Edke v. Belden, Inc.
MEMORANDUM Opinion and Order. Signed by the Honorable Joan B. Gottschall on 7/16/2021. Mailed notice(vcf, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
Case No. 21-CV-0813
Judge Joan B. Gottschall
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This is one of two proposed national class actions stemming from a breach of defendant
Belden Inc.’s (“Belden”) computer network (the “data breach”). Beginning in late
November 2020, Belden began notifying current and former employees, their dependents, and
their beneficiaries that unknown third parties gained unauthorized access to files containing their
personally identifiable information, such as names, birth dates, and social security numbers. See
Compl. ¶¶ 3–6, 26–28, ECF No. 1-1. Belden moves the court to dismiss this case on several
grounds and alternatively to transfer the case to the Eastern District of Missouri, where its
headquarters are located and where the other proposed class action is pending. See ECF No. 17.
For the reasons that follow, the court transfers this case to the Eastern District of Missouri in the
interest of justice. See 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).
A. This Litigation (The Edke Action)
Former Belden employee and plaintiff, Anand Edke (“Edke”), filed this class action
complaint against Belden in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, on January 6, 2021,
alleging claims of negligence, negligence per se, unjust enrichment, breach of implied contract,
and violation of the Illinois Personal Information Protection Act, 815 Ill. Comp. Stat. §§ 530/1 et
seq. Edke worked for Belden in Illinois from 2007–11. Compl. ¶ 13. He has lived in
Schaumburg, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, at all relevant times. See id. ¶ 12. Edke seeks to
represent a nationwide class of individuals whose personally identifiable information was
compromised in the data breach as well as a subclass of Illinois residents. Compl. ¶¶ 66–67.
Belden removed Edke’s complaint to this court based on the federal diversity jurisdiction
statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), and then filed its pending motion to dismiss Edke’s complaint or,
alternatively, to transfer this case to the district where Belden’s St. Louis headquarters is located.
See Notice of Removal ¶¶ 9–18, ECF No. 1; Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 17.
After reviewing the briefing on the motion to dismiss, this court ordered the parties to
brief two subject matter jurisdiction questions : (1) whether Edke has Article III standing and (2)
whether Edke’s individual claim satisfies the $75,000 amount in controversy requirement for
diversity jurisdiction. Order entered April 12, 2021, at 2, ECF No. 27. The court also sought the
parties’ views on the order in which the court should decide the pending subject matter
jurisdiction, personal jurisdiction, venue, and merits questions. Id. at 3.
B. The Mackey Action
Kia Mackey (“Mackey”) filed the other potential class action arising out of the Belden
data breach (“Mackey action”). Mackey v. Belden, Inc., No. 4:21-cv-149-JAR (E.D. Mo.).
Mackey filed her complaint on February 4, 2021, about a month after Edke filed his complaint in
Illinois state court. Mackey, ECF No. 1. Mackey subsequently amended her complaint, ECF
No. 16. Mackey brings eight claims under Missouri and Indiana law. Like Edke, Mackey seeks
to represent a national class of current and former employees, as well as their dependents and
beneficiaries, impacted by the data breach. See id. ¶¶ 67–76.
Belden filed a motion to dismiss Mackey’s amended complaint. Many of Belden’s
arguments for dismissing Mackey’s complaint overlap with Belden’s arguments in support of its
motion to dismiss Edke’s complaint. See Mot. to Dismiss 1, Mackey, ECF No. 18 (E.D. Mo.
Mar. 26, 2021). As in this case, Belden’s motion to dismiss Mackey’s complaint has been fully
II. Sequence of Issues
A court that lacks jurisdiction lacks power to decide the merits. See Ruhrgas AG v.
Marathon Oil Co., 526 U.S. 574, 584 (1999) (personal jurisdiction); Leguizamo-Medina v.
