United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division
March 22, 2000
AMOCO OIL COMPANY, PLAINTIFF,
MOBIL OIL CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Alesia, District Judge.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Before the court is plaintiff Amoco Oil Company's response to
the court's rule to
show cause why this case should not be transferred pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).*fn1 For the following reasons, the court
transfers this case to the United States District Court for the
Eastern District of New York.
Plaintiff Amoco Oil Company ("Amoco") brings this diversity
action against the defendant Mobil Oil Corporation ("Mobil").
Amoco is a business incorporated under the laws of Maryland with
its principal place of business in Chicago, Illinois. Mobil is a
business incorporated under the laws of New York with its
principal place of business in Fairfax, Virginia.
This action allegedly arises out of a settlement agreement
entered into on May 6, 1993 between Amoco and Mobil. Pursuant to
this settlement agreement, Mobil released Amoco from any claims
relating to environmental contamination in the Greenpoint area of
Brooklyn, New York and agreed to indemnify Amoco for certain
aspects of the contamination in the Greenpoint area. Amoco,
however, remained responsible for removing any contamination from
its own property excluding contamination which was not physically
located under Amoco's property at the time of the settlement
agreement. The purpose of this settlement agreement is "to fully
resolve all existing disagreements over responsibility and
allocate liability for environmental contamination (including,
among other things, third party personal injury and property
damage claims) between Amoco and Mobil in connection with . . .
the Greenpoint Contamination." (Pl.'s Compl. Ex. 1 at 2.)
Subsequent to this settlement agreement, Amoco recovered over
two million gallons of liquid phase contamination from the
subsurface of its property.*fn2 Testing of the groundwater
revealed that the contamination is migrating onto Amoco's
property from Mobil's Greenpoint property. As a consequence of
this migration, the New York State Department of Environmental
Contamination ("NYSDEC") advised Amoco that it is considering an
enforcement action against Amoco unless Amoco extends its
remediation efforts. This extension would include the
installation of pump and treat systems which would draw more
pollution onto Amoco's property from Mobil's property.
Thus, Amoco advised Mobil that any remediation efforts sought
by NYSDEC were subject to the indemnity provision in the
settlement agreement. However, Mobil denies that it would have
any obligation with respect to Amoco's remediation efforts.
Accordingly, on September 3, 1999, Amoco filed this action
charging Mobil with violating the settlement agreement as to the
property located in the Greenpoint area of Brooklyn, New York.
The complaint consists of two counts. Count I is for a
declaratory judgment and Count II alleges a breach of the
Amoco requests this court to retain jurisdiction of this case.
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), a district court may transfer a
civil action "[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses
[and] in the interest of justice . . . to any other district or
division where it might have been brought." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).
Transfer is appropriate under § 1404(a) where: (1) venue is
proper in the transferor district; (2) venue and jurisdiction are
proper in the transferee district; and (3) the transfer will
serve the convenience of the parties and the witnesses and will
promote the interest of justice. See id; Coffey v. Van
Dorn Iron Works, 796 F.2d 217, 219 & n. 3 (7th Cir. 1986). It
is in the sound discretion of the trial judge to determine the
weight accorded to each factor. See Coffey, 796 F.2d at 219.
A. Venue in the transferor district, the Northern District of
Venue is proper in this district because jurisdiction is
predicated solely on diversity of citizenship and Mobil does not
dispute that this court has personal jurisdiction over it. Title
28 of the United States Code § 1391(a) provides that:
A civil action wherein jurisdiction is founded only
on diversity of citizenship may, except as otherwise
provided by law, be brought only in (1) a judicial
district where any defendant resides, if all
defendants reside in the same State, (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) a judicial district in
which any defendant is subject to personal
jurisdiction at the time the action is commenced, if
there is no district in which the action may
otherwise be brought.
28 U.S.C. § 1391(a). For purposes of venue, "a defendant that is
a corporation shall be deemed to reside in any judicial district
in which it is subject to personal jurisdiction at the time the
action is commenced." Id. § 1391(c). Mobil, the only defendant,
does not dispute that this court has personal jurisdiction over
it, thus, venue is proper. Accordingly, the first element of a §
1404(a) transfer is clearly satisfied.
