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HOUCK v. TWA

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS, EASTERN DIVISION


December 11, 1996

MARY ELLEN HOUCK, as Personal Representative of the Estate of SUSAN HILL, deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
TRANS WORLD AIRLINES, INC., a corporation, THE BOEING COMPANY, a corporation, and HYDROAIRE, INC., a division of CRANE CO., a corporation, Defendants.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: ALESIA

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

 This matter is before the Court on the Court's motion to transfer this matter to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Hauppauge Division, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). *fn1"

 I. BACKGROUND

 This case arose as a result of the explosion and crash of Trans World Airlines, Inc. ("TWA"), flight number 800 on July 17, 1996. The accident occurred over the ocean near East Moriches, Long Island, New York. Susan Hill was a passenger on that flight. There were no survivors.

  On November 18, 1996, Plaintiff Mary Ellen Houck, as personal representative of the Estate of Hill, filed a sixteen-count complaint against Defendants TWA, The Boeing Company ("Boeing"), and Hydroaire, Inc. ("Hydroaire"), in this Court. Against TWA, Houck brings a wrongful death and survival action premised on both negligence (counts I and II) and willful and wanton conduct (counts III and IV). Against Boeing, Houck brings a wrongful death and survival action premised on strict liability (counts V and VI), negligence (counts VII and VIII), and breach of warranty (counts IX and X). Finally, against Hydroaire, Houck brings a wrongful death and survival action premised on strict liability (counts XI and XII), negligence (counts XIII and XIV), and breach of warranty (counts XV and XVI).

 Houck is a citizen of the state of Oregon. Hill, at the time of her death, was also a citizen of the state of Oregon. TWA is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Missouri; Boeing is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Washington; Hydroaire is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Connecticut. The only "connection" Defendants have with the state of Illinois is that each maintains a registered agent in Cook County and each "does business" here.

 II. DISCUSSION2

 Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a):

 

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.

 A transfer under § 1404(a) is appropriate if: (1) venue is proper in both the transferor and transferee court; (2) transfer is for the convenience of the parties and witnesses; and (3) transfer is in the interests of justice. Vandeveld v. Christoph, 877 F. Supp. 1160, 1167 (N.D. Ill. 1995). "The weighing of factors for and against transfer necessarily involves a large degree of subtlety and latitude, and therefore, is committed to the sound discretion of the trial judge." Coffey v. Van Dorn Iron Works, 796 F.2d 217, 219 (7th Cir. 1986).

 A. Venue

 Here, venue is proper in both the Northern District of Illinois (the transferee court) and the Eastern District of New York (the transferee court), see 28 U.S.C. § 1391(a)(1) and (2), (c). *fn3"

 B. Convenience of Parties and Witnesses

 When evaluating the convenience of the parties and witnesses, the court considers: (1) the plaintiff's choice of forum; (2) the site of material events; (3) the availability of evidence in each forum; and (4) the convenience to the parties of litigating in the respective forums. College Craft Co. Ltd. v. Perry, 889 F. Supp. 1052, 1054 (N.D. Ill. 1995).

 Houck chose the Northern District of Illinois to litigate this action; and, generally, the plaintiff's choice of forum is granted substantial weight. Dunn v. Soo Line R.R. Co., 864 F. Supp. 64, 65 (N.D. Ill. 1994). When, however, the plaintiff does not reside in the chosen forum and the conduct and events giving rise to the cause of action did not take place in the selected forum, the plaintiff's preference has nominal value. See id.; Kingsley v. Dixon Old People's Home Fund, Inc., No. 96 C 2464, WL 417548 *1 (N.D. Ill. July 22, 1996). Here, Houck and Hill (prior to her death) resided and were citizens of the state of Oregon. Additionally, the conduct and events supporting the various causes of action did not occur in this district. Accordingly, Houck's choice to initiate this action in the Northern District of Illinois is accorded virtually no weight.

 Next, the material event underlying this action was the explosion and crash of TWA Flight 800. That, as noted, occurred off the southern coast of Long Island, New York. The flight departed from John F. Kennedy ("JFK") Airport, which is in the borough of Queens--also on Long Island. *fn4" None of the conduct underlying any cause of action against any defendant occurred in the Northern District of Illinois. Accordingly, this factor militates in favor of transferring this matter.

 Regarding the availability of evidence, the witnesses who observed the accident or any pertinent events occurring just prior to the accident are, of course, located in New York -- specifically, Long Island. Any post-occurrence witnesses are also located in New York. *fn5" The air traffic controllers, maintenance personnel, and ground personnel responsible for the flight are located in New York. And, the participants in the recovery operations and the wreckage itself is in New York. Thus, this factor also militates in favor of transferring the matter.

 Regarding the convenience of the parties, none of the parties are citizens of the Northern District of Illinois. Houck does not reside here. Neither of the defendants reside here. In fact, the sole connection the defendant corporations have with the Northern District of Illinois is that each has a statutory agent and "does business" here. Thus, the Court does not understand why it would be more convenient for the parties to litigate here rather than New York. *fn6" Although the city of Chicago is centrally located in the United States, an extra two-hour flight to New York for some of the parties or witnesses is not terribly burdensome. Accordingly, this factor also militates in favor of transferring the case.

 C. Interests of Justice

 The "interests of justice" component concerns the "efficient administration of the court system." Coffey, 796 F.2d at 221. It includes such considerations as the speed at which the case will proceed to trial, the feasibility of consolidation, the court's familiarity with applicable law, and the public interest in having a case resolved in a particular forum. Id.; see Reinke v. Boden, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11809, No. 92 C 744, WL 467240 *1 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 13, 1996).

 Here, first, there is no indication that the case will proceed to trial at a quicker pace in the Northern District of Illinois rather than in the Eastern District of New York. Second, the Court is aware that similar actions have already been filed in the Eastern District of New York; thus, this matter could readily be consolidated with those actions. Third, either New York law or international law will likely come into play -- Illinois law definitely will not apply. Finally, in the Court's opinion, because of the high publicity of a case of this nature, the Court believes that there is a strong public interest in having the case resolved near the forum where the tragedy occurred. *fn7"

  III. CONCLUSION

 After considering the convenience of the parties and witnesses, and the interests of justice, the Court concludes that this matter should be transferred to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Hauppauge Division.

 Date: DEC 11 1996

 JAMES H. ALESIA

 United States District Judge


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