Gonzales, 493 F.3d 772, 774 (7th Cir. 2007) (citing Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env’t,
523 U.S. 83 (1998)) (subject matter jurisdiction). Thus, as the parties agree, subject matter and
personal jurisdiction questions must come before the merits question of whether the complaint
states a claim. Federal courts customarily decide subject matter jurisdiction before personal
jurisdiction, “but there are circumstances in which a district court appropriately accords priority
to a personal jurisdiction inquiry.” Ruhrgas AG, 526 U.S. at 578, 584–85.
The parties disagree about whether venue should come before or after subject matter and
personal jurisdiction. Edke argues that the jurisdictional questions should precede venue, citing
Leroy v. Great Western United Corp., 443 U.S. 173 (1979). ECF No. 28 at 2–3. In Leroy, the
Supreme Court stated that the “question of personal jurisdiction, which goes to the court's power
to exercise control over the parties, is typically decided in advance of venue, which is primarily a
matter of choosing a convenient forum.” 443 U.S. at 180 (citation omitted).
However, the Court in Leroy held that the typical order can be inverted: “[W]e conclude
that a court may reverse the normal order of considering personal jurisdiction and venue” where
a “sound prudential justification” exists for doing so. Ibid. In Leroy, avoiding an unnecessary
decision on a novel constitutional question concerning personal jurisdiction justified reaching
venue first because it was “clear that venue was improper.” Id. at 181. Consistent with this
authority, the Seventh Circuit has held that a district court “is not required to determine its own
subject-matter jurisdiction before ordering the case transferred” to a different venue under
§ 1404(a). In re LimitNone, LLC, 551 F.3d 572, 575–76 (7th Cir. 2008) (per curiam); see, e.g.,
Kuvedina, LLC v. Pai, 2011 WL 5403717, at *6 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 8, 2011).
As indicated in this court’s briefing order, the law of Article III standing in data breach
cases has evolved rapidly over the past decade, making this a relatively “complex area of
standing law.” ECF No. 27 at 2 (citations omitted). Relative legal complexity and novelty of a
legal issue do not necessarily counsel against reaching subject matter jurisdiction first, however.
“The relative ease of determining venue before subject-matter jurisdiction is an issue of judicial
economy.” In re LimitNone, 551 F.3d at 576. After weighing judicial economy, this court
reaches venue first for three reasons.
First, the standing question–whether Edke has alleged injury in fact satisfying
Article III’s case or controversy requirement–has implications for members of the proposed
classes in this case and in Mackey. This court and the proposed transferee court, like every
federal court, must apply the same Article III standing principles. See Steel Co., 523 U.S. at 89–
90. If transfer is appropriate, judicial economy favors leaving the standing question for the
transferee court. See Kuvedina, 2011 WL 5403717, at *6.
Second, Belden concedes that the transferee court has personal jurisdiction over it. See
Mem. Supp. Mot. to Dismiss 8–9, ECF No. 18. So if transfer is appropriate, Belden’s challenge
to personal jurisdiction in Illinois will fall out of the case. See Leroy, 443 U.S. at 181. Third, the
venue issue is relatively clear and straightforward. Ibid.
III. Change of Venue Analysis
The change of venue statute provides: “For the convenience of parties and witnesses, in
the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division
where it might have been brought or to any district or division to which all parties have
consented.” 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). The party seeking transfer bears the burden of showing that
the proposed transferee forum is “clearly more convenient.” Coffey v. Van Dorn Iron Works,
796 F.2d 217, 219–20 (7th Cir. 1986) (citing C.F.T.C. v. Savage, 611 F.2d 270, 279 (9th Cir.
1979)) (other citations omitted). The court balances several public- and private-interest factors
when deciding whether a transfer is appropriate. See Atl. Marine Const. Co. v. U.S. Dist. Ct. for
W. Dist. of Tex., 571 U.S. 49, 62 n.6 (2013); In re Ryze Claims Sols., LLC, 968 F.3d 701, 707
(7th Cir. 2020). When balancing these factors, the court engages in a “flexible and
individualized analysis” and “look[s] beyond a narrow or rigid set of considerations.” In re Ryze
Claims Sols., 968 F.3d at 708 (citing Rsch. Automation, Inc. v. Schrader-Bridgeport Int'l, Inc.,
626 F.3d 973, 978 (7th Cir. 2010)).
A. Convenience Factors
These appear to be completely parallel national class actions, so it can be assumed that
they will both be handled by the same court, whichever court that is.
