United States District Court, N.D. Illinois
March 19, 2004.
EUGENE BIESEK, Plaintiff
SOO LINE RAILROAD CO. and CANADIAN PACIFIC RAILWAY, Defendants
The opinion of the court was delivered by: RONALD GUZMAN, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Before the Court is Defendant Canadian Pacific Railway Co. d/b/a Soo
Line Railroad Co.'s ("Soo Line") Motion to Transfer Venue to the Western
District of Wisconsin. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's
motion is granted.
Plaintiff Eugene Biesek, a resident of Bariboo, Wisconsin, was employed
as an engineer by Defendant Soo Line. On December 20, 2000, Plaintiff was
seriously injured while attempting to adjust a loose jumper cable on a
certain locomotive owned by Defendant. The accident occurred in Columbia
County, Wisconsin. Plaintiff brought this action pursuant to the Federal
Employer's Liability Act ("FELA"), 45 U.S.C. § 51, alleging that his
injuries were caused by Soo Line's negligent failure to properly inspect
and properly install the jumper cable. Defendant Soo Line now brings this
motion to transfer venue from the Northern District of Illinois to the
Western District of Wisconsin.
28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) provides that "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." In ruling on a motion
to transfer, a court must consider both the private interests of the
parties and the public interests of the courts. Technical Concepts
L.P. v. Zurn Indus., Inc., No. 02 C 5150, 2002 WL 31433408, at *2
(N.D. Ill. Oct 31, 2002).
The party moving for a transfer of venue must show that: (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. See Clear Lam Packaging, Inc. v. Rock-Tenn Co.,
No. 02 C 7491, 2003 WL 22012203, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 22, 2003). The
measures of convenience and the interests of justice involve a
substantial degree of subtlety and latitude and are therefore "committed
to the sound discretion of the trial judge." Coffey v. Van Dorn Iron
Works, 796 F.2d 217, 219 (7th Cir. 1986). In this case, it is not
disputed that venue is proper in both the transferor and transferee
A. Private Interests
A court looks to several factors in balancing the private interests of
the parties: (1) the plaintiff's choice of forum; (2) the situs of the
material events; (3) the ease and access of sources of proof; (4) the
convenience of the parties; and (5) the convenience of the witnesses.
Amoco. Oil Co. v. Mobil Oil Corp., 90 F. Supp.2d 958, 960 (N.D. Ill.
2000). In order to tip the scale convincingly towards transfer, Soo Line
"has the burden of establishing, by reference to particular
circumstances, that the transferee forum is clearly more convenient."
Coffey, 796 F.2d at 219-20.
1. Plaintiff's Choice of Forum A plaintiff's choice of forum is
customarily accorded deference, but the importance of Plaintiff's
preference in this case is lessened by the fact that he did not bring the
action in his home district. See Raddenbach v. Soo Line R.R. Co., No. 99
C 2588, 1999 WL 984393, at * 1 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 25, 1999) (discounting the
importance of FELA plaintiff's choice of Chicago forum when plaintiff
resided in Wisconsin and was injured in Wisconsin).
2. Situs of Material Events The parties dispute the location of the
critical "situs of material events." Soo Line contends that Biesek's
injury, which occurred in Wisconsin, is the critical material event in
this case. Plaintiff, on the other hand, maintains that the litigation
will focus on an alleged failure to inspect Soo Line's locomotive in
either Soo Line's or CSX's railyards in Northern Illinois. Although the
Plaintiff also argues that an abandoned settlement agreement in Chicago
will be important to the litigation, the injury in Wisconsin and the
alleged negligent conduct on Defendant's part in Illinois are the
"material events" central to this dispute. Since neither party has shown
that one event will overshadow the other in importance, this factor does
not weigh on either side of the equation.
3. Ease and Access of Sources of Proof Neither parry argues whether
proof will be more accessible in Illinois or Wisconsin.