B. Venue in the transferee district, the Eastern District of
Venue is also proper in the Eastern District of New York
because a substantial part of the events giving rise to this suit
occurred in and the entire property that is the underlying
subject of this action is located in Brooklyn, New York which is
located within that district. See id. Furthermore, neither
party disputes that the Eastern District of New York would have
jurisdiction. Thus, the second element of § 1404(a) transfer is
C. Considerations of convenience and interests of justice
The final element of § 1404(a) requires that the transferee
court "clearly [be] more convenient" than the transferor court.
Coffey, 796 F.2d at 219-20. The court makes this determination
on an individualized and case-by-case basis by analyzing whether
the convenience of the parties and the witnesses and the
interests of justice weigh in favor of transfer.
1. Convenience of the parties and the witnesses
The court must first consider the convenience of the parties
and the witnesses. When evaluating the conveniences, the court
should consider five factors: (1) the plaintiff's choice of
forum, (2) the situs of the material events, (3) the relative
ease of access to sources of proof, (4) the convenience of the
parties, and (5) the convenience of the witnesses. North Shore
Gas Co. v. Salomon, Inc., 896 F. Supp. 786, 791 (N.D.Ill. 1995);
College Craft Cos. Ltd. v. Perry, 889 F. Supp. 1052, 1054
a. Plaintiff's choice of forum
This court recognizes that the plaintiff's choice of forum is
generally entitled to substantial weight, especially when it is
plaintiff's home forum. See Vandeveld v. Christoph, 877 F. Supp. 1160,
1167 (N.D.Ill. 1995). While a plaintiff's choice of forum
is an important consideration in determining whether a motion to
transfer should be granted, it, however, is not absolute.
Applied Web Sys., Inc. v. Catalytic Combustion Corp., No 90 C
4411, 1991 WL 70893, at *3 (N.D.Ill. Apr.29, 1991).
In this case, Illinois is both Amoco's home forum, as its
principal place of business
is located in Illinois, and chosen forum. However, its choice has
no significant connection to its claim, as the heart of the
controversy involves environmental contamination in Brooklyn, New
York. Thus, Amoco's choice becomes only one of the many factors
the court considers. See Chicago, Rock Island & Pac. R.R. Co. v.
Igoe, 220 F.2d 299, 304 (7th Cir. 1955); General Accident Ins.
Co. v. Travelers Corp., 666 F. Supp. 1203, 1206 (N.D.Ill. 1987).
b. Situs of the material events
It appears that Illinois is not the situs of the majority of
the material events in this case. Amoco argues that the material
event is the settlement agreement and not the environmental
contamination of land located in Brooklyn, New York. The court,
however, disagrees. As Amoco correctly asserts, Amoco requests
this court to construe the settlement agreement. However, the
court's construction of the agreement may depend upon the nature
of the environmental contamination: i.e., whether the present
contamination occurred prior to or subsequent to the execution of
the settlement agreement. Thus, the events relating to the
contamination of the land in Brooklyn are also material and these
events occurred or are occurring in the Eastern District of New
York. Furthermore, with respect to Amoco's argument that the
material event is the settlement agreement, Amoco has not alleged
where the negotiation or execution of this settlement agreement
took place. Accordingly, the court finds that this factor weighs
in favor of transfer.
c. Relative ease of access to source of proof
Amoco alleges that the property itself will not be a source of
proof in this suit. As discussed above, see Part C.1.b., the
court disagrees. The property may be very important to the
determination of Mobil's liability, as Mobil's liability will
likely depend upon an analysis of the property and the source of
the pollution. Courts have recognized the importance of the
location of the situs and have ordered a transfer to that
encompassing district. See Karrels v. Adolph Coors Co.,
699 F. Supp. 172, 177 (N.D.Ill. 1988); Midwest Precision Servs., Inc.
v. PTM Indus. Corp., 574 F. Supp. 657, 661 (N.D.Ill. 1983). Thus,
the Eastern District of New York would have greater access to
this important source of proof. Accordingly, this factor also
weighs in favor of transfer.
d. Convenience of the parties
The facts presented by Amoco indicate that neither party will
experience great inconvenience if the litigation proceeds in
either Illinois or New York. Furthermore, Amoco makes no argument
that the Eastern District of New York would even be an
inconvenient forum in which for it to litigate. Because neither
forum is of greater convenience to either party, this factor
weighs neither in favor of transfer nor of retention.
e. Convenience of witnesses
Neither party has identified potential, non-party witnesses who
will be inconvenienced by having to travel to another forum to
provide testimony in this action. According to Amoco, the only
potential witnesses will be experts. However, the residency of
expert witnesses does not affect this court's analysis because
expert witnesses are paid for their time and are within the
control of the party calling them. Karrels, 699 F. Supp. at 176.