Belden argues that the only factual connection between this case and Illinois is that Edke
resides in Illinois. See Compl. ¶ 13. Thus, continues Belden, the Eastern District of Missouri
will be more convenient for parties and witnesses because corporate decisions, presumably made
at Belden’s St. Louis headquarters, concerning the handling and protection of employee-related
data, will be primarily at issue. See Mem. Supp. Mot. to Dismiss 13. Edke responds, among
other arguments, that an Illinois forum is more convenient for him, and his choice of forum
should receive substantial deference, particularly because he filed this case before the Mackey
action was filed. Resp. Opp’n 10–15, ECF No. 22.
As the Seventh Circuit has explained, “When plaintiff and defendant are in different
states there is no choice of forum that will avoid imposing inconvenience” on either the plaintiff
or the defendant. In re Nat'l Presto Indus., Inc., 347 F.3d 662, 665 (7th Cir. 2003) (citing
Wyndham Assocs. v. Bintliff, 398 F.2d 614, 620–21 (2d Cir. 1968)). The plaintiff’s choice of
forum therefore acts as a tie-breaker “when the inconvenience of the alternative venues is
comparable.” In re Nat'l Presto Indus., 347 F.3d at 665; see also Rsch. Automation, 626 F.3d
at 979 & n.2 (noting that any evidence of bad faith or forum shopping is also relevant). “But
where, as here, the case involves two identical suits in distinct venues, this factor [(the plaintiff’s
choice of forum)] loses its significance entirely: each case has a plaintiff, and one of them will
necessarily be disturbed.” Rsch. Automation, 626 F.3d at 979. Edke’s choice of an Illinois forum
therefore receives no deference because there is no way to avoid inconveniencing one of the two
plaintiffs suing Belden over the data breach. See id.
Nor does the order in which the two cases were filed significantly favor either forum. In
Research Automation, the Seventh Circuit considered and rejected an “an inflexible [first-filed]
rule” for parallel litigation. 626 F.3d at 980–82. Instead, the order in which the two pending
class actions were filed is considered “as part of the section 1404(a) transfer analysis,” but the
order of filing “weigh[s] no more heavily . . . than the plaintiff’s choice of forum.” Rsch.
Automation, 626 F.3d at 982. As explained in the previous paragraph, Edke’s choice of forum
“loses its significance entirely” here, so the order of filing does as well. See id. at 979, 982.
Furthermore, giving the order of filing controlling weight risks “encourag[ing] an
unseemly race to the courthouse.” Id. at 980–81 (citation omitted). The touchstone of the
§ 1404(a) analysis is the statutory requirements—the parties’ convenience and the interest of
justice. In re Ryze Claims Sols., 968 F.3d at 707–08 (citing Atl. Marine, 571 U.S. at 62 & n.6).
As far as this limited record shows, deferring to the order of filing here would reward the
arbitrary winner of a race to the courthouse. Both cases were filed within a month of each other
and within four months of the data breach’s disclosure. No discovery has been taken in either
case. And in each case, the parties are awaiting a decision on a fully briefed motion to dismiss.
Hence the fact that Edke filed first does not make this court appreciably more convenient for the
parties to either case. See Rsch. Automation, 626 F.3d at 980–82. For all of these reasons, the
plaintiff’s choice of forum and the order of filing do not significantly favor either forum.
