Johnson v. Union Pacific Railroad Company, No. 2:2015cv03558 - Document 25 (E.D. La. 2015)

Court Description: ORDER AND REASONS GRANTING 9 Motion to Transfer Venue. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that this case is TRANSFERRED to the Western District of Louisiana, Monroe Division. Signed by Judge Susie Morgan.(bwn)
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Johnson v. Union Pacific Railroad Company Doc. 25 U N ITED S TATES D ISTRICT COU RT EASTERN D ISTRICT OF LOU ISIAN A TERRELL JOH N SON , Pla in tiff CIVIL ACTION VERSU S N O. 15 -3 55 8 U N ION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPAN Y, D e fe n d an t SECTION : “E” ( 4 ) ORD ER AN D REAS ON S Before the Court is Defendant’s Motion to Transfer Venue. 1 For the reasons that follow, Defendant’s m otion is GRAN TED . BACKGROU N D Plaintiff Terrell J ohnson (“Plaintiff”) filed this suit in the Eastern District of Louisiana on August 17, 20 15. 2 The com plaint avers that on or about April 14, 20 15, Plaintiff sustained personal injuries “in the line of duty while em ployed as a railroad welder” by Defendant Union Pacific Railroad Com pany (“Defendant”). 3 Plaintiff alleges that Defendant “recklessly, negligently, and/ or carelessly failed to provide him with a reasonably safe place to work in violation of the provisions of the [Federal Em ployers’ Liability Act 4 (“FELA”)].”5 On Septem ber 10 , 20 15, Defendant filed a m otion to transfer the case to the Western District of Louisiana, Monroe Division. 6 Plaintiff filed a response in opposition 1 R. Doc. 9. R. Doc. 1 3 Id. at ¶¶ 3, 6. 4 45 U.S.C. § 51, et seq. 5 R. Doc. 1 at ¶ 10 . 6 R. Doc. 9. 2 1 Dockets.Justia.com to the m otion to transfer on October 6, 20 15. 7 Defendant filed a reply in support of its m otion on Novem ber 4, 20 15. 8 D ISCU SSION 28 U.S.C. § 140 4 provides that a district court m ay transfer a civil action to any other district or division where it m ight have been brought “[f]or the convenience of parties an d witnesses, in the interest of justice.”9 The m ovant generally has the burden of showing that an alternative forum is m ore appropriate for the case. 10 A showing of “good cause” satisfies this burden. 11 “[T]o show good cause m eans that a m oving party, in order to support its claim for a transfer, m ust satisfy the statutory requirem ents and clearly dem onstrate that a transfer is ‘[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice.’”12 When the m ovant dem onstrates the transferee venue is “clearly m ore convenient,” it has established good cause and the Court should grant the transfer. 13 The decision to transfer a case is within the sound discretion of the district court. 14 A. An o th e r D is trict W h e re Su it Migh t H ave Be e n Bro u gh t As a threshold question, the Court m ust determ ine whether the Western District of Louisiana, Monroe Division, is a district and division where suit “m ight have been brought.”15 Plaintiff does not dispute that the Western District of Louisiana would be a proper venue. 16 7 R. Doc. 11. R. Doc. 16. 9 28 U.S.C. § 140 4(a). 10 Broussard v. First Tow er Loan, LLC, No. 15-1161, 20 15 WL 5797833, at *2 (E.D. La. Oct. 2, 20 15) (citin g In re Volksw agen of Am ., Inc., 545 F.3d 30 4, 315 (5th Cir. 20 0 8) (“Volksw agen II”)). 11 See Volksw agen II, 545 F.3d at 315. 12 Id. 13 Id. 14 See Shoem ake v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 233 F. Supp. 2d 828, 8 29 (E.D. Tex. 20 0 2); York v . Union Pac. R.R. Co., No. 0 7-169, 20 0 8 WL 50 69835, at *2 (E.D. Tex. Feb. 13, 20 0 8) (citin g Tim e, Inc. v. Manning, 366 F.2d 690 , 698 (5th Cir. 1966)). 15 See In re Horseshoe Entm ’t, 337 F.3d 429, 433 (5th Cir. 20 0 3); Broussard, 20 15 WL 5797833, at *4. 16 R. Doc. 11 at 3. 