Copeland v. CenterPoint Energy, Inc.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER granting 19 MOTION to Transfer Case to Houston Division of the Southern District of Texas (Signed by Judge George C Hanks, Jr) Parties notified.(dperez, 3)
United States District Court
Southern District of Texas
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
CENTERPOINT ENERGY, INC., et al,
September 27, 2017
David J. Bradley, Clerk
§ CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:17-CV-61
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff, Quachelle Copeland filed this lawsuit on February 27, 2017. Her live
pleading alleges that she was injured while at work in café that is located in a building
owned by Defendant Centerpoint Energy Properties, Inc. The building is located at 1111
Louisiana Street in Downtown Houston. Although it appears from her complaint that she
worked in Houston in 2016, Copeland alleges that she “resides in Denver, Colorado.”
Copeland alleges that she was seated in a chair that collapsed without warning,
and she was injured. She also alleges that it was Defendant’s responsibility to maintain
the chairs. After her accident, Copeland was taken to St. Joseph’s Medical Center in
Houston and thereafter sought treatment from Nova Medical Centers, and Concentra
Centerpoint Energy Properties has now filed a motion to transfer this case to the
United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division. Dkt.
19. Centerpoint Energy Properties alleges that transfer of this case is warranted because
Houston is a clearly more convenient venue under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Copeland is
opposed to the transfer.
To support its motion, Centerpoint Energy Properties contends that neither it nor
Plaintiff have any real connection to the Galveston Division, it does not own property
within the Galveston Division or conduct business within this Division, the building at
issue is located within the Houston Division, Centerpoint Energy Properties’ own witness
resides and works in Houston, and relevant nonparty fact witnesses in the case work in
downtown Houston, within the Houston Division (Marjorie Clark, employed by the
Building’s management company; Curtis Hensley, a security guard, and Sergeant Jaime
Cortez with the Houston Police Department). Centerpoint Energy Properties also points
out that all of Copeland’s medical treatment has occurred within the Houston Division,
either in Downtown Houston, Central Houston, or on the far north or far west sides of
Houston. Finally, Centerpoint Energy Properties points out that even the chair itself it
being stored “in a secure location” in the Building in downtown Houston.
Although she is opposed to the motion, Copeland does not advance any particular
reason for why she filed this case in the Galveston Division. Instead, she argues that
Centerpoint Energy Properties has not carried its burden of showing that the Houston
Division is “clearly more convenient” than the Galveston Division. Essentially, she
contends that it probably would not be that difficult for the non-party witnesses to come
to Galveston for trial. But she does not object to the affidavits submitted by Centerpoint
Energy Properties, nor does she offer any evidence of her own.
A docket control order has been entered in this case, and a jury trial is set for
STANDARD FOR CONVENIENCE TRANSFERS
28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) allows a district court to transfer a civil action “for the
convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice ... to any other district or
division where it might have been brought.” The statute is intended to save “time, energy,
and money while at the same time protecting litigants, witnesses, and the public against
unnecessary inconvenience.” Republic Capital Dev. Grp., L.L.C. v. A.G. Dev. Grp., Inc.,
No. H–05–1714, 2005 WL 3465728, at *8 (S.D. Tex. Dec. 19, 2005). Motions to transfer
venue under § 1404(a) are committed to the sound discretion of the district court. Jarvis
Christian College v. Exxon Corp., 845 F.2d 523, 528 (5th Cir. 1988). The party seeking
transfer has the burden of showing good cause for the transfer. In re Volkswagen of Am.,
Inc., 545 F.3d 304, 315 (5th Cir. 2008) (en banc). The burden on the movant is
“significant,” and for a transfer to be granted, the transferee venue must be “clearly more
convenient than the venue chosen by the plaintiff.” Id.
A threshold question for a district court considering a motion to transfer venue
under 28 U.S.C. 1404(a) is whether the suit could have been filed in movant’s desired
transfer venue. In re Volkswagen AG, 371 F.3d 201, 203 (5th Cir. 2004); see also Wells v.
