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Burt v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide

March 12, 2007

JACQUELINE BURT, IN-GRID C. REEVES, JEFFREY WADE FOX, AND DARYL PATRICK HARRIS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
C.H. ROBINSON WORLDWIDE, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles P. Kocoras, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the court on the motion of Defendant C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc. ("CHRW") to transfer venue to the Northern District of Alabama pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). For the reasons set forth below, CHRW's motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Jacqueline Burt, In-grid C. Reeves, Jeffrey Wade Fox, and Daryl Patrick Harris ("Plaintiffs") filed the present action in the Northern District of Illinois alleging that CHRW misclassified them as exempt employees and failed to pay them overtime wages in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. ("FLSA"). CHRW, a Delaware corporation, is a transportation logistics company with headquarters in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, and more than 150 branches throughout the United States including in the Chicago area and Birmingham, Alabama. Plaintiffs are all residents of Birmingham and were employed by CHRW at its Birmingham branch during the FLSA liability period.

Plaintiffs' complaint comes before us a result of a decertification order in the District of Minnesota. See Carlson v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc., Civ. Nos. 02-3780 and 02-4251, 2006 WL 2830015 (D. Minn., Sept. 26, 2006). In decertifying the collective actions, the Minnesota Court held that the plaintiffs' varying employment duties and the lack of a company wide practice or policy concerning classification under the FLSA made a collective determination concerning plaintiffs' proper classification under the FLSA inappropriate. Id. at *10-11. Instead, the court concluded that the practice at each branch must be examined in order to adjudicate individual claims. Following decertification, over 500 opt-in plaintiffs, of whom 134 worked at CHRW's branches within this district, 55 worked in Minnesota, and the remainder of which worked in 35 states, filed suit in this district and the District of Minnesota. Judges in this District have transferred venue in many of these cases either to the District of Minnesota or to the individual districts in which plaintiffs worked.

CHRW moves to transfer venue in this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) to the Northern District of Alabama, where Plaintiffs live and were employed by CHRW. In opposition to CHRW's motion, Plaintiffs first urge that this Court delay ruling on CHRW's motion until Plaintiffs' pending motion for reassignment is decided and until they file a petition to consolidate related actions with the Judicial Panel for Multi-District Litigation ("JPML"). Alternatively, Plaintiffs argue that to avoid the risk of inconsistent adjudications, this court should either keep the case in this district or transfer venue to the District of Minnesota, where a large number of related actions are pending.

LEGAL STANDARD

Section 1404(a) provides that "for the convenience of the 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." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). The moving party bears 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, 219-20 (7th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, the moving party must demonstrate that: (1) venue is proper in the transferor district; (2) the transferee court is in a district where the action may have been originally brought; and (3) transfer is for the convenience of parties and witnesses and will serve the interests of justice. Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 616 (1964); Coffey, 796 F.2d at 219-20. Because the case-by-case consideration required by § 1404(a) involves a large degree of subtlety and latitude, the decision to transfer an action is within the sound discretion of the trial judge. Coffey, 796 F.2d at 219.

DISCUSSION

As an initial matter, Plaintiffs argue that a ruling on CHRW's motion is premature, because Plaintiffs have filed a motion for reassignment of all related cases before Judge St. Eve, and they intend to file a petition with the JPML to consolidate related cases for pretrial purposes. We find these arguments unpersuasive. First, Plaintiffs' motion for reassignment was denied by Judge St. Eve on February 27, 2007. Hyde v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc., Case No. 06 C 6458. Second, to the best of this Court's knowledge, there is no petition pending before the JPML. Even if Plaintiffs have filed a petition, such a petition does not operate to stay proceedings in this Court. Instead, the rules governing procedure before the JPML specifically provide that the pendency of a motion before the JPML does not "in any way limit the pretrial jurisdiction of the court in front of which the action is pending." 199 F.R.D. 425, 427 (2001). Accordingly, we will proceed with an analysis of the instant motion on its merits.

Before transfer of venue may be granted, the moving party must first show that venue is proper in both the transferor and transferee districts. See, e.g., Coffey, 796 F.2d at 219-20. In the present case, the parties do not dispute that venue is proper in the Northern District of Illinois, the Northern District of Alabama, and the District of Minnesota. Civil actions such as this, not based solely on diversity of citizenship, may be brought in a judicial district where any defendant resides. 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(1). A corporate defendant, such as CHRW, is deemed to reside in any judicial district in which it is subject to personal jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1391(c). By virtue of its branch locations in the Chicago area and in Birmingham, as well as its headquarters in Minnesota, CHRW is subject to personal jurisdiction, and may therefore be deemed to reside, in any of these three judicial districts. As the first and second requirements under § 1404(a) are satisfied, our analysis turns to the final element: whether the transfer would be more convenient for the parties and witnesses and would serve the interests of justice.

A. Convenience of the Parties and Witnesses

In evaluating the convenience of the parties and witnesses, courts consider both the private interests of the parties and public interests of the judicial system. Amoco Oil Co. v Mobil Oil Corp., 90 F. Supp. 2d 958, 960 (N.D. Ill. 2000). The private interests of the parties and witnesses include the following 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. Id.

First, neither Plaintiffs' chosen forum, the Northern District of Illinois, nor the District of Minnesota, is their home forum. While a plaintiff's chosen forum is generally entitled to substantial weight, this choice is given less weight if it is not the plaintiff's home forum, Countryman v. Stein, Roe & Farnham, 681 F. Supp. 479, 482-83 (N.D. Ill. 1987), or if it lacks a significant connection to the claim. Chicago R. I. & P. R. Co. v. Igoe, 200 F.2d 299, 304 (7th Cir. 1955). Plaintiffs contend that the similarity and relationship of their claim to other claims filed in the Northern District of Illinois or in the District of Minnesota provide an important and significant connection to those fora. However, as the crux of this consideration is the connection between the Plaintiffs' claim and the chosen forum and not between the Plaintiffs' claim and other claims, the Plaintiffs' argument is not persuasive. Both the District of Minnesota, ...


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