JOHNSON v. EQUIFAX INFORMATION SERVICES, LLC
MEMORANDUM AND/OR OPINION. SIGNED BY HONORABLE ROBERT F. KELLY ON 6/27/17. 6/27/17 ENTERED AND COPIES E-MAILED.(mbh, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
CHRISTINA P. JOHNSON,
ROBERT F. KELLY, Sr. J.
JUNE 27, 2017
Presently before the Court is the Motion to Transfer Venue to the Northern District of
Georgia, Atlanta Division filed by Defendant Equifax Information Services, LLC (“Equifax”),
Plaintiff Christina P. Johnson’s (“Johnson”) Response and Brief in Opposition, Equifax’s Reply
Brief, and Johnson’s Response to Equifax’s Reply (“Sur-Reply”) filed under seal. For the
reasons noted below, we grant Equifax’s Motion.
Johnson filed the present action in the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County
on the basis of various violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1681,
et seq. (Compl. ¶ 1; Pl.’s Br. Opp’n at 1.) Johnson alleges she contacted Equifax to request her
consumer report. (Compl. ¶18.) Equifax complied with the request and provided Johnson with a
copy of the consumer report, which “contained the names and addresses of certain businesses
that had accessed [Johnson’s] report within the last [twelve] months of the date of the report.”
(Id. ¶ 20.) The report indicated that two entities, “Verizon Telecom-Auth” and “Verizon East,”
had accessed Johnson’s consumer report within the relevant time period. (Id. ¶ 23.) Johnson
claims she provided a written request to Equifax for the telephone numbers of Verizon TelecomAuth and Verizon East, but Equifax refused to disclose the telephone numbers for those entities.
(Id. ¶¶ 24, 28, 30.) Johnson claims the refusal to disclose the telephone numbers is a violation of
federal law under 15 U.S.C. § 1681g(a)(3). (Id. ¶ 29, 31.) Lastly, she asserts that Equifax’s
conduct was willful in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1681n. (Id. ¶ 33, 38; see also Pl.’s Br. Opp’n at
On March 9, 2017, Equifax timely removed the matter to this Court. On March 17, 2017,
Equifax filed an Answer to Johnson’s Complaint and the instant Motion to Transfer Venue,
which seeks to transfer this matter from the United States District Court for the Eastern District
of Pennsylvania (“Eastern District of Pennsylvania”) to the United States District Court for the
Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division (“Northern District of Georgia”). On April 10,
2017, Johnson filed a Response and Brief in Opposition to the Motion to Transfer. 1 Equifax
filed a Reply Brief on April 18, 2017, and Johnson filed a Sur-Reply under seal on May 5, 2017. 2
“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
purpose of transfers under § 1404(a) is to “‘prevent the waste of time, energy and money and to
protect litigants, witnesses and the public against unnecessary inconvenience and expense.’” Pro
Johnson’s Response in Opposition and Brief in Opposition are technically two separate documents. Because her
Response in Opposition merely incorporates the substantive Brief in Opposition, we will refer to the Brief in
Johnson was permitted to file a Sur-Reply under seal pursuant to the Court’s April 25, 2017 Order. Based on the
numerous filings by the parties, we believe there is sufficient information to decide the instant Motion.
Accordingly, Johnson’s request for oral argument is denied.
Spice, Inc. v. Omni Trade Grp., Inc., 173 F. Supp. 2d 336, 339 (E.D. Pa. 2001) (quoting Van
Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 616 (1964)). District courts have discretion to adjudicate
motions to transfer “according to an ‘individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience
and fairness.’” Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988) (quoting Van Dusen,
376 U.S. at 622).
A request for transfer under § 1404(a) is analyzed under a two-part framework. See
Jumara v. State Farm Ins. Co., 55 F.3d 873, 878-79 (3d Cir. 1995). First, venue must be proper
in both the original and the proposed venue. Id. at 879; see also Murphy v. Trans Union, LLC,
No. 12-0499, 2012 WL 3536322, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 15, 2012); Smith v. HireRight Sols., Inc.,
No. 09-6007, 2010 WL 2270541, at *2 (E.D. Pa. June 7, 2010). Once the moving party
establishes that the action could have been brought in the proposed venue, a court must weigh
and balance a non-exhaustive list of private and public interest factors to determine whether
transfer is warranted. Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879. The private interest factors include:
 [The] plaintiff’s forum preference as manifested in the original
choice;  the defendant’s preference;  whether the claim arose
elsewhere;  the convenience of the parties as indicated by their
relative physical and financial condition;  the convenience of
the witnesses—but only to the extent that the witnesses may
actually be unavailable for trial in one of the fora; and  the
location of books and records (similarly to the extent that the files
could not be produced in the alternative forum).
