a district court may
transfer any civil action to any other
district where it might have been brought.”
In so doing, the district court has discretion
“‘individualized case-by-case consideration
of convenience and fairness.’” Stewart Org.,
Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988)
(quoting Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612,
622 (1964)); see also Demery v. Montgomery
County, 602 F. Supp. 2d 206, 210 (D.D.C. 2009)
(“Because it is perhaps impossible to develop
any fixed general rules on when cases should
be transferred[,] . . . the proper technique
to be employed is a factually analytical,
case-by-case determination of convenience and
omitted). The moving party bears the burden
of establishing that transfer of the action is
Devaughn v. Inphonic, Inc., 403 F.
Supp. 2d 68, 71 (D.D.C. 2005); see also SEC v.
Savoy Indus., Inc., 587 F.2d 1149, 1154 (D.C.
Cir. 1978) (noting that the district court’s
effectively a ruling that [the appellant] had
failed to shoulder his burden”).
In order to justify a transfer, defendants
must make two showings.
First, they must
establish that the plaintiff could have
brought suit in the proposed transferee
Devaughn, 403 F. Supp. 2d at 7172; Trout Unlimited v. United States Dep’t of
Agric., 944 F. Supp. 13, 16 (D.D.C. 1996).
Second, defendants must demonstrate that
interests of justice weigh in favor of a
Devaughn, 403 F. Supp. 2d at 72;
Trout Unlimited, 944 F. Supp. at 16.
Berry v. United States Dept. of Justice, 49 F. Supp. 3d
71, 74-75 (D.D.C. 2014).
To determine whether “considerations of convenience and the
interests of justice weigh in favor of a transfer,” the Court
considers private-interest factors including: “(1) the
plaintiff's choice of forum, unless the balance of convenience
is strongly in favor of the defendant; (2) the defendant's
choice of forum; (3) whether the claim arose elsewhere; (4) the
convenience of the parties; (5) the convenience of the
witnesses, but only to the extent that witnesses may be
unavailable in one fora; and (6) the ease of access to sources
of proof.” Id. at 75 (citations omitted). Finally, the Court
considers whether certain public-interest factors weigh in favor
of transfer, including “(1) the transferee's familiarity with
the governing laws, (2) the relative congestion of each court,
and (3) the local interest in deciding local controversies at
home.” Id. at 77 (quoting Montgomery v. STG Int'l, Inc., 532 F.
Supp. 2d 29, 34 (D.D.C. 2008)(additional citations omitted).
A. Winmar Could Have Brought this Suit in the Eastern
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b), a lawsuit “may be brought
in” a judicial district (1) where “any defendant resides, if all
defendants are residents of the State in which the district is
located”; (2) where “a substantial part of the events or
omissions giving rise to the claim occurred”; or (3) if there is
no judicial district where the case may be brought as provided
by the first two categories, where “any defendant is subject to
the court’s personal jurisdiction.” 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b). “When
venue is challenged, the court must determine whether the case
falls within one of the three categories set out in § 1391(b).”
Atl. Marine Const. Co. v. U.S. District Court for the W.
District of Tex., 134 S. Ct. 568, 577 (2013).
It is undisputed that Winmar’s case could have been brought
in the Eastern District. See Pl.’s Opp’n, ECF No. 8 at 7-9;
Def.’s Mot., ECF No. 6 at 8. The Court agrees—“a substantial
part of the events or omissions giving rise to [Winmar’s] claim
occurred” in Virginia. 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2). Although the
contracts were negotiated and entered into in D.C. and payments
were made in D.C., the contracts were performed in Virginia and
this performance gave rise to Winmar’s claims. See Compl., ECF
No. 1 ¶¶ 2-6, 19-21, 23-27. The Court additionally notes that
Winmar answered the Complaint in the Eastern District—rather
than challenging venue—and asserted as affirmative defenses its
claims pending before this Court. Eastern District Answer, ECF
No. 6-2, ¶¶ 1-2 (citing the Complaint in this case
specifically). Therefore, the lawsuit before this Court could
have been brought in the Eastern District.
B. Considerations of Convenience and the Interests of
Justice Weigh in Favor of a Transfer
1. Private Interest Factors
a. Plaintiff’s Choice of Forum
“Absent specific facts that would cause a district court to
question plaintiffs' choice of forum, plaintiffs' choice is
afforded substantial deference.” Wilderness Society v.