Other convenience (also called private interest) factors courts typically consider include:
(1) the availability of and access to witnesses in the two forums; (2) each party’s access to
witnesses and distance from resources in each forum; and (3) the location of material events and
the parties’ relative ease of access to sources of proof. Id. at 978 (citations omitted). Belden
does little more than assert that its headquarters are located in the transferee forum to show that
these factors favor transfer. See Mem. Supp. Mot. to Dismiss 12–13. The court gleans the
following factual information from the limited record:
Belden moved its headquarters from Illinois to St. Louis nearly twenty years ago,
in or around 2003. Compl. ¶ 23.
Belden continued to hire employees who did all of their work in Cook County,
Illinois, including Edke. See Compl. ¶ 24. How many employees is not stated.
Edke worked for Belden between 2007 and 2011. Compl. ¶ 13.
Belden detected the data breach on or about November 2020. Compl. ¶ 3.
Edke alleges that he, and presumably at least some members of the proposed class
who reside in Illinois, were injured in Illinois. Resp. Opp’n 8.
The record contains no information on the geographic distribution of members of the
proposed national class in this case or in Mackey. This court cannot determine how many class
members and likely witnesses are within the subpoena ranges of this court and the proposed
transferee court, which is a relevant consideration when weighing the convenience to the parties.
Edke would certainly be inconvenienced by travelling from the Chicago area to the Eastern
District of Missouri for a deposition and court hearings. However, Belden offers to depose him
in Illinois, Mem. Supp. Mot. to Dismiss 13, which somewhat lightens the burden to him of
The court cannot assume that the district where Belden’s headquarters is located is
automatically more convenient for complex class action litigation. In recent years, courts have
increasingly recognized that “[w]here records are actually stored is less of a factor because
documents now are easily scanned, stored, and electronically transmitted and moving them no
longer creates the onerous burden it may once have imposed.” Hirst, 405 F. Supp. 3d at 778
(quoting Camarena v. Vanderbilt Mortg. & Fin., Inc., 2015 WL 4036258, at *3 (N.D. Ill. July 1,
2015)). Belden offers no reason to think that discoverable documents cannot efficiently be
produced electronically, regardless of whether this suit is litigated in Chicago or St. Louis.
The party seeking a venue transfer bears the burden to “clearly specify the key witnesses
to be called and make at least a generalized statement of what their testimony would . . .
include[ ].” Heller Fin., Inc. v. Midwhey Powder Co., Inc., 883 F.2d 1286, 1293 (7th Cir. 1989).
Belden is not a small company with a single geographic locus, making it unreasonable to
presume that sources of proof are concentrated near Belden’s headquarters. Cf. In re Nat’l Presto
Indus., 347 F.3d at 664. Edke identifies several sources of proof that might not be found near
Belden’s headquarters in his response to the pending motion: servers (computers), information
technology personnel, and vendors. Resp. Opp’n 12. Belden neither disputes the importance of
these potential sources of proof nor specifies where they are likely located. See Reply 4–7, ECF
No. 23. This is insufficient to carry Belden’s burden to show clearly that the witnesses’
convenience or access to sources of proof favors transfer. See, e.g., Hirst v. SkyWest, Inc.,
405 F. Supp. 3d 771, 778 (N.D. Ill. 2019). For these reasons, and in the absence of any clear
showing from Belden, the private interest factors do not favor transfer to any significant degree.
B. Interest of Justice
Belden focuses primarily on the interest of justice factors. “The ‘interest of justice’ is a
separate component of a § 1404(a) transfer analysis and may be determinative in a particular
case, even if the convenience of the parties and witnesses might call for a different result.”
Coffey, 726 F.2d at 220 (internal citations omitted); accord Rsch. Automation, 626 F.3d at 978;
see also Heller Fin., 883 F.2d at 1293. The interest of justice factors include “ ‘docket
congestion and likely speed to trial in the transferor and potential transferee forums,’ ‘each
court's relative familiarity with the relevant law,’ ‘the respective desirability of resolving
controversies in each locale,’ and ‘the relationship of each community to the controversy.’ ” In
re Ryze Claims Sols., 968 F.3d at 708 (quoting Rsch. Automation, 626 F.3d at 978).
