Martinez v. Twin Garden Sales Inc et al

Filing 22

ORDER signed by Judge J P Stadtmueller on 3/23/10 granting 11 defendants' Motion to Transfer Case to U.S. District Court, North District of Illinois, Western Division. (cc: all counsel) (nm) [Transferred from Wisconsin Eastern on 3/23/2010.]

Download PDF
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF WISCONSIN ____________________________________________ M A R IA E. MARTINEZ, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, P l a i n t if f , v. T W IN GARDEN SALES, INC., M A R K F. HAYES and GARY PACK, D e fe n d a n ts . ____________________________________________ Case No. 09-CV-653 ORDER O n July 2, 2009, plaintiff, an Illinois resident, filed a class action suit against T w in Garden Sales, Inc. ("TGS") (an Illinois corporation whose only office is also in Illin o is ) and against Mark Hayes and Gary Pack (both of whom are officers of TGS, a n d both of whom are Illinois residents). Plaintiff's first amended complaint, filed on J u ly 16, 2009, alleges that defendants were plaintiff's employer, and that defendants vio la te d the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural W o rk e r Protection Act ("AW P A "), 29 U .S .C . 1801 et seq., the Illinois Minimum W a g e Law ("IMW L "), 820 ILCS 105/1 e t seq., the Illinois W a g e Payment and Collection Act ("IW P C A " ), 820 IlCS 115/1 et s e q ., and W isc o n s in 's W a g e Payment and Collection Laws ("W W P C L "), W is. Stat. 109.01 et seq. On August 17, 2009, defendants filed a motion to dismiss, p u rsu a n t to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(2) & (6), or to transfer this case to the Northern D istric t of Illinois, W e s te rn Division. In response, plaintiff filed a motion seeking to a m e n d the complaint yet again. Because this case clearly belongs in the Northern D is t r ic t of Illinois, the court will order the case transferred. Transfer of this case re n d e rs moot defendants' motion for dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(2), lack of p e rs o n a l jurisdiction. The court will not enter an order regarding defendants' Rule 1 2 (b )(6) motion, or plaintiff's motion to amend complaint; it is best to allow the court to which this case is transferred to resolve such motions as it deems appropriate. B AC K G R O U N D N a m e d plaintiff, Maria Martinez a resident of McHenry County, Illinois a lle g e s that she was employed by defendants as a seasonal agricultural worker from J u ly 9, 2007, through August 18, 2007. Martinez alleges that TGS, doing business a s Twin Gardens Farms Inc. ("TGF"),1 employed her to work at its farms in Illinois a n d W a lw o rth , W is c o n s in . She asserts that defendants required her and putative c la s s members to meet at the defendants' Harvard, Illinois, location at 5:40 a.m., and th a t defendants would transport the workers to the various work sites, and then back to Harvard, Illinois, at the end of the day. Martinez claims that TGF, which is also a n Illinois corporation whose only office is in Illinois, and TGS violated the AW P A by: 1 ) failing to provide required disclosures to plaintiff in writing and in Spanish; 2) fa ilin g to post required posters, in Spanish; 3) failing to inform plaintiff of her rights u n d e r the AW P A ; 4) failing to keep accurate records of plaintiff's hours worked; and Defendants have subm itte d evidence dem o n s tr a tin g that TGS and TGF are separate legal entities, a n d that neither have an ownership interest in the other. Additionally, defendants have subm itte d evidence s h o w in g that Martinez's W - 2 for the year 2007 clearly indicated that her em p lo ye r was TGF (as opposed to T G S ) . W h ile plaintiff attem p ts to add TGF as a defendant in the second am e n d e d com p la in t, she offers no e x p la n a tio n for the failure to include TGF, the actual employer, in either of the first two com p la in ts . 1 -2 - 5 ) providing misleading and false information to plaintiff regarding the terms and c o n d itio n s of employment. Martinez also alleges that the failure to properly pay her c o n s titu te d a violation of the above cited Illinois statutes and W is c o n s in statute. AN AL Y S IS A c c o rd in g to 28 U.S.C. 1404(a): "For the convenience of parties and w itn e s s e s , in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any o th e r district or division where it might have been brought." Id. The decision to tra n s fe r a case requires an "individualized, case-by-case consideration of c o n ve n ie n c e and fairness," Stewart Org., Inc. v. Rioch Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1 9 8 8 ), and "therefore, is committed to the sound discretion of the trial judge," Coffey v . Van Dorn Ironworks, 796 F.2d 217, 219 (7th Cir.1986). A court considering transferring a case to a different venue must determine: "1 ) whether the action could have been brought in the alternative forum; (2) whether th e alternative forum would be more convenient for the parties and witnesses; and (3 ) whether the transfer would be in the interest of justice." Kelley Co., Inc. v. C e n tra l Nat. Ins. Co. of Omaha, 598 F. Supp. 350, 351 (D. W is . 