Babbitt, 104 F. Supp. 2d 10, 12 (D.D.C. 2000)(citations
omitted). Winmar argues that the Court should defer to its
chosen forum because this Court is the only venue where personal
jurisdiction exists over all parties. Pl.’s Opp’n, ECF No. 8 at
7. Not necessarily. As discussed above, Winmar and Mr. Villegas
are defendants in the earlier-filed Eastern District case. See
Eastern District Answer, ECF No. 6-2. Rather than contesting
that court’s jurisdiction, Winmar consented to the Court’s
personal jurisdiction by filing an Answer to JK Moving’s
complaint. Id. To the extent Winmar asserts that the Eastern
District does not have jurisdiction over Mr. Villegas, its
argument is irrelevant because Mr. Villegas is not a party
before this Court. See generally Compl., ECF No. 1. Moreover, as
previously discussed, see supra Section III (A), Winmar has
asserted the very issues before this Court as affirmative
defenses in the Eastern District. Eastern District Answer, ECF
No. 6-2 ¶¶ 1-2. This choice undermines Winmar’s choice of forum.
Ultimately, the Court is not persuaded that Winmar’s choice of
forum should be given substantial deference.
b. Defendant’s Choice of Forum
A defendant's choice of forum is a consideration when
deciding a transfer motion, but it is not ordinarily entitled to
deference. Douglas v. Chariots for Hire, 918 F. Supp. 2d 24, 32
(D.D.C. 2013) (citations omitted). “[W]here Defendants move to
transfer over Plaintiff's opposition, they must establish that
the added convenience and justice of litigating in their chosen
forum overcomes the deference ordinarily given to Plaintiff's
choice.” Id. JK Moving has done so here by seeking to have both
complaints efficiently adjudicated by a single court. Def.’s
Mot., ECF No. 6 at 9.
Because both complaints concern the same
subject matter and will likely involve the same evidence and
witnesses, such reasoning is legitimate and therefore entitled
to some weight. Compare D.C. Compl., ECF No. 1 with Eastern
District Compl., ECF No. 6-1.
c. Whether the Claim Arose Elsewhere
The claims before this Court arose in both D.C. and
Virginia. See Compl., ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 1-7. JK Moving argues that
“[a]ll of the material events in the dispute took place in
Virginia, including the moving and storage services provided by
JK Moving, and the witnesses in this action are located in
Virginia.” Def.’s Mot., ECF No 6 at 8-9. Winmar responds by
arguing that the contracts were solicited, negotiated, entered
into in D.C. and all payments were made in D.C. Pl.’s Opp’n, ECF
No. 8 at 8.
“Courts in this district have held that claims ‘arise’
under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) in the location where the corporate
decisions underlying those claims were made or where most of the
significant events giving rise to the claims occurred.” Treppel
v. Reason, 793 F. Supp. 2d 429, 436-437 (D.D.C. 2011) (citations
omitted). As discussed, the Court has determined that the claims
could have been brought in the Eastern District pursuant to
section 1391(b)(2) because “a substantial part of the events or
omissions giving rise to the claim occurred” in Virginia. 28
U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2). The question now before the Court, then, is
whether the claim “arose” in Virginia, meaning “most of the
significant events giving rise to the claims occurred” there.
Treppel, 793 F. Supp. 2d at 436-37. Two of Winmar’s three claims
pertain to JK Moving’s performance of the contracts in Virginia—
namely, whether JK Moving was negligent when it moved the
furniture and whether JK Moving wrongfully converted the
furniture. Compl., ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 18-27. This factor therefore
weighs in favor of transfer to the Eastern District because most
of Winmar’s claims arose in Virginia.
d. The Convenience of Parties and the Convenience of
Winmar argues that a witness’ convenience warrants
retaining jurisdiction over its case. Pl.’s Opp’n, ECF No. 8 at
8-9. It contends that a senior D.C. government official is a key
witness for its declaratory judgment count and that it would be
inconvenient, a waste of government resources, and unjust to
require that D.C. official to hire Virginia counsel and appear
in an unfamiliar Virginia court. Id. at 9. JK Moving responds
that “the bulk of the evidence and witnesses in the matter are
located in Virginia (and [Winmar] failed to show how potential
witnesses who work in the District would be ‘inconvenienced’ by
travelling across the river to attend trial in nearby
Alexandria).” Def.’s Reply, ECF No. 10 at 9.
The convenience of witnesses is to be considered by the
Court, “but only to the extent that witnesses may be unavailable
in one fora.” Berry, 49 F. Supp. 3d at 75. Winmar does not
contend that the D.C. government official would be unavailable
in the Eastern District. See Pl. Opp’n, ECF No. 8. Furthermore,
courts in this Circuit have found that the convenience of
witnesses does not weigh heavily against transfer “given the
close proximity of the District of Columbia and the Eastern
District of Virginia.” Treppel, 793 F. Supp. 2d at 437. This
factor therefore weighs in favor of transfer because Winmar does
not allege that its anticipated witness would be unavailable in
the Eastern District.
e. Ease of Access to Sources of Proof
JK Moving argues that “the bulk of the evidence . . . [is]
located in Virginia.” Def.’s Reply, ECF No. 10 at 9. Winmar
provides no information regarding this factor. See Pl.’s Opp’n,
ECF No. 8. “The importance of this factor is . . . lessened
where, as here, the two potential districts are in close
proximity.” Treppel, 793 F. Supp. 2d at 438 (transferring from
D.C. to Eastern District). That said, because JK Moving provides
information concerning the location of evidence, whereas Winmar
does not, this factor weighs in favor of transfer.
