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St. Paul Fife and Mirine Insurance Co. v. Borther International Corp.

June 1, 2006

ST. PAUL FIRE AND MARINE INSURANCE COMPANY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BROTHER INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION D/B/A BROTHER MALL DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan B. Gottschall

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Company ("St. Paul") has sued Brother International Corporation ("Brother") for a declaratory judgment concerning its rights and obligations under an insurance policy between the two corporations. Brother has filed a motion to transfer venue from this district to the District Court of New Jersey. For the reasons that follow, the motion to transfer is granted.

BACKGROUND

In June 2003, a nationwide class action was brought against Brother in Illinois state court for violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act ("TCPA") and a variety of state law claims. The suit, Stonecrafters, Inc. v. Brother International Corp., 03CH409 (filed June 3, 2003), alleged that Brother had sent unsolicited advertisements to the class members via facsimile. Among other things, the complaint alleged that the faxes violated individuals' privacy rights by releasing confidential information and constituted conversion by misappropriating the plaintiffs' paper and toner and by causing wear and tear to their fax machines. Brother claimed that, pursuant to an insurance contract between the parties, St. Paul was required to provide Brother with a defense in the suit. St. Paul denied that the suit was covered under the policy. The dispute centered, inter alia, over whether Brother's use of plaintiffs' paper and toner amounted to "property damage" within the meaning of the insurance policy.

St. Paul eventually agreed to provide Brother with a defense under a reservation of rights. The Stonecrafters action ultimately settled. Brother claims that it is entitled to reimbursement from St. Paul for the costs it incurred in defending itself in the suit, and for its settlement-related expenses. St. Paul filed this action seeking a declaratory judgment regarding its rights and obligations under the policy. Brother filed a counterclaim for breach of contract and filed the instant motion to transfer venue.

LEGAL STANDARD

Transfer under section 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) is appropriate where the moving party demonstrates that (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, the convenience of the witnesses, and the interests of justice. See, e.g., Schwarz v. National Van Lines, Inc., 317 F. Supp. 2d 829, 833 (N.D. Ill. 2004). The parties do not dispute that venue is proper both in this district and in the District of New Jersey. Hence, the court need consider only whether transfer will serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses, and the interests of justice.

In evaluating the convenience of the parties and witnesses (a factor often referred to as the "private interest" factors), a district court considers: (1) the plaintiff's choice of forum; (2) the situs of material events; (3) the relative ease of access to sources of proof; (4) the convenience of the witnesses; and (5) the convenience to the parties. See, e.g., Washington Nat. Life Ins. Co. v. Calcasieu Parish School Bd., No. 05 C 2551, 2006 WL 1215413, at *8 (N.D. Ill. May 2, 2006). When examining the interest of justice (often referred to as the "public interest" factors), the court focuses on the efficient administration of the court system. Id. Relevant considerations here include the court's familiarity with the applicable law, the speed at which the case will proceed to trial, and the desirability of resolving controversies in their locale. Id. The movant has the burden of establishing, by reference to particular circumstances, that the transferee forum is clearly more convenient. Coffey v. Van Dorn Iron Works, 796 F.2d 217, 219-220 (7th Cir. 1986). "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." Id.

The court considers each of the relevant factors in what follows.

A. Convenience of Witnesses and Parties: Private Interest Factors

1. The Plaintiff's Choice of Forum

St. Paul argues that, as plaintiff in the present action, its choice of forum should be given "substantial weight." While it is true that some courts accord deference to the plaintiff's choice of forum, the status of that presumption is unclear in this district. See, e.g., Petersen v. Union Pacific R. Co., Nos. 04 C 5918, 04 C 5949, 04 C 6032, 05 C 6263, 2006 WL 1049715, at *2 (N.D. Ill. April 19, 2006) (noting differences among courts in this district about the extent to which a plaintiff's choice of forum is entitled to deference).

Even if, as a general matter, the plaintiff's choice of forum were entitled to great deference, that presumption would be inapplicable in this case. First, courts agree that the presumption of deference does not apply where the plaintiff does not reside in the chosen forum. See, e.g., Confederation Des Brasseries De Belgique v. Coors Brewing Co., No. 99 C 7526, 2000 WL 88847, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 20, 2000). Since St. Paul was incorporated under Minnesota law and has its principal place of business in St. Paul, Minnesota, its decision to file suit in Illinois is not entitled to any special weight. St. Paul argues that it should be considered as a resident of Illinois because it is subject to personal jurisdiction in Illinois. However, St. Paul cites no authority for this contention, and virtually all cases found by the court determine a corporate party's home state by reference to its state of incorporation and its principal place of business. See, e.g., Q Sales & Leasing, LLC v. Quilt Protection, Inc., 2002 WL 1732418, No. 01 C 1993, at *2 (N.D. Ill. July 26, 2002); see also Shaheen Sports, Inc. v. Asia Ins. Co., Ltd., 89 F. Supp. 2d 500, 505 (S.D.N.Y. 2000); General Foam Plastics Corp. v. Kraemer Export Corp., 806 F. Supp. 88, 90 (E.D. Va. 1992); cf. Saint-Gobain Calmar, Inc. v. National Products Corp., 230 F. Supp. 2d 655, 660 (E.D. Pa. 2002) (refusing to accord plaintiff "home forum deference" simply because its parent corporation was located in the district).

Second, deference to the plaintiff's choice of forum is not appropriate where the "cause of action did not conclusively arise in the chosen forum." Boyd v. Snyder, 44 F. Supp. 2d 966, 969 (N.D. Ill. 1999)(citing Countryman on Behalf of Upstate New York Pension and Retirement Fund v. Stein Roe & Farnham, 681 F. Supp. 479, 482-83 (N.D.Ill.1987)). Here, while the parties dispute the extent to which the present forum is connected with the cause of action, not even St. Paul argues that the cause of action conclusively arose ...


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