Id. The public interest factors that a court must consider include:
 [T]he enforceability of the judgment;  practical
considerations that could make the trial easy, expeditious, or
inexpensive;  the relative administrative difficulty in the two
fora resulting from court congestion;  the local interest in
deciding local controversies at home;  the public policies of the
fora; and  the familiarity of the trial judge with the applicable
state law in diversity cases.
Id. at 879-80. “The defendant bears the burden of proving that transfer is appropriate.” Murphy,
2012 WL 3536322, at *3.
We must first determine whether venue is proper in the original and the proposed fora.
See Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879. Venue is proper in (1) “a judicial district in which any defendant
resides, if all defendants are residents of the State in which the district is located”; (2) “a judicial
district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred, or
a substantial part of property that is the subject of the action is situated;” or (3) “if there is no
district in which an action may otherwise be brought as provided in this section, any judicial
district in which any defendant is subject to the court’s personal jurisdiction with respect to such
action.” 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b). A business entity resides “in any judicial district in which such
defendant is subject to the court’s personal jurisdiction with respect to the civil action in
question.” Id. § 1391(c)(2).
Neither of the parties dispute that venue is proper in the Eastern District of
Pennsylvania. 3 The parties also do not dispute that venue would be proper in the Northern
District of Georgia. Indeed, Equifax is a limited liability company with its principal place of
business in Georgia. 4 (Def.’s Mot. to Transfer ¶ 1; Smith Decl. ¶ 7.) Further, as discussed in
more detail below, all of the operative facts surrounding Johnson’s Complaint occurred in
Atlanta, Georgia. Therefore, venue is proper in the Northern District of Georgia. Accordingly,
For this reason, we deny Johnson’s request for leave to amend her Complaint to further establish venue in the
Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Equifax has attached the declaration of Pamela Smith (“Smith Decl.”) in support of its Motion to Transfer Venue.
(Def.’s Mot. to Transfer; Ex. A) Ms. Smith is a Legal Support Associate for Equifax and has been employed by
Equifax for over seventeen years. (Id. ¶ 3.)
we must now weigh and balance the various private and public interest factors to see whether
transfer is appropriate.
Balancing the Private and Public Interest Factors
Private Interest Factors
Plaintiff’s Forum Preference
The first private interest factor is “plaintiff’s forum preference as manifested in the
original choice.” Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879. The plaintiff’s choice of forum is typically “‘entitled
to great weight and is not to be disturbed unless the balance of convenience strongly favors the
defendant[’s] forum.’” Darden v. Trans Union, LLC, No. 11-6310, 2012 WL 1071227, at *2
(E.D. Pa. Mar. 30, 2012) (quoting Blanning v. Tisch, 378 F. Supp. 1058, 1060 (E.D. Pa. 1974)).
Indeed, “a plaintiff’s choice of venue is of paramount consideration and should not be disturbed
lightly.” Smith, 2010 WL 2270541, at *3 (internal quotation marks omitted) (citation omitted).
However, “‘[i]t should be noted . . . that the plaintiff’s choice of forum is entitled to less weight
where the plaintiff chooses a forum which is neither his home nor the situs of the occurrence
upon which the suit was based.’” Darden, 2012 WL 1071227, at *2 (quoting Harris v. Nat’l R.R.
Passenger Corp., 979 F. Supp. 1052, 1053 (E.D. Pa. 1997)).
We do not give much weight to Johnson’s forum preference for two main reasons. First,
this factor, as the Jumara court originally enumerated, provides for “plaintiff’s forum preference
as manifested in the original choice.” Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879 (emphasis added). Johnson did
not originally file her Complaint in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania; the Complaint was
originally filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County. (See Compl.; Pl.’s Br.
Opp’n at 3.) To that end, Johnson did not actually have an original preference for this Court.
The only reason this matter is in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania is because Equifax
removed it pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441. Accordingly, we decline to give her new preference
any substantial weight in light of this action being originally filed in Pennsylvania state court.
Second, “the situs of the occurrence upon which the suit was based” was in Georgia, not
Pennsylvania. “Multiple courts considering § 1404 transfer motions in FCRA cases have noted
that the situs of the material events, and thus the appropriate venue, is generally the place where
the defendant credit reporting agency conducted its business.” Smith, 2010 WL 2270541, at *4;
see also Murphy, 2012 WL 3536322, at *4 n.6; Bogollagama v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC, No.