2. Public Interest Factors
a. The Transferee's Familiarity with the Governing Laws
JK Moving asserts that the Eastern District is “more than
capable” of adjudicating all of the claims in Winmar’s
complaint. Def.’s Reply, ECF No. 10 at 9. Winmar does not allege
that the Eastern District is unfamiliar with the laws governing
its complaint. See Pl.’s Opp’n, ECF No. 8 at 7-9. The public
interest is “best served by having a case decided by the federal
court in the state whose laws govern the interests at
stake.” Trout Unlimited, 944 F. Supp. at 19 (citations omitted).
While the declaratory relief determination will be made pursuant
to D.C. law, the other two counts in the complaint are common
law claims that will most likely be governed by Virginia law.
See Compl., ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 18-27. “Under the District of
Columbia’s choice of law rules, the law governing the
plaintiff’s claims is the law of the state with the most
significant relationship to the matters at issue.” Id. Because
the contract was performed in Virginia and it was that
performance that gave rise to Winmar’s claims, the common law
claims will likely be governed by Virginia law. This is
especially true because the contracts at issue do not include a
choice of law provision. See Exhibit 1 to Def.’s Mot., ECF No.
6-1 at 12-34. Moreover, it is reasonable to assume that Virginia
courts are familiar with D.C. law, given the close proximity of
the jurisdictions. See Jimenez v. R&D Masonry, Inc., Civ. No.
15-1255 (JEB), 2015 WL 7428533 at *4 (D.D.C. November 20,
2015)(finding it reasonable to assume that Maryland courts will
be familiar with District of Columbia law for transfer
purposes). Therefore, this factor weighs in favor of transfer.
b. The Relative Congestion of Each Court
Neither party argues that the congestion of either court
will cause undue delay, nor do they argue that they will receive
a speedier resolution in either court. See Def.’s Mot., ECF No.
6; Pl.’s Opp’n, ECF No. 8. Therefore, the Court gives this
factor no weight. Babbitt, 104 F. Supp. 2d at 16.
c. The Local Interest in Deciding Local Controversies
Finally, although courts in both jurisdictions may have an
interest resolving Winmar’s claims, courts in this Circuit “have
looked at where a clear majority of the operative events took
place in order to determine where a case should be adjudicated.”
Treppel, 793 F. Supp. 2d at 439-40 (quoting Trout Unlimited, 944
F. Supp. at 19). As previously discussed, the contracts were
performed in Virginia and JK Moving’s performance gave rise to
most of Winmar’s claims. See Compl, ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 2-6, 19-21, 2327. This factor therefore weighs in favor of transfer.
Conclusion and Order
Having considered all of the relevant factors, the Court
concludes that JK Moving has made the necessary showing that
“considerations of convenience and the interests of justice
weigh in favor of a transfer.” Berry, 49 F. Supp. 3d at 75
(citations omitted). The Court is persuaded that the parties and
their witnesses will be inconvenienced and judicial resources
will be wasted if the two inextricably linked cases are
litigated in two different forums. See id. at 76-77
(transferring in part because the plaintiff filed four civil
actions “arising out of the same set of facts” in the other
district). Both cases likely involve the same witnesses, who
will no doubt be inconvenienced by having to participate in two
similar cases in two different forums.
While the burden remains with the movant JK Moving, it is
significant that Winmar does not allege that it will be
prejudiced if its case is transferred to the Eastern District.
See generally Pl.’s Opp’n, ECF No. 8. Indeed, Winmar anticipated
litigating these claims in the Eastern District when it asserted
them as affirmative defenses in its answer. Eastern District
Answer, ECF No. 6-2 ¶¶ 1-2. As such, the Court is not persuaded
that Winmar will be prejudiced by transfer. See Berry, 49 F.
Supp. 3d at 75-76 (finding that the fact that the plaintiff
filed four actions in the other district “belie[s]” his
“conclusory allegations of prejudice”).
Because the Court has determined that this proceeding will
be transferred, the Court does not reach the JK Moving’s
remaining arguments that (1) Winmar’s complaint should be
dismissed pursuant to the “first-to-file” rule as duplicative of
JK Moving’s first-filed complaint in the Eastern District, and
(2) Winmar’s declaratory judgment claim should be dismissed for
failure to state a claim. Accordingly, it is hereby
ORDERED that JK Moving’s motion to dismiss the Complaint,
or, in the alternative, transfer venue to the U.S. District
Court for the Eastern District of Virginia is GRANTED IN PART;
and it is
FURTHER ORDERED that, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), the
Clerk’s Office is directed to TRANSFER this case to the United
States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Emmet G. Sullivan
United States District Judge
March 7, 2018
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