8 2 45 U.S.C. § 56 provides that an action under FELA “m ay be brought in a district court of the United States, in the district of the residence of the defendant, or in which the cause of action arose, or in which the defen dant shall be doing business at the tim e of com m encing such action.”17 Defendant “owns, operates, and m aintains equipm ent and railroad track . . . in Ouachita Parish,” a parish in the Western District of Louisian a, Monroe Division. 18 Further, the m otion to transfer states that key witnesses who are em ployed by Defendant, such as Plaintiff’s co-workers and supervisor, are residents of Monroe, Louisiana, and Shreveport, Louisiana, 19 cities in the Western District. 20 “Congress, in enacting 45 U.S.C. § 56, unequivocally m eant to enable suits to be brought wherever a railroad’s operations are conducted, including the operating of trains and m aintaining of traffic offices.”21 Therefore, Defendant’s activities in Ouachita Parish fit within the congressionally intended scope under 45 U.S.C. § 56 of “doing business” in the Western District of Louisiana, Monroe Division. 22 Accordingly, this action could have been brought in the Western District of Louisiana, Monroe Division. B. Se ctio n 14 0 4 ( a) Tran s fe rs o f FELA Ca s e s Plaintiff argues that a plaintiff’s choice of forum in FELA cases should be afforded “notable deference.”23 Section 140 4(a) provides that a district court m ay transfer “an y civil action” “[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice.”24 17 45 U.S.C. § 56. See 28 U.S.C. § 98 . 19 R. Doc. 9-1 at 2. 20 See 28 U.S.C. § 98 . 21 Robertson v. Kiam ichi R.R. Co., 42 F. Supp. 2d 651, 655 (E.D. Tex. 1999) (citin g Miles v. Illinois Cent. R. Co., 315 U.S. 698 , 70 2 (1942)). 22 See Robertson, 42 F. Supp. 2d at 655. 23 R. Doc. 11 at 4– 6. 24 28 U.S.C. § 140 4(a). 18 3 The United States Suprem e Court explained in Ex Parte Collett 25 that § 140 4(a) applies to FELA cases: [FELA] defines the proper forum ; § 140 4(a) of the Code deals with the right to transfer an action properly brought. The two sections deal with two separate and distinct problem s. Section 140 4(a) does not lim it or otherwise m odify any right granted in [FELA] or elsewhere to bring suit in a particular district. An action m ay still be brought in any court, state or federal, in which it m ight have been brought previously. 26 In In re Volksw agen of Am erica, Inc., a non -FELA case, the Fifth Circuit adopted the factors enunciated in Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 27 a forum non conveniens case, to determ ine whether a venue transfer pursuant to § 140 4(a) is appropriate. 28 The Fifth Circuit noted the “essential difference” between the forum non conveniens doctrine an d transfer under § 140 4(a). Under the forum non conveniens doctrine, “a court m ay decline jurisdiction and m ay actually dism iss a case, even when the case is properly before the court, if the case m ore conveniently could be tried in another forum .”29 Under § 140 4(a), however, “a court does not have authority to dism iss the case; the rem edy under the statute is sim ply a transfer of the case within the federal system to another federal venue m ore convenient to the parties, the witnesses, and the trial of the case.”30 Accordingly, although a plaintiff’s choice of forum under the forum non conveniens doctrine “should rarely be disturbed,”31 “the avoidance of dism issal through § 140 4(a) lessens the weight to be given the choice of forum factor, and to that extent broadens the discretion of the 25 337 U.S. 55 (1949). Id. at 60 . See also In re Firem an’s Fund Ins. Cos., 588 F.2d 93, 95 (5th Cir. 1979) (“Because of the unam biguous phrase ‘any civil action,’ it has been held that [Section 140 4(a)] applies not only to the general federal venue provisions, . . . but also to special venue statutes within Title 28 and elsewhere in the Federal Code. See, e.g., Ex parte Collett, 337 U.S. 55, 69 S.Ct. 944, 93 L.Ed. 120 7 (1949) (applies to F.E.L.A.)”). 