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Stock v. Integrated Health Plan

November 28, 2006

ANN M. STOCK, D.C., RICHARD C. COY, D.C., AND COY CHIROPRACTIC HEALTH CENTER, P.C., INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
INTEGRATED HEALTH PLAN, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herndon, District Judge

MEMORANDUM and ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

This is a class action brought by Plaintiffs, two Southern Illinois chiropractors, individually and on behalf of classes of healthcare providers who were parties to an Integrated Health Plan, Inc. ("IHP") Participating Physician Agreement with Defendant IHP and had IHP preferred provider discounts taken against payments for medical services rendered. IHP is a Florida corporation. Plaintiffs claim that IHP breached its contract with Plaintiffs by marketing its network to Payors (insurance companies or their vendors) who do not offer financial incentives to patients who select providers within the network. The case was originally filed on February 13, 2006 in St. Clair County, Illinois. Defendant timely removed the case to this Court on March 15, 2006.

II. MOTION TO TRANSFER

On May 30, 2006, Defendant filed a motion to transfer venue to the United Stated District Court for the Middle District of Florida pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). (Doc. 17.) Plaintiffs respond in opposition. (Doc. 25.) Each of the parties' arguments are discussed in turn below.

A. Legal Standard

Section 1404(a), which governs the transfer of an action from one federal district court to another, provides: "For the convenience of the parties and the witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it may have been brought." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). In this case, neither party disputes that venue is proper in both this Court and the transferee district (the Middle District of Florida). See 28 U.S.C. § 1391(a) & (c). What the Parties dispute is whether the interest of justice and the convenience of the Parties and witnesses weigh in favor of transfer.

The relevant standard for a section 1404(a) transfer is whether the transferee forum is "clearly more convenient." Coffey v. Van Dorn Iron Works, 796 F.2d 217, 219-220 (7th Cir. 1986). The party seeking transfer has the burden of establishing this fact. Id. The purpose of § 1404(a) "is to prevent the waste of time, energy and money and to protect litigants, witnesses and the public against unnecessary inconvenience and expense." Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 616 (1964). In determining whether a motion under § 1404(a) should be granted, the court must seek to promote the efficient administration of justice and not merely the private interests of the parties. North Shore Gas Co. v. Salomon, Inc., 896 F. Supp. 786, 791 (N.D. Ill. 1995) (Gettleman, J.). 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 court. Heller Fin., Inc. v. Midwhey Powder Co., 883 F.2d 1286, 1293 (7th Cir. 1989); Coffey, 796 F.2d at 219. The language of section 1404(a) does not indicate the relative weight that should be accorded to each factor. As the Seventh Circuit has noted, "these factors are best viewed as placeholders for a broader set of considerations, the contours of which turn upon the particular facts of each case." Coffey, 796 F.2d at 220 n.3 (citations omitted). Essentially, the Court must engage in a balancing of the competing private interests (of the Parties and witnesses) and the public interests of the Court. Each of the factors is considered below.

1. Convenience to the Parties and Witnesses

In weighing the private interests involved, the Court should consider: "1) plaintiff's choice of fourm; 2) the situs of material events; 3) the relative ease and access to 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 (7th Cir. 2000).

a. Plaintiff's Choice of Forum

The general rule is that a plaintiff's choice of forum is to be given considerable deference. See FDIC v. Citizens Bank and Trust Co., 592 F.2d 364 (7th Cir. 1979); Chicago Rock Island & Pac. R.R. Co. v. Igoe, 220 F.2d 299, 302 (7th Cir. 1955) (plaintiff's choice of forum should not be "lightly set aside");In re National Presto Industries, Inc., 347 F.3d 662, 664 (7th Cir. 2003)(citing Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501, 508 (1947) ("[U]nless the balance is strongly in favor of the defendant, the plaintiff's choice of forum should rarely be disturbed."); see also Zelinski v. Columbia 300, Inc., 335 F.3d 633, 643 (7th Cir. 2003); Pollux Holding Ltd. v. Chase Manhattan Bank, 329 F.3d 64, 70 (2d Cir. 2003).

However, in a nationwide class-action, plaintiff's choice of forum may be entitled to less deference. See Nelson v. AIM Advisors, 2002 WL 442189 (S.D. Ill. 2002) (Reagan, J.) (holding that "where a plaintiff alleges a nationwide class action, 'plaintiff's home forum is irrelevant'"); Georgouses v. NaTec Res., Inc., 963 F. Supp. 728, 730 (N.D. Ill. 1997) (Gettleman, J.) ("[B]ecause plaintiff alleges a class action, plaintiff's home forum is irrelevant."); Genden v. Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner & Smith, 621 F. Supp. 780, 782 (N.D. Ill. 1985) (Rovner, J.). However, in Chamberlain v. U.S. Bancorp Cash Balance Retirement Plan, 2005 WL 2747921 (S.D. Ill. 2005), this Court held that the Seventh Circuit's decision in Tice v. American Airlines, 162 F.3d 966 (7th Cir. 1998)supported the proposition that even in the context of a class action, a plaintiff's choice of forum is not completely irrelevant. There, in a class-action setting, the Seventh Circuit ...


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