Thus, this factor also weighs neither in favor of transfer nor of
2. Interests of justice
The court must also examine the interests of justice. This
analysis "focuses on the efficient administration of the court
system, rather than the private considerations of the litigants."
Espino v. Top Draw Freight Sys., Inc., 713 F. Supp. 1243, 1245
(N.D.Ill. 1989); see Coffey, 796 F.2d at 221. It includes such
considerations as the
speed at which the case will proceed to trial, the court's
familiarity with the applicable law, the relation of the
community to the occurrence at issue, and the desirability of
resolving controversies in their locale. H&V Silver Mine, Inc.
v. Cohen, No. 96 C 3550, 1997 WL 639229, at *5 (N.D.Ill. Oct.6,
a. The speed at which the case will proceed to trial
For the purposes of evaluating this factor, the court used the
reports from the Federal Court Management Statistics for the
period ending September 30, 1999, which are the latest statistics
available at this time. Of the numerous court management
statistics available to the court's current analysis, the two
most relevant statistics are (1) the median months from filing to
disposition and (2) the median months from filing to trial.
Vandeveld, 877 F. Supp. at 1169.
The median months from filing to disposition was 6 months in
the Northern District of Illinois compared to 12 months in the
Eastern District of New York. United States District Court —
Judicial Caseload Profile (visited Mar. 17, 2000)
<http://jnet.ao.dcn/cgibin/cmsd1999.pl.> The median months from
filing to trial was 28 months in both the Northern District of
Illinois and the Eastern District of New York. Id. These
statistics suggests that, while the parties would receive a trial
at about the same speed in either district, the parties are more
likely to receive a quicker resolution in the Northern District
of Illinois. Accordingly, this factor weighs in favor of
b. The court's familiarity with the applicable law
In this case, the settlement agreement provides that it shall
be "governed, construed and administered in accordance with the
laws of the State of Illinois." (Pl.'s Comp. Ex. A at 19.) The
court recognizes that the Northern District of Illinois is more
familiar with substantive Illinois law than the Eastern District
of New York. However, courts are often called upon to decide
substantive legal questions based upon another state's laws.
Generally, contract law is not particularly complex. Certainly,
Amoco cannot contend that Illinois contract law is so unique as
to be beyond the comprehension of our sister court in New York.
Thus, this factor weighs neither in favor of transfer nor of
c. The relation of the community to the occurrence and the
desirability of resolving controversies in their locale
This is the strongest factor weighing in favor of transfer. As
previously explained, see Parts C.1.b. & c., Brooklyn, New York
is the situs of the contaminated property and, thus, New York has
a much stronger connection to this case than Illinois.
Furthermore, there are certain types of cases in which a
particular forum has a strong interest in hearing. See Houck v.
Trans World Airlines, Inc., 947 F. Supp. 373, 376 (N.D.Ill.
1996). This is one of them. The underlying facts involve the
contamination of property located in Brooklyn, New York.
Certainly, the local community has a strong interest in seeing a
quick resolution to this contamination. Accordingly, this factor
weighs heavily in favor of transfer.
In sum, the court finds that transfer to the Eastern District
of New York is proper. Although Amoco chose this court as the
forum, its choice is but one of the many factors which the court
considers. The convenience of the parties and the witnesses does
not weigh in favor of either transfer or retention. However, the
most compelling factors — the situs of the material events, the
relative ease of the access to a potential source of proof and
the community's interests — weigh heavily in favor of transfer.
For the reasons set forth in this opinion, the court transfers
this case pursuant to 28
963 U.S.C. § 1404(a) to the United States District Court for the
Eastern District of New York, Brooklyn Division.