27 330 U.S. 50 1 (1947). 28 Volksw agen II, 545 F.3d at 315. See also Hum ble Oil & Ref. Co. v . Bell Marine Serv., Inc., 321 F.2d 53, 56 (5th Cir. 1963). 29 Volksw agen II, 545 F.3d at 313. 30 Id. 31 Gilbert, 330 U.S. at 50 8 . 26 4 District Court.”32 District courts in this Circuit that have considered § 140 4(a) m otions to transfer in FELA cases have applied the Volksw agen and Gilbert analysis. 33 This Court agrees with this approach. Although the Suprem e Court has described the plaintiff’s ability under FELA to select the forum as a “substantial right,”34 district courts in this Circuit have concluded that “when the plaintiff does not reside in his chosen forum nor have any operative facts occurred within the forum , the plaintiff’s choice is entitled to less consideration notwithstanding that it is a FELA action.”35 While the Court should afford the plaintiff’s choice of venue deference when considering a § 140 4(a) m otion in a FELA case, 36 the plaintiff’s choice is entitled to less deferen ce than otherwise would be afforded when the plaintiff picks a forum in which he does not reside and in which no operative facts occurred. Here, although Defendant “owns, operates and m aintains equipm ent and railroad track in J efferson Parish,” which is in the Eastern District of Louisiana, Defendant also “owns, operates and m aintains equipm ent and railroad track throughout Louisiana, and in Ouachita Parish,” which is in the Western District of Louisiana, Monroe Division. Plaintiff resides in Ouachita Parish, and nothing suggests that any operative facts 32 Hum ble Oil, 321 F.2d at 56. See also Reed v. Fina Oil & Chem . Co., 995 F. Supp. 70 5, 714 (E.D. Tex. 1998 ) (“A transfer under § 140 4(a) . . . should be granted m ore easily than a transfer under the doctrin e of forum non conveniens.”). 33 See, e.g., Tridle v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., No. 0 7-213, 20 0 8 WL 4724854, at *2 (E.D. Tex. Oct. 15, 20 0 8) (applying the § 140 4 standard set forth in Volksw agen II to a FELA action ); York, 20 0 8 WL 50 69835, at *2 (sam e). See also N agra v. N at’l R.R. Passenger Corp., No. 10 -1612, 20 10 WL 3325640 , at *2 n. 1 (W.D. La. Aug. 20 , 20 10 ) (“Courts readily recogn ize that § 140 4(a) applies to FELA actions.”). 34 Boy d v. Grand Trunk W . R.R. Co., 338 U.S. 263, 266 (1949). 35 Robertson , 42 F. Supp. 2d at 656. See also Fletcher v. S. Pac. Transp. Co., 648 F. Supp. 140 0 , 140 4 (E.D. Tex. 1986) (a FELA action in which the court explained that while “a plaintiff’s choice of forum is generally entitled to respect and deference,” “where none of the operative facts occur within the forum of plaintiff’s original selection , his choice is entitled to only m in im al consideration). 36 “[C]ourts gen erally concur that there is a stron g presum ption favoring plaintiff’s choice of forum . Since enactm ent of 28 U.S.C. § 140 4(a), the am ount of weight courts confer on plaintiff’s choice of forum has been som ewhat obscure.” Robertson, 42 F. Supp. 2d at 655. 5 occurred within the Eastern District. 37 Accordingly, while Plaintiff’s choice of venue is given som e deference, 38 the Court m ust consider whether other factors outweigh Plaintiff’s choice of ven ue. C. Ap p licatio n o f Gilb e r t Facto rs The Fifth Circuit adopted the public and private interest factors enum erated in Gilbert to determ ine whether a § 140 4(a) venue transfer is “for the conven ience of the parties and witnesses and in the interest of justice.”39 The private interest Gilbert factors are (1) the relative ease of access to sources of proof; (2) the availability of com pulsory process to secure the attendance of witnesses; (3) the cost of attendance for willing witnesses; and (4) all other practical problem s that m ake trial of a case easy, expeditious, and inexpen sive. 40 The public interest factors are (1) the adm inistrative difficulties flowing from court congestion; (2) the local interest in having localized interests decided at hom e; (3) the fam iliarity of the forum with the law that will govern the case; and (4) the avoidance of unnecessary problem s of conflict of laws of the application of foreign law. 41 The Gilbert factors “are not necessarily exhaustive or exclusive,” and none is dispositive. 