09-1201, 2009 WL 4257910, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 30, 2009); Klingensmith v. Paradise Shops,
Inc., No. 07-0322, 2007 WL 2071677, at *2-3 (W.D. Pa. July 17, 2007); Barela v. Experian Info.
Sols., Inc., No. 04-5144, 2005 WL 770629, at *4 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 4, 2005). Equifax is a Georgia
limited liability company with its principal place of business in Atlanta, Georgia. (Smith Decl. ¶
7.) Its headquarters, Consumer Center, and consumer reporting database are also located in
Atlanta, Georgia. (Id. ¶¶ 8-10.) “Creditors and other data furnishers send information” about
consumers to Equifax in Atlanta, Georgia. (Id. ¶ 11.) Finally, inquiring companies receive
credit reports and other information concerning consumers from the Equifax database in Atlanta,
Georgia. (Id. ¶ 12.) In light of those facts, the situs of the occurrence was in Atlanta, Georgia.
Accordingly, Johnson’s choice of forum gets little weight against transfer.
Defendant’s Choice of Forum
A defendant’s preference of forum is “entitled to considerably less weight than [a
plaintiff’s], as the purpose of a venue transfer is not to shift inconvenience from one party to
another.” EVCO Tech. & Dev. Co. v. Precision Shooting Equip., Inc., 379 F. Supp. 2d 728, 730
(E.D. Pa. 2005) (citing Superior Precast, Inc. v. Safeco Ins. Co. of Am., 71 F. Supp. 2d 438, 446
(E.D. Pa. 1999)). Equifax requests a transfer to the Northern District of Georgia. Accordingly,
this factor weighs slightly in favor of transfer.
Where the Claim Arose
As noted above, numerous courts to consider motions to transfer in the context of FCRA
cases have concluded that the situs of material events occurs where the credit reporting agency
conducts its business. See Smith, 2010 WL 2270541, at *4 (collecting cases). Johnson argues
the situs of material events occurred in Pennsylvania because Equifax: (1) collected information
about her, a Pennsylvania resident; (2) provided the collected information to two companies who
are presumably located in Pennsylvania; and (3) failed to provide the necessary disclosures to her
Pennsylvania mailing address. (Pl.’s Br. Opp’n at 13.)
Like the other courts to have considered this issue, we believe the situs of the events
occurred in Atlanta, Georgia. Johnson’s arguments do not tie her allegations to Pennsylvania.
Equifax has come forward with evidence that its entire consumer data gathering, processing, and
transmitting takes place in Georgia. (Smith Decl. ¶¶ 8-13.) Accordingly, the situs of the
occurrence weighs strongly in favor of transfer.
The Convenience of the Parties
The fourth private interest factor is the convenience of the parties as indicated by their
physical and financial condition. See Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879. Johnson argues she is simply an
individual with limited resources, whereas Equifax is a financially powerful business entity with
significantly more resources. (Pl.’s Br. Opp’n at 7.) Indeed, Johnson claims that litigating this
case in Georgia would be “cost prohibitive” for her. (Id.) Equifax makes no argument to the
contrary. Although the fact that Equifax “has substantially more resources than [Johnson] should
not be the sole reason for refusing a transfer,” Santi v. Nat’l Bus. Records Mgmt., LLC, 722 F.
Supp. 2d 602, 608 (D.N.J. 2010) (citing Nat’l Mortg. Network, Inc. v. Home Equity Ctrs., Inc.,
683 F. Supp. 116, 119 (E.D. Pa. 1988)), we believe the burden would weigh more heavily on
Johnson to litigate this matter in Georgia. Accordingly, this factor weighs against transfer.
The Convenience of the Witnesses
The fifth private interest factor is the convenience of the witnesses to the extent they may
be actually unavailable for trial in one of the fora. See Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879. Equifax claims
the convenience of witnesses is enhanced by having this matter transferred to the Northern
District of Georgia because all of its witnesses capable of testifying regarding the policies and
procedures of Johnson’s credit file are located in Georgia. (Def.’s Mot. to Transfer ¶ 11; Smith
Decl. ¶ 16.) Further, Equifax claims that all of its witnesses who would testify about the
allegations in Johnson’s Complaint and about the policies and procedures pertaining to dispute
resolution work in Georgia. (Id. ¶ 11; Smith Decl. ¶ 16.) Equifax maintains that it does not have
a consumer database or office in Pennsylvania. (Id. ¶ 12; Smith Decl. ¶¶ 7-10.) Lastly, Equifax
asserts that there are no employees in Pennsylvania “who have either knowledge of [Johnson’s]
credit file or access to corporate records relevant to this litigation.” (Id. ¶ 15; Smith Decl. ¶ 19.)