Belden stresses the increased efficiency of transferring these two, very similar proposed
national class actions to a single court. The interest of justice analysis “relates to the efficient
administration of the court system.” Rsch. Automation, 626 F.3d at 978 (citing Van Dusen v.
Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 626–27 (1964)). Substantial efficiency gains can often be realized by
transferring parallel, or nearly so, class actions to one district. See generally Van Dusen,
376 U.S. at 644–45 (discussing the “full benefits of consolidation uniformity of result” when two
similar cases are transferred to a district); Tri-State Water Treatment, Inc. v. Bauer, 845 F.3d 350,
355–56 (7th Cir. 2017) (describing “inefficient splintering” of cases into parallel class actions as
“the worst of both worlds”). Once parallel, or substantially similar, class actions are transferred
to one district, they can be consolidated or coordinated. The parties and respective courts no
longer need to worry about the possibility of inconsistent rulings on legal issues and discovery,
and only one trial judge must be immersed in the pertinent facts and law. See Rosen v. Spirit
Airlines, Inc., 152 F. Supp. 3d 1055, 1064 (N.D. Ill. 2015) (discussing these and other advantages
of coordinating parallel class actions in a single district); see also Galvan v. Mnuchin,
2020 WL 8259110, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 15, 2020) (collecting authority and discussing the
undesirability of dueling parallel class actions).
The efficiencies to be gained by transferring the Edke and Mackey actions to a single
forum “together weighs heavily in favor of transfer.” Rosen, 152 F. Supp. 3d at 1065.
The question remains, however: which forum? Belden offers just one reason to prefer the
Eastern District of Missouri: concerns regarding relative docket congestion. Belden submits a
report from the Administrative Office of the United States Courts (“AO”) on the median time to
trial of civil cases in the federal district courts. ECF No. 18 Ex. B. The report shows that for the
period ending September 30, 2019, the Eastern District of Missouri’s median time to trial was
34.2 months while this district’s median was 36.7 months.1 Id.
Edke counters with citations to cases giving little weight to median time to trial statistics
because they shed little light on the likely speed with which any particular case will be resolved.
See, e.g., Lang v. Neogenomics Labs., Inc., 2012 WL 588963, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 22, 2012).
This court shares some of the concerns expressed in the cases cited by Edke about reading too
much into statistics.
On the other hand, the concept of docket congestion invites a certain amount of
generalization based on how “backed up” each court is. Cf. Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S.
501, 508 (1947). (“Administrative difficulties follow for courts when litigation is piled up in
The AO report for the period ending September 30, 2020, does not contain median time to trial data
for the Eastern District of Missouri. ECF No. 18 Ex. B. The report shows that this district’s median
time to trial for the period ending September 30, 2020, was 39.3 months. Id.
congested centers instead of being handled at its origin”). This court does not find statistics on
median time to trial particularly helpful here, however, because the COVID-19 pandemic has
disrupted hearing calendars around the country. See, e.g., N.D. Ill. Gen. Order. No. 20-0012 and
Courts commonly use at least two other statistical indicators of docket congestion. See
Campbell v. Campbell, 262 F. Supp. 3d 701, 711–12 (N.D. Ill. 2017) (discussing differing
approaches courts take to assessing docket congestion). Some courts compare the median
number of months from a case’s filing to disposition. They reason that this statistic better
captures relative docket congestion because comparatively few civil cases are resolved by trial.2
See, e.g., AL & PO Corp. v. Am. Healthcare Cap., Inc., 2015 WL 738694, at *5 (N.D. Ill.