1984). The parties b o th agree that this action could have been brought in the alternative forum, the N o rth e rn District of Illinois, W e s te rn Division. Thus, it only remains for the court to e v a lu a te the latter two considerations. -3- I. C o n v e n ie n c e of the Alternative Forum I n considering the convenience of the alternative forum, the court must c o n s id e r five factors: 1) the plaintiff's choice of forum; 2) the situs of material events; 3 ) the relative ease of access to sources of proof in each forum; and 4) the c o n ve n ie n c e to the parties relative to their respective residences and abilities to bear th e expense of trial in a particular forum. Harley-Davidson, Inc. v. Columbia Tristar H o m e Video Inc., 851 F. Supp. 1265, 1270 (E.D. W is . 19 9 4 ) . M a rtin e z argues that her choice of forum is entitled to "a large measure of d e fere n c e ." Kelley Co., 598 F. Supp. at 353. W h ile such may typically be the case, it is not so in the instant situation. Plaintiff is not a resident of W is c o n s in , she is s u in g as a class representative, and the causes of action did not arise in this forum. T h u s , her choice of forum is not entitled to substantial deference. Countryman on B e h a lf of Upstate New York Pension and Retirement Fund v. Stein Roe & Farnham, 6 8 1 F. Supp. 479, 482-83 (N.D.Ill. 1987) ("The plaintiff's choice is given less weight w h e n the plaintiff is a non-resident of the chosen forum, when the plaintiff sues d e riva tive ly or as a class representative, and where the cause of action did not c o n c lu s ive ly arise in the chosen forum."); see also Sinochem Intern. Co. Ltd. v. M a la y s ia Intern. Shipping Corp., 549 U.S. 422, 430 (2007) "W h e n the plaintiff's c h o ic e is not its home forum, however, the presumption in the plaintiff's favor `applies w ith less force,' for the assumption that the chosen forum is appropriate is in such c a s e s `less reasonable.'") (citation omitted). -4- In the instant case, substantially all of the material events occurred in Illinois. P la in tiff alleges a violation of 29 U.S.C. 1831(a) which requires a recruiter to make c e rta in disclosures, upon request, to agricultural workers at the time the offer of e m p lo ym e n t is made. Plaintiff also alleges a violation of 1831(b), which requires c e rta in informational posters to be posted at the place of employment. Plaintiff a lle g e s a violation of 1831(c), which requires employers to keep accurate records o f the number of hours employees worked. Plaintiff also alleges that defendants, by m a k in g false and misleading statements as to the terms and conditions of e m p lo y m e n t , violated 1831(d). Apart from plaintiff's AW P A claims, plaintiff also a s s e rts violations of the IMW L , the IW P C A , and the W W P C L . Plaintiff alleges that d e fe n d a n ts failed to compensate plaintiff for all hours worked, and thus lowered p la in tiff's rate of pay below the minimum wage set by the IMW L . Plaintiff also a lle g e s that defendants failed to pay plaintiff for all hours worked, and thus violated th e IW P C A and the W W P C L . Plaintiff alleges that the violations of the IMW L , IW P C A , and W W P C L occurred as the result of a common practice and policy im p le m e n te d by defendants. Because plaintiff is an Illinois resident (as, it seems, a re a significant number of the putative class), and defendants' offices where p a yro ll is kept and policies are determined are in Illinois, and two of the three fa r m s 2 at which plaintiff and putative class members worked are in Illinois, d e fe n d a n ts point out that if any violation of the above statutes had occurred, they 2 To be clear, it is TGF, not TGS, that operates the farm s . -5 - w o u ld have occurred in Illinois. c o n t ra r y .3 Plaintiff offers no compelling argument to the In considering the relative ease of access to sources of proof in each forum, th e court notes that the sources of proof in the instant case will predominately be d o c u m e n ta ry evidence and testimonial evidence. It is undisputed that all relevant d o c u m e n ta ry evidence in this case is stored in McHenry County, Illinois, at the TGS a n d TGF offices. Plaintiff's only argument regarding the matter is a citation to G e n e ra c Corp. v. Omni Energy Systems, Inc., 19 F. Supp. 2d 917 (E.D. W is .) for the p re m is e that: "[i]n cases like this, much of the proof will be documentary, and d o c u m e n ts such as contracts and financial records are easily copied and transferred to either forum." Id. at 922. However, Generac was a case dealing with the in te rp re ta tio n of a distributorship agreement. In contrast, the instant case deals with fa c tu a l occurrences involving numerous individuals over a several month period. It is very likely that the majority of proof will be in the form of testimony both from the p u ta tive class members, as well as from defendants and TGS and TGF's