Johnson counters by claiming this factor weighs against transfer because party witnesses
have no impact on the convenience analysis, as parties are required to produce their employeewitnesses for trial. (Pl.’s Br. Opp’n at 9.) She also claims this factor weighs against transfer
because she has identified a number of non-party witnesses she intends to call at trial who will
testify to the willful nature of Equifax’s conduct. (Id. at 9-10.) She asserts that those witnesses
have been involved in litigation against Equifax based on substantially similar conduct to the
case sub judice. 5 (Id. at 9.) Finally, she argues she “may” call a number of agents,
In its Reply Brief, Equifax claims that all but one of those witnesses would be violating the terms of their
settlement agreements if they were to testify in this case. (Def.’s Reply Br. ¶ 2.) Johnson argues that only the terms
representatives, or employees of Verizon Telecom-Auth and Verizon East, who she claims are
central to the case because those are the entities whose information Equifax allegedly withheld
from her. (Id. at 11.)
Importantly, we note that this factor is relevant “to the extent [that the witness or
witnesses] may be actually unavailable for trial in one of the fora.” Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879
(emphasis added). Johnson argues that this factor strongly weighs against transfer because her
non-party witnesses would be actually unavailable for trial in Georgia, but she does not provide
any specific reasons for their unavailability. (Pl.’s Br. Opp’n at 10.) We acknowledge that the
non-party witnesses Johnson has identified would be outside of the subpoena power of the
Northern District of Georgia if this matter is transferred. 6 However, “this factor is only given
weight when there is some reason to believe that a witness actually will refuse to testify absent a
subpoena.” Smart Audio Techs., LLC v. Apple, Inc., 910 F. Supp. 2d 718, 732 (D. Del. 2012).
“[S]imply stating that a witness would be unavailable because he or she is outside the subpoena
power of a court is, without more, insufficient.” Mitel Networks Corp. v. Facebook, Inc., 943 F.
Supp. 2d 463, 473 (D. Del. 2013); see also Collins v. Novartis Pharm. Corp., No. 13-2363, 2014
WL 6474188, at *3 (D.N.J. Nov. 19, 2014) (declining to give the factor weight because no
evidence was provided that the necessary witnesses would be unwilling or otherwise unavailable
to testify); AIP Acquisition LLC v. iBasis, Inc., No. 12-0616, 2012 WL 5199118, at *4 n.6 (D.
Del. Oct. 19, 2012) (stating that there must be some reason to believe that a witness actually will
not testify absent a subpoena). Further, “[w]hile significant distance between an identified
of the settlement agreements were agreed to remain confidential, not the underlying facts surrounding the
foundations of those claims. (Pl.’s Sur-Reply at 4.) We need not decide this issue because even if all nine
witnesses were permitted to testify, we believe transfer is still warranted.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45(c) provides, “[a] subpoena may command a person to attend a trial, hearing, or
deposition . . . (A) within 100 miles of where the person resides, is employed, or regularly transacts business in
person; or (B) within the state where the person resides, is employed, or regularly transacts business in person, if the
person (i) is a party or a party’s office; or (ii) is commanded to attend a trial and would not incur substantial
expense.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 45(c).
witness and the forum may suggest, in some instances, that the witness will be unwilling to
appear freely, the [C]ourt will make no such presumption here.” Smart Audio, 910 F. Supp. 2d
In this case, Johnson does not even claim that her potential non-party witnesses would be
outside of the subpoena power of the court should the matter be transferred; she simply states the
witnesses would be actually unavailable. (Pl.’s Br. Opp’n at 10.) A bare assertion that a witness
will be unavailable is insufficient for purposes of this factor. Johnson must give us some reason
to believe that one or more of her potential witnesses will refuse to testify at trial absent a
subpoena. Johnson has failed to make any kind of showing regarding actual unavailability. In
fact, she even admits she can elicit the sought after evidence through affidavits. (Id. at 9.)
Despite that finding, however, we recognize that her witnesses would undertake an expense if
this matter is transferred to the Northern District of Georgia and she chooses to have them testify
in person. 7
We are not persuaded by Johnson’s argument that we should not take into account the
inconvenience of Equifax’s employee-witnesses because Equifax has an obligation to produce
those witnesses at trial. While it is true that Equifax must make available the employees that
have knowledge of Johnson’s claim, her argument fails to take into account that Equifax will
nonetheless incur some kind of expense by litigating this matter in the Eastern District of
Pennsylvania. Accordingly, this factor is neutral.