Feb. 19, 2015). Still other courts compare weighted filings per judge in the two forums along
with the percentage of pending civil cases more than three years old in each district. See, e.g.,
Zalutsky, Pinski & DiGiacomo, Ltd. v. Kleinman, 747 F. Supp. 457, 463–64 (N.D. Ill. 1990);
Letter-Rite, Inc. v. Computer Talk, Inc., 605 F. Supp. 717, 722 (N.D. Ill. 1985).
The AO’s most recent data on these measures of congestion paint a somewhat mixed
picture. The Eastern District of Missouri received 478 weighted filings per authorized judgeship
in 2020 while this court received 415.3
2. Of the 243,445 civil cases closed by the federal district courts in the one-year period ending
March 31, 2020, 1,773 (0.73%) were resolved by a trial. Table C-5: U.S. District Courts—Median
Time From Filing to Disposition of Civil Cases, by Action Taken—During the 12-Month Period
Ending Mar. 31, 2020, Federal Judicial Caseload Statistics,
visited July 13, 2021).
3. Table X-1A: U.S. District Courts—Weighted and Unweighted Filings per Authorized Judgeship—
During the 12-Month Periods Ending September 30, 2019 and 2020, Judicial Business,
https://www.uscourts.gov/statistics/table/x-1a/judicial-business/2020/09/30 (last visited July 13,
On the other hand, about half the cases in the Eastern District of Missouri were civil,
rather than criminal, cases while three-quarters of the weighted filings in this court were civil.4
The result appears to be significantly greater congestion on the civil side of this court’s docket
relative to the proposed transferee court. AO data for the period ending September 30, 2020,
show the median time to resolution of a civil case in the transferee court to be 5.5 months; the
figure is nearly twice as large for this court, 10.6 months. ECF No. 18 Ex. B. And 32.7% of this
court’s active civil cases have been pending for more than three years compared to just 4.1% of
the Eastern District of Missouri’s civil cases. Id. Although this court has some misgivings about
placing undue weight on these figures, the foregoing statistics—particularly the numbers of longpending civil cases and the median times to civil case closure—are pronounced enough to
persuade this court that the docket congestion factor favors transfer. See Genocide Victims of
Krajina v. L-3 Servs., Inc., 804 F. Supp. 2d 814, 826 (N.D. Ill. 2011) (considering size of
differences in mean time to disposition when deciding whether docket congestion favored
The parties address one additional interest of justice factor: familiarity with governing
law. Edke contends that this court’s greater familiarity with the Illinois Personal Information
Protection Act counsels against transfer. Resp. Opp’n 14, ECF No. 22. But both this court and
the transferee court are likely to grapple with out-of-forum law and complex choice of law issues
in these proposed national class actions. Mackey brings claims under Missouri and Indiana law,
for instance. Neither this court nor the transferee court appears to have any significantly greater
familiarity with the law governing those claims. This factor does not favor either forum.
“Facing unfamiliar state law claims is business as usual in the federal courts and warrants little,
if any, weight in assessing whether the interest of justice favors the transfer of a case to another
district.” Hirst, supra, 405 F. Supp. 3d at 779–80.
Weighed in their totality, the interest of justice factors favor the Eastern District of
Missouri. In short, transfer will very likely realize significant savings of time and resources by
facilitating the efficient, coordinated management of two overlapping proposed national class
actions in a forum with significantly less civil docket congestion.
For the reasons discussed, most of the convenience factors are neutral. The interest of
justice factors, including the obvious efficiencies of treating these parallel cases in one court,
favor transfer. Indeed, transfer will immediately eliminate the need to address personal
jurisdiction in Illinois.
Accordingly, Belden’s motion under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) to transfer this case to the
United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri is granted. Belden’s motion to
dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction is denied as moot. The remainder of Belden’s motion to
dismiss, ECF No. 17, is left for the transferee court.
Dated: July 16, 2021
Joan B. Gottschall
United States District Judge
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