42 1. Private Interest Factors a. Relative Ease of Access to Sources of Proof Neither party directly addresses how transfer would im pact the ease of access to sources of proof. Defendant states, and Plaintiff does not dispute, 43 that “key witnesses, 37 See, e.g., R. Doc. 1 at ¶ 4; R. Doc. 11 at 5– 6. The alleged injury occurred in Oklahom a. R. Doc. 1 at ¶ 4. The Court notes that “a transfer between federal courts pursuant to § 140 4(a) is n ot a transfer between forum s; it is a transfer between venues. Thus, in venue transfer cases, deference given to a plaintiff’s initial choice is deference given to a plaintiff’s choice of venue.” Volksw agen II, 545 F.3d at 30 8 n. 2. 39 Volksw agen II, 545 F.3d at 315. 40 In re Volksw agen AG, 371 F.3d 20 1, 20 3 (5th Cir. 20 0 4) (“Volksw agen I”) (citing Piper Aircraft Co. v. Rey no, 454 U.S. 235, 241 n. 6 (1981)). 41 Id. 42 Volksw agen II, 545 F.3d at 315. 43 See R. Doc. 11 at 8– 10 . 38 6 including Plaintiff’s co-workers, Plaintiff’s Supervisor and Plaintiff’s treating physician” all reside in the Western District of Louisiana. 44 Plaintiff also resides in Ouachita Parish in the Western District of Louisiana. 45 The parties do not identify any potential witnesses who reside in the Eastern District, and the alleged in jury occurred in Oklahom a. 46 Accordingly, this factor weighs in favor of transfer. b. The Availability of Com pulsory Process to Secure the Attendance of W itnesses Pursuant to the subpoena power provided under Rule 45 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a district court “m ay com m and a person to attend a trial, hearing, or deposition . . . within 10 0 m iles of where the person resides, is em ployed, or regularly transacts business in person. . . .”47 Therefore, the “key witnesses” Defendant identifies would be subject to the “autom atic subpoena power”48 of the Western District of Louisiana, Monroe Division. 49 New Orleans, Louisiana, where this case would proceed if not transferred, is m ore than 20 0 m iles from both Shreveport, Louisiana, and Monroe, Louisiana, and “is therefore beyond the 10 0 m ile distance in which the autom atic subpoena power of a district court can be used to com pel attendance of witnesses.”50 While “nonparty witnesses can be required to travel m ore than 10 0 m iles within the state where they reside, are em ployed, or regularly transact business in person,” they would be subject to this Court’s subpoena power only if they would not incur “substantial expense” as a 44 R. Doc. 9-1 at 2. R. Doc. 1 at 1. 46 Id. at ¶ 4. 47 See F ED . R. CIV. P. 45(c)(1)(A). 48 In re Horseshoe, 337 F.3d at 431. 49 F ED . R. CIV. P. 45(c). 50 In re Horseshoe, 337 F.3d at 431. 45 7 result. 51 Accordingly, this Court would have to independently determ ine whether each nonparty witness residing in Shreveport, Louisiana, and Monroe, Louisiana, would incur substantial expense if required to travel to New Orleans, Louisiana, for trial. This factor favors transfer. c. The Cost of Attendance for W illing W itnesses Defendant asserts, and Plaintiff does not dispute, that “key witnesses,” such as Plaintiff’s co-workers, Plaintiff’s supervisor, Plaintiff’s treating physician, and even Plaintiff him self, reside in either Monroe or Shreveport, Louisiana, cities in the Western District. 