The Location of Books and Records
The final private interest factor is the location of books and records to the extent they
could not be produced in one of the fora. See Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879. Equifax claims transfer is
Equifax has also stated that, should the case be transferred, it will depose Johnson in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
(Def.’s Mem. in Supp. Mot. to Transfer at 8.)
appropriate because all of its documents pertaining to Johnson’s credit file are located in
Georgia. (Def.’s Mem. in Supp. Mot. to Transfer at 7; see also Smith Decl. ¶ 14.) However,
“‘the technological advances of recent years have significantly reduced the weight of this factor
in the balance of convenience analysis.’” Lomanno v. Black, 285 F. Supp. 2d 637, 647 (E.D. Pa.
2003) (quoting Am. High-Income Trust v. AlliedSignal, Inc., No. 00-0690, 2002 WL 373473, at
*5 (D. Del. Mar. 7, 2002)). Equifax does not argue that any of the information could not be
transmitted electronically or that there is some hardship in producing the evidence in the Eastern
District of Pennsylvania. Accordingly, this factor is neutral.
Public Interest Factors
As noted above, the public interest factors include: (1) the enforceability of the judgment;
(2) practical considerations that could make the trial easy, expeditious, or inexpensive; (3) the
congestion of the courts’ dockets; (4) the local forum’s interest in deciding the case; (5) the
public policies of the fora; and (6) the trial judge’s familiarity with any applicable state law. See
Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879-80. The parties appear to agree that factors one, three, and six are
irrelevant, as they have not mentioned them in their respective submissions. Therefore, we will
focus solely on factors two, four, and five.
Practical Considerations Regarding Efficiency
The practical considerations that would make trial easy, expeditious, or inexpensive is a
neutral factor. As discussed above, it would be more expensive and difficult for Johnson to
litigate this matter in the Northern District of Georgia than it would be in the Eastern District of
Pennsylvania. However, it would be similarly more expensive for Equifax to litigate in the
Eastern District of Pennsylvania, in light of all of its witnesses being located in Atlanta, Georgia.
While we found above that the convenience of the parties weighed against transfer, this factor
pertains to the overall practical considerations of trial. Accordingly, this factor is neutral.
Local Forum’s Interest and Public Policy
“Courts have a local interest in having localized controversies decided at home.”
Murphy, 2012 WL 3536322, at *6 (citing Bogollagama, 2009 WL 4257910, at *5). Johnson
argues that Pennsylvania has a local, public interest in deciding this case because Equifax has
repeatedly violated the law in a willful fashion in Pennsylvania. (Pl.’s Br. Opp’n at 14.) In
addition, she claims this matter relates specifically to Pennsylvania because Equifax failed to
provide the requested information to her, a Pennsylvania resident. (Id.) Equifax argues that
Georgia has a strong interest due to: (1) it being incorporated and headquartered in Georgia; (2)
its consumer database being located in Georgia; (3) its Consumer Center, which handles
consumer disputes, being located in Georgia; (4) its policies and procedures being established
and maintained in Georgia; (5) it issuing credit reports to potential creditors from Georgia; (6)
and all of its documents and witnesses regarding this dispute being located in Georgia. (Def.’s
Mem. in Supp. Mot. to Transfer at 8-9.)
We agree with Equifax that Georgia has more of a local and public policy interest in
deciding this case than Pennsylvania. Equifax is a business entity that is established and
headquartered in Georgia. All of the information regarding its consumer database, consumer
data receiving and transmitting, policies and procedures, and all documents and witnesses
pertaining to this dispute are located in Georgia. Based on those facts, and as mentioned above,
we find it significant that the situs of the occurrence of the events occurred in Georgia. See
Smith, 2010 WL 2270541, at *4. While it is true that Johnson resides in Pennsylvania, we
believe the situs of the occurrence of the events outweighs her residency under these facts.
Accordingly, this factor weighs in favor of transfer.
After balancing the private and public interest factors, we believe Equifax has carried its
burden to prove that transfer to the Northern District of Georgia is appropriate. While both
parties have their forum preference and have witnesses located in their preferred jurisdictions, we
find it significant that the situs of Johnson’s claims occurred in Atlanta, Georgia. The allegations
of wrongdoing on behalf of Equifax center on its policies and procedures relating to credit
information it receives and transmits. Therefore, we grant Equifax’s Motion to Transfer Venue
to the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division.
An appropriate Order follows.
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