Abe’s Boat Rentals Inc., No. CIV.A. H–13–1112, 2014 WL 29590, at *1 (S.D. Tex. Jan.
3, 2014). The Southern District of Texas is the proper venue for this dispute, and
Plaintiff does not dispute that the case could have been brought within the Houston
Next, the Court must determine whether on balance the transfer would serve “the
convenience of parties and witnesses” and “the interest of justice” under 28 U.S.C.
§1404(a) by weighing a number of private and public interest factors. In re Volkswagen
Am., Inc., 545 F.3d 304, 315 (5th Cir. 2008). The private concerns include: (1) the
relative ease of access to sources of proof; (2) the availability of compulsory process to
secure the attendance of witnesses; (3) the cost of attendance for willing witnesses; and
(4) all other practical problems that make trial of a case easy, expeditious, and
inexpensive. The public concerns include: (1) the administrative difficulties flowing from
court congestion; (2) the local interest in having localized interests decided at home; (3)
the familiarity of the forum with the law that will govern the case; and (4) the avoidance
of unnecessary problems of conflict of laws of the application of foreign law. Id. No one
single factor is given dispositive weight. See Wells, 2014 WL 29590 at *1 (quoting
Action Indus., Inc. v. U.S. Fidelity & Guar. Co., 258 F.3d 337, 340 (5th Cir. 2004)). The
Court analyzes these factors below.
The Court first considers the private interest factors: relative ease of access to
sources of proof; the availability of compulsory process to secure the attendance of
witnesses; the cost of attendance for willing witnesses; and all other practical problems
that make trial of a case easy, expeditious and inexpensive.
As to the relative ease of access to sources of proof, the Court finds it significant
that this is a premises liability suit relating to a building located in downtown Houston
area, less than 1/3 of a mile from the Houston Division’s Courthouse. The location of the
building is not only the place of alleged injury, and the place where the Building’s
operation and maintenance records are located, and the place where the offending chair is
stored, but it was also the place of employment for Copeland herself, and is the current
place of employment for several non-party key fact witnesses. It is therefore highly
relevant to considering both the relative ease of access to sources of proof as well as
“other practical problems” in this premises liability suit.
Centerpoint Energy Properties provides affidavit evidence from the listed nonparty fact witnesses to show that “it would be less convenient and more burdensome” for
them to attend trial in Galveston Division than in the Houston Division, and explaining
the importance of their first-hand testimony in this personal injury, premises liability
Of the private interest factors, the Court finds that, on the evidence and arguments
presented, both the cost of attendance for willing witnesses as well as the relative ease of
access to sources of proof weigh in favor of transfer to Houston. The remaining factors
Next, the Court considers the public interest concerns, including the administrative
difficulties flowing from court congestion, the local interest in having localized interests
decided at home, the familiarity of the forum with the law that will govern the case, and
the avoidance of unnecessary problems of conflict of laws of the application of foreign
law. In this premises liability case, the Court finds the local interest factor weighs in
favor of transfer to Houston and all other factors are neutral.
After full consideration of the motion, the briefing in response, and the record of
this case as a whole, the Court finds that Centerpoint Energy Properties has carried its
burden of showing that transfer of this case to Houston would be clearly more
Notably, Copeland does not offer any of her own evidence to refute the evidence
provided by Centerpoint Energy Properties. Of course, Copeland is correct as a matter of
law that the burden here remains with Centerpoint Energy Properties. But, on the record
before it, the Court finds that Centerpoint Energy Properties has carried that burden.
Accordingly, Centerpoint Energy Properties’ motion to transfer venue (Dkt. 19) is
This case is hereby transferred to the United States District Court for the
Southern District of Texas, Houston Division.
SIGNED at Galveston, Texas, this 27th day of September, 2017.
George C. Hanks Jr.
United States District Judge
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