52 Thus, witness travel costs would be greater if trial occurs in New Orleans rather than Monroe. 53 Therefore, this factor weighs in favor of transfer. d. All Other Practical Problem s that Make Trial of a Case Easy , Expeditious, and Inexpensive The Court also considers the overall conven ience for the parties and witnesses. “The logical starting point for analyzing convenience is to consider the parties’ residences.”54 As previously discussed, Plaintiff resides in Ouachita Parish, which is located in the Western District of Louisiana, Monroe Division. 55 Defendant is a corporation incorporated under the laws of Delaware with its principal place of business in Nebraska. 56 Defendant states it owns, operates, and m aintains equipm ent and railroad track throughout Louisiana, including both in the Eastern District of Louisiana and in the Western District of Louisiana, Monroe Division. 57 Overall, the Western District appears convenient for both parties. 51 F ED . R. CIV. P. 45(c) advisory com m ittee notes. R. Doc. 9-1 at 2; R. Doc. 11 at 8– 10 . 53 Cf. Robertson, 42 F. Supp. 2d at 658 . 54 Id. at 657. 55 R. Doc. 1 at 1. 56 See R. Doc. 9-1 at 1; R. Doc. 1 at ¶ 4. 57 R. Doc. 9-1 at 2. 52 8 “[V]enue often is considered convenient in the district or division where the m ajority of witnesses are located.”58 “When the distance between an existing venue for trial of a m atter and a proposed venue under § 140 4(a) is m ore than 10 0 m iles, the factor of inconvenience to witnesses increases in direct relationship to the additional distan ce to be traveled.”59 Because Defendant states that several significant witnesses reside in Monroe, Louisiana, and Shreveport, Louisiana, and Plaintiff fails to note other witnesses who live elsewhere, this factor weighs in favor of transfer. 60 2. Public Interest Factors a. The Adm inistrative Difficulties Flow ing from Court Congestion When considering a m otion to transfer, courts consider the congestion of each district, as in dicated, for exam ple, by the tim e between the filing of a suit and trial. 61 This factor, however, “is not entitled to m uch weight because it is the m ost speculative, and this factor alone should not outweigh other factors.”62 The m edian tim e interval from filing to disposition of civil cases in the Eastern District of Louisiana was 4.9 m onths—com pared to 11.5 m onths in the Western District of Louisiana—in the 12-m onth period ending March 31, 20 14, according to the m ost 58 See Robertson , 42 F. Supp. 2d at 657 (citing Gundle Lining Const. Corp. v . Firem an’s Fund Ins. Co., 844 F. Supp. 1163, 1166 (S.D.Tex.1994)). 59 Volksw agen I, 371 F.3d at 20 4– 0 5. 60 See Robertson , 42 F. Supp. 2d at 657 (noting that “it is self-evident that the witnesses who reside in Paris, Texas, would find a Paris division trial m ore con ven ient” and that other witnesses would find a trial held closer to them to be m ore convenient); Volksw agen I, 371 F.3d at 20 4– 0 5 (“Additional distance m eans additional travel tim e; additional travel tim e increases the probability for m eal an d lodging expenses; and additional travel tim e with overnight stays increases the tim e which these fact witn esses m ust be away from their regular em ploym ent. Furtherm ore, the task of schedulin g fact witn esses so as to m inim ize the tim e when they are rem oved from their regular work or hom e responsibilities gets increasingly difficult and com plicated when the travel tim e from their hom e or work site to the court facility is five or six hours oneway as opposed to 30 m inutes or an hour.”). 61 See Broussard, 20 15 WL 5797833, at *7 (citin g In re Genentech, 566 F.3d 1338 , 1347 (Fed. Cir. 20 0 9)); Frederick v. Advanced Fin . Sols., Inc., 558 F. Supp. 2d 699, 70 6 (E.D. Tex. 20 0 7). 62 Broussard, 20 15 WL 5797833, at *7. 9 recent data available from the Federal J udiciary. 