4. Convenience of the Parties The convenience of the parties does not
figure heavily in favor of or against transfer. Soo Line, as a large
transportation company, will not suffer hardship by litigating this
dispute in either Illinois or Wisconsin. See Firkus v. Soo Line R.R.
Co., No. 96 C 3714, 1996 WL 568803, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 2, 1996). And
although Plaintiff's inconvenience may not be asserted in a motion to
transfer, see id, it should be noted that both Illinois and Wisconsin
seem to be equally convenient to Plaintiff. Wisconsin appears to be a
more geographically convenient forum to Plaintiff, a Wisconsin resident,
but he chose to file the lawsuit in Illinois.
5. Convenience of the Witnesses The potential inconvenience to
witnesses already ascertainable weighs strongly in favor of a transfer to
the Western District of Wisconsin. Defendant submits an interrogatory
response listing seven potential medical witnesses, as well as three Soo
Line employees who have information about the circumstances surrounding
Plaintiff's injury. Of the medical witnesses, five reside in Wisconsin
and two in Minnesota. The employees of Soo Line are all residents of
Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Plaintiff asserts that some Illinois residents)
will have critical
information about the inspection procedures on Soo Line and CSX's
railyards in Illinois, but he has not indicated the names or residences
of any prospective witnesses.
The inconvenience to Soo Line's own employee witnesses is given less
weight than the potential inconvenience to third-party witnesses under
neither party's control, but it is not removed from consideration
entirely. See Dillon v. Watson Bowman Acme Corp., No. 02 C 9289, 2003 WL
22454024, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 27, 2003). Soo Line is a transportation
company, but contrary to Plaintiff's assertion, it is not a foregone
conclusion Defendant could transport Wisconsin witnesses to Chicago on
Soo Line freight cars, which in itself might be considered an
inconvenience. The relatively short distance between Madison and Chicago
is also not dispositive, as transfers have been granted to defendants in
FELA cases in which an even shorter distance is at issue. See, e.g.,
Gasda v. Indiana Harbor Belt R.R. Co., No. 98 C 8371, 1999 WL 592098, at
*3 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 2, 1999). Plaintiff asserts that the testimony as to
Biesek's medical condition before and after his injury will be relatively
uncomplicated and that medical witnesses may simply testify by
deposition. However, live testimony is generally favored over a
deposition, and compulsory process is unavailable to assure the
attendance of the medical witnesses domiciled in Wisconsin. See Rohde v.
Central R.R. of Ind., 951 F. Supp. 746, 748 (N.D. Ill. 1997).
Although Soo Line has not specified all of the witnesses that will be
called to testify at trial, it is clear that the vast majority of all
potential witnesses reside either in Wisconsin or in Minnesota, which is
nearer to Wisconsin than Illinois. Indeed, the addresses of the only
"Illinois" witnesses offered by Plaintiff are unknown. The fact that the
inspection may have occurred in Illinois does not necessarily mean the
inspectors reside within the state. Therefore, the inconvenience of
witnesses weighs heavily in favor of transfer.
B. Public Interests of Justice
Next, the Court considers the public interests of justice, which are
concerned with "the efficient administration of the court system."
Coffey, 796 F.2d at 221. Factors relevant
to this analysis include: (1) the relation of the community to the issue
in litigation; (2) the courts' familiarity with the applicable law; and (3)
the relative docket congestion of the courts. See Raddenbach, 1999 WL
984393, at *2. Both courts are equally familiar with the federal law
applicable to this case, and neither party has presented any information
about how speedily a case would proceed to trial in either the transferor
or the transferee district. Therefore, only each community's potential
relation to the issue in litigation factors into the Court's analysis.*fn1
Both Illinois and Wisconsin have an interest in this case. Wisconsin
has a substantial interest in addressing an injury to one of its
citizens. However, Illinois has its own considerable stake in maintaining
safe conditions on its local railyards and railways, which is where the
allegedly negligent inspection occurred. Therefore, neither community's
relation to the issue in litigation outweighs the other's.
For the foregoing reasons, the Defendant's Motion to Transfer Venue to
the Western District of Wisconsin is granted.