employees a n d former employees. Since it appears at this juncture that the overwhelming m a jo rity of prospective witnesses will be Illinois residents, the alternative forum p ro vid e s greater ease of access to testimonial evidence. Additionally, the The only argum e n t to the contrary offered by plaintiff is that "Defendant's [sic] . . . perm itte d Plaintiff, a lo n g with the class m e m b e r s , to work in W a lw o r t h , W is c o n s in without properly com p e n s a t in g her." (Pl. Br. O p p . Mot. Transfer at 13). This only addresses the W W P C L claim and one of the AW P A claim s . Additionally, it is unavailing, because to the extent that such is true about W is c o n s in , it is doubly true about Illinois, where T G F operates two farm s as opposed to the one farm it operates in W is c o n s in . 3 -6 - d o c u m e n t s in the instant case will involve payroll records, and perhaps entire p e rso n n e l files, of every class member. It is undisputed that all of these records are in Illinois. Clearly such documentary evidence is considerably more substantial than a contract and some financial records. Also, the alternative forum clearly provides e a s ie r access to these records and files. A s was the case with each of the previously discussed factors, plaintiff had little to add regarding the convenience to the parties, relative to their respective re s id e n c e s , of trial in a particular forum. Plaintiff merely states: "The travel time b e tw e e n Defendants' location and Milwaukee is not all that much different than the tra ve l time to Rockford." (Pl. Br. Opp. Mot. Transfer at 13). However, the court n o te s that the travel distance from TGS and TGF's office in Harvard, Illinois, to the fe d e ra l courthouse in the alternative forum in Rockford, Illinois, is only 29.4 miles, w h ic h is less than half the distance as it is from their office to the federal courthouse in Milwaukee, which is a 75.5 mile trek. Harvard, Illinois, is also where, according to plaintiff's allegations, each of the putative class members met each day when e m p lo ye d by defendants. Thus, though not conclusive, it is certainly more re a s o n a b le to believe that the majority of the class members live closer to Rockford th a n to Milwaukee. In fact, Martinez herself resides in McHenry County (the county in which Harvard, Illinois, is located), and thus, even if she lives in the northeastern s e c tio n of McHenry County, she still lives a shorter distance from Rockford than from M ilw a u k e e . Indeed, considering the parties, the prospective parties (TGF and the -7- p u ta tive class members), and the likely witnesses (putative class members and TGS a n d TGF's employees and former employees), it would appear that Rockford would b e a more convenient forum for all involved. II. W h e t h e r Transfer would be in the Interest of Justice In determining whether transfer would be in the interest of justice, the court c o n s id e rs : 1) judicial economy; 2) the expeditious administration of justice; and 3) th e availability of compulsory process over possibly unwilling witnesses. PKWare, In c . v. Meade, 79 F. Supp. 2d 1007, 1019 (E.D. W is . 2000). In the instant case, judicial economy favors transfer. The case is in its n a s c e n t stages, and thus transfer would not result in any duplication of effort. In d e e d , transferring the case will save time, judicial resources, and the resources of th e parties, for keeping the case in this court would require protracted initial litigation, a s plaintiff has not even demonstrated personal jurisdiction as yet over the d e fe n d a n ts named in the first two complaints.4 Transfer of the case will remedy all o f the pending personal jurisdiction hurdles. Additionally, this case calls for the application of Illinois law to a larger degree t h a n it calls for the application of W is c o n s in law. Plaintiff has alleged violations of tw o Illinois statutes, and one W is c o n s in statute. Additionally, as defendants have p o in te d out, if there is a conflict of law controversy, it is almost certain that Illinois law The court is not ruling that plaintiff would be unable to show personal jurisdiction, only that resolving th e inquiry would require additional efforts (both from the court and the parties) and tim e . 4 -8 - w o u ld apply, since Illinois is the state in which almost all of the acts or omissions g ivin g rise to this case occurred. See Drinkwater v. America Family Mutual Ins. Co., 2 0 0 6 W I 56, 40, 714 N.W .2 d 568 (holding that nonforum law applies where it is c le a r that nonforum contacts are of greater significance). Thus, the fact that Illinois la w will predominate over W is c o n s in law in this case also is a facet of judicial e c o n o m y that weighs in favor of transfer. P la in tiff argues that judicial economy does not weigh in favor of transfer, and t h a t "W is c o n s in and its residents have a significant investment in ensuring that b u s in e s s practices are properly conducted in this state." (Pl. Br. Opp. Mot. Transfer a t 15). W h ile W is c o n s in certainly does have such an interest, Illinois does as well. C o n s id e r in g the fact that all the parties involved in this case are Illinois residents, a n d that more business activity took place in Illinois than in W is c o n s in , it is clear that Illin o is has a greater interest in the resolution of this case than does Wisconsin. A d d itio n a lly, plaintiff has demanded a jury trial in this case; however, "[j]ury duty is a burden that ought not to be imposed upon the people of a community which has n o relation to the litigation." Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501, 508-09 (1947). W h ile the instant litigation might not have "no relation" to this community, it certainly h a s very little. This is especially true considering that the laws that have allegedly b e e n violated are all worker protection laws, but there is no indication that any of the w o rk e rs were residents of W is c o n s in . Certainly, the home state of the workers and -9- th e companies involved has a much more significant relationship to the instant litig a tio n . In considering "the expeditious administration of justice," the court finds no ra tio n a le for determining that the alternative forum could not administer justice just a s , if not more so, expeditiously than this court. Plaintiff points to differences b e tw e e n the Northern District of Illinois and the Eastern Division of W is c o n s in c a s e lo a d and median time from filing to trial. (Pl. Br. Opp. Mot. Transfer at 14). H o w e v e r, these figures include the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern District, which in c lu d e s Chicago and its suburbs, where obviously the caseload and back-log are h ig h e r. There is no evidence that the Northern District of Illinois, W e s te rn Division, h a s either a heavier caseload or a longer time from filing to trial than the Eastern D is tric t of W is c o n s in . Indeed, considering that this branch of the district court is a s s ig n e d more civil cases than any other branch of the district court, it is very likely th a t the alternative forum has a lower caseload than does this branch of the court. In order to determine whether material witnesses would be subject to c o m p u ls o ry process by the court, the court has to have some idea who the w itn e s s e s will be. Considering the nature of the case, it appears as though w itn e s s e s will consist of employees and former employees of TGS and TGF, and p la in tiff and her class members (if the class is certified). Defendants point to former s e a s o n a l agricultural workers (those that are not part of the class certified) as the g ro u p over which compulsory service would be necessary, as such individuals are -10- n o longer employed by TGF. Defendants argue that these former seasonal e m p lo ye e s will be much more likely to live in Illinois than in W is c o n s in , and thus w o u ld be beyond this court's subpoena power, but within that of the alternative foru m . Typically, the court would not give much weight to such speculative a rg u m e n t, but would instead require defendants to identify such potential witnesses w ith a greater deal of certainty. However, in the instant case, the party that would b e able to identify such potential witnesses is TGF (such witnesses' former e m p lo ye r). However, TGF is not a defendant in this case because plaintiff failed to n a m e TGF as a defendant in either of her first two complaints, despite the fact that p la in tiff's W-2 clearly identified TGF as plaintiff's employer. Thus, to the extent that th e lack of specificity as to such material witnesses is the result of plaintiff's repeated fa ilu r e to name the correct party, the court will lend some weight to defendants' a r g u m e n t as to the likely residences of these potential witnesses. C O N C L U S IO N E a c h of the factors considered weighs in favor to differing degrees of tra n s fe r rin g this case to the Northern District of Illinois, W e s te r n Division. This, e s p e c ia lly when coupled with the lack of deference due this particular plaintiff's c h o ic e of forum, clearly shows that transfer is appropriate in this case. Because tra n s fe r of the case renders defendants' challenge to personal jurisdiction moot, the c o u rt will deny defendants' motion for dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(2). However, -11- th e court makes no findings regarding defendant's motion for dismissal pursuant to R u le 12(b)(6), nor to plaintiff's motion for leave to amend. A c c o r d in g ly , IT IS ORDERED that defendants' Motion to Transfer Case to U.S. District C o u rt, Northern District of Illinois, W e s te rn Division (Docket # 11) be and the same is hereby GRANTED. T h e clerk of the court is directed to take all appropriate steps to effectuate the t ra n s f e r . D a te d at Milwaukee, W is c o n s in , this 23rd day of March, 2010. BY THE COURT: J .P . Stadtmueller U .S . District Judge -12-

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?