63 In neither district is there significant delay. Accordingly, this factor is neutral. b. The Local Interest in Having Localized Interests Decided at Hom e Plaintiff argues it is entitled “to institute this action in any district court where [Defendant] resides or is doing business in [sic] at the tim e he com m ences his FELA action.”64 Other than noting that Defendant owns and operates “a railroad switching yard, trains, and equipm ent in J efferson Parish, Louisiana,”65 Plaintiff fails to establish any connection between the alleged injury and the Eastern District of Louisiana. 66 The in jury did not occur in this District, and key witnesses, including Plaintiff, reside in the Western District of Louisiana. Therefore, even if Defen dant’s activities in the Eastern District are sufficient to establish a local interest in this action, the interest of the Eastern District of Louisiana likely would not outweigh that of the Western District of Louisiana. 67 Accordingly, this factor favors transfer. c. The Fam iliarity of the Forum w ith the Law that W ill Govern the Case This factor “has usually been taken into account when the law to be applied would be state law based on a federal court’s diversity jurisdiction.”68 FELA actions are governed 63 U.S. District Courts—Median Tim e Intervals from Filing to Disposition of Civil Cases, F EDERAL J UDICIARY (Mar. 31, 20 14), http:/ / www.uscourts.gov/ statistics/ table/ c-5/ federal-judicial-caseloadstatistics/ 20 14/ 0 3/ 31. 64 R. Doc. 11 at 5. 65 Id. 66 See Martinez v. Massey , No. 11-995, 20 11 WL 434510 1, at *2 (E.D. La. Sept. 13, 20 11) (findin g that the Middle District of Louisiana had “a far greater interest and connection” to the case than the Eastern District of Louisiana, as the plaintiff “presented no evidence indicating how this incident is connected to the Eastern District of Louisiana, other than his argum ent that, upon inform ation and belief, ‘Orleans Parish is the parish in which the defendants conduct the large m ajority of all of their activities within this state’”). 67 U.S. United Ocean Servs., LLC v . Pow erhouse Diesel Servs., Inc., 932 F. Supp. 2d 717, 733 (E.D. La. 20 13). 68 Id. (citing Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 643 (1964)). 10 by federal law, 69 and the District Courts for the Eastern District of Louisiana and for the Western District of Louisiana are federal courts. 70 Accordingly, this factor is neutral. 71 d. The Avoidance of Unnecessary Problem s of Conflict of Law s of the Application of Foreign Law This factor is not relevant, as federal law will apply regardless of whether this case is transferred. 72 3. Conclusion Five factors weigh in favor of transfer. Two factors are neutral, and one is not relevant in this m atter. CON CLU SION After considering Plain tiff’s choice of venue and the Gilbert factors, the Court finds that the Western District of Louisiana, Monroe Division, is a m ore appropriate and convenient venue for this action. Therefore, transfer is warranted. Accordingly; IT IS ORD ERED that Defendant’s Motion to Transfer Venue 73 is GRAN TED . IT IS FU RTH ER ORD ERED that this case is TRAN SFERRED to the Western District of Louisiana, Monroe Division. N e w Orle a n s , Lo u is ian a, th is 2 n d d ay o f D e ce m be r, 2 0 15 . _____________ ________ _________ SU SIE MORGAN U N ITED S TATES D ISTRICT J U D GE 69 N orfolk S. Ry . Co. v. Sorrell, 549 U.S. 158, 165 (20 0 7). As Plaintiff notes, “[T]his [C]ourt is as equally fam iliar with federal railroad law under FELA as the Western District of Louisiana given that this case arises under federal law.” R. Doc. 11 at 7. 71 See Pow erhouse, 932 F. Supp. 2d at 734 (concluding that this factor was neutral because the action was “a federal m atter[] and both proposed districts [were] federal courts”). 72 See id.; N orfolk, 549 U.S. at 165. 73 R. Doc. 9. 70 11