the past several years, Lohr has made approximately seventeen business trips to Illinois. Having appeared voluntarily in Illinois on numerous occasions in the past, Lohr cannot persuasively argue that he would be seriously inconvenienced if forced to appear here again. See Trademasters Int'l, Inc. v. Borer, 687 F. Supp. 434, 436 (N.D. Ill. 1988). Plaintiffs have even offered to coordinate discovery with Lohr's future visits to the offices of Unytite Illinois.
Ultimately, a change of venue would merely shift the inconvenience of the parties; any benefit accruing to the defendants would be at the expense of the plaintiffs. Such a shift in the balance of inconvenience does not warrant a transfer. Feldman Assocs. v. Lingard & Assocs., Inc., 676 F. Supp. 877, 881 (N.D. Ill. 1988).
B. Convenience of the Witnesses
For purposes of evaluating the convenience of the nonparty witnesses, the court must look at the number of potential witnesses residing in Illinois and Texas, as well as the nature and quality of their testimony. Trademasters Int'l, 687 F. Supp. at 436; Web Specialties, 681 F. Supp. at 566. Although defendants suggest that this lawsuit presents numerous issues, the resolution of plaintiffs' claims and defendants' counterclaims really hinges on two critical issues: 1) is LSF the exclusive distributor of Unytite Illinois' products? 2) If so, did Unytite Illinois distribute its products in violation of the exclusive distributorship agreement? Venue should be chosen in an effort to accommodate the witnesses who can best answer these questions. Web Specialties, 681 F. Supp. at 566.
The individuals who can provide the greatest insight into the first question are the participants in the negotiation of the stock purchase agreement. From the briefs and exhibits submitted by the parties, it is unclear whether the contract negotiations took place primarily in Japan, Texas, or Illinois.
Yet, the parties apparently agree on the individuals who were either present or took part in the negotiations: Lohr, Roger Larson (LSF's vice president), Hiroko Sharon (Lohr's Japanese interpreter), Hisashi Hashimoto, Jun Hashimoto (Unytite Illinois' president), and Yuji Ozeki (a Unytite Illinois executive). Three of these witnesses -- Lohr, Larson, and Sharon -- reside in Texas. The remaining witnesses reside outside of Texas: Hisashi Hashimoto is a Japanese resident; Jun Hashimoto and Yuji Ozeki are Illinois residents.
With regard to the second question, most (if not all) of the material witnesses reside in Illinois. Plaintiffs have identified several Unytite Illinois employees who will provide testimony regarding Unytite Illinois' marketing and distribution practices during the relevant time period. The pertinent business records and documents relating to these business practices are also located in Illinois.
Despite defendants' general reference to unnamed Texas witnesses who can provide testimony regarding LSF's business practices, the court is unable to conclude that, on balance, Texas is a more convenient forum for the witnesses. At the very least, defendants' proposed transfer would impermissibly shift the inconvenience among the witnesses. Defendants certainly have not shown a clear balance of inconvenience -- a prerequisite to a valid transfer. Fink v. DeClassis, 738 F. Supp. 1195, 1198 (N.D. Ill. 1990).
C. Interest of Justice
The interest of justice also weighs against defendants' motion to transfer. Relevant considerations in this regard include "ensuring speedy trials, trying related litigation together, and having a judge who is familiar with the applicable law try the case." Heller Fin., Inc. v. Midwhey Powder Co., 883 F.2d 1286, 1293 (7th Cir. 1989).
Plaintiffs inform the court, from statistics compiled by Administrative Office of the United States Courts, that the number of pending civil and criminal cases is substantially higher in the Southern District of Texas than the Northern District of Illinois. Given the heavy backlog of cases in that district, the parties would likely receive a quicker trial in Chicago.
Nevertheless, Lohr urges the court to transfer this case so that it may be consolidated with the lawsuit currently pending in Texas. This argument is not compelling. Lohr's Texas suit may be consolidated just as easily with the case pending here.
This court has previously acknowledged that "whenever possible, a diversity case should be decided by the court most familiar with the applicable state law." Feldman Assocs., 676 F. Supp. at 881-82. Illinois law, which governs the interpretation of the stock purchase agreement, supplies the rule of decision. It is true that defendants' counterclaims involve issues of Texas law. However, defendants admit that the counterclaims are based on the presumption that the parties signed a binding, exclusive distributorship agreement. Those claims cannot survive unless defendants first establish that the parties entered into such an agreement. And this threshold issue is a matter of Illinois law. Since the issue that is governed by Illinois law is outcome determinative, it is preferable to try this case before an Illinois court.
In short, defendants have not conclusively demonstrated that this case belongs in Texas. The court, therefore, will not interfere with plaintiffs' choice of forum.
For the foregoing reasons, defendants' motion to transfer this case to the Southern District of Texas is denied.
IT IS SO ORDERED.