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Amorose v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide

April 6, 2007

LYNN A. AMOROSE, DANIELLE M. BARRON, PHILLIP JUSTIN BARNETTE, JOSHUA K. WILSON, KELCEY GILBERT, AND ROBERT KULIG, JR., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
C.H. ROBINSON WORLDWIDE, INC., DEFENDANT.
RICHARD CAHN, MATTHEW CARTER, WILLIAM HORNE, WILLIAM NEAL WILLIAMSON III, DAVID A. EDSON, DERRICK STEIN, JAMES C. ROGERS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
C.H. ROBINSON WORLDWIDE, INC., DEFENDANT.
KARI S. JOHNSON, JENNIFER L. MAWSON, DARREN REID, JAMES A. JOHNSON, PLAINTFFS,
v.
C.H. ROBINSON WORLDWIDE, INC., DEFENDANT.
HEIDI MICHELLE POEPSEL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
C.H. ROBINSON WORLDWIDE, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Elaine E. Bucklo United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Defendant C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc. ("C.H. Robinson") has filed a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) to transfer the above captioned cases, each of which raises claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., to the district encompassing the branch location where the plaintiffs purportedly worked and where the classification decision at issue in each suit were made. For case number 06 C 6463, defendant contends this is the Northern District of Georgia; for case number 06 C 6512, the Western District of Louisiana; for case number 06 C 6629, the Middle District of Tennessee; and for case number 06 C 6664, the Central District of Illinois. For the following reasons, I grant C.H. Robinson's motion and transfer the cases as requested.

I.

Plaintiffs' complaints in each of the cases at issue allege that C.H. Robinson, a third-party transportation logistics company, employed each of the plaintiffs at a branch office. (Poepsel Compl. at ¶ 5, Amorose Compl. at ¶¶ 5-10, Johnson Compl. at ¶¶ 5-8, Cahn Compl. at ¶¶ 5-11.) Plaintiffs further allege that C.H. Robinson misclassified each plaintiff as an exempt, salaried employee during the relevant period when they should have been treated as non-exempt and therefore entitled to overtime pay for the hours they worked in excess of forty hours a week. (Cahn Compl. at ¶¶ 15-17, Poepsel Compl. at ¶¶ 9-11, Amorose Compl. at ¶¶ 14-16, Johnson Compl. at ¶¶ 12-14.)

Plaintiff Heidi Poepsel ("Poepsel") was allegedly employed at C.H. Robinson's Peoria, Illinois branch. (Poepsel Compl. at ¶ 5.) Plaintiff Lynn Amorose ("Amorose") and the other named plaintiffs to Amorose's complaint were allegedly employed at a C.H. Robinson branch in Atlanta, Georgia. (Amorose Compl. at ¶¶ 5-10.) Plaintiff Kari Johnson ("Johnson") and the other named plaintiffs to Johnson's complaint were allegedly employed at a C.H. Robinson branch in Nashville, Tennessee. (Johnson Compl. at ¶¶ 5-8.) Plaintiff Richard Cahn ("Cahn") and the other named plaintiffs to Cahn's complaint were allegedly employed at a C.H. Robinson branch in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Cahn Compl. at ¶¶ 5-11.) The parties do not dispute that none of the named plaintiffs in any of the above actions are residents of the Northern District of Illinois. Further, the parties do not dispute that C.H. Robinson is a Delaware corporation with its headquarters in Minnesota, although it does maintain a large branch in Chicago, Illinois.

The plaintiffs in each of the above suits were previously optin members of a putative FLSA class action brought in the District of Minnesota. The court decertified that putative class action, however, and dismissed the opt-in plaintiffs from the suit without prejudice. See Carlson v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc., Civ. Nos. 02-3780 (JNE/JJG), 02-4261 (JNE/JJG), 2006 WL 2830015 (D. Minn. Sept. 26, 2006). After the class was decertified, the former optin plaintiffs filed a number of individual suits in other jurisdictions, including in the District of Minnesota and in the Northern District of Illinois. Other courts within the Northern District of Illinois have already transferred many of these cases to other jurisdictions. See, e.g., Burt v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc., No. 06 C 6540, slip op. at 11 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 12, 2007), Quigley v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc., No. 06 C 6560 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 7, 2007), Dowden v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc., No. 06 C 6505 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 18, 2006). C.H. Robinson represents, and plaintiffs do not dispute, that courts within the Northern District of Illinois have transferred at least twenty-two of these cases to other jurisdictions. (Def. Reply Br. at 3.)

II.

This court may transfer venue to another district or division for reasons of convenience when it is "in the interest of justice." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). The moving party must show that (1) venue is proper in this district; (2) venue is proper in the transferee district; (3) the transferee district is more convenient for both the parties and witnesses; and (4) transfer would serve the interest of justice. Bryant v. ITT Corp., 48 F. Supp. 2d 829, 832 (N.D. Ill. 1999). In ruling on a motion to transfer, a district court must consider these statutory factors "in light of all the circumstances of the case." See Coffey v. Van Dorn Iron Works, 796 F.2d 217, 219 (7th Cir. 1986) (internal citations omitted).

Section 1404(a) does not indicate the relative weight to afford to each of these factors; this is left to the discretion of the district court. See id. at 219, n.3. The weighing of the relevant factors "involves a large degree of subtlety and latitude, and, therefore, is committed to the sound discretion of the trial judge." Id. at 219; see also N. Shore Gas Co. v. Salomon Inc., 152 F.3d 642, 648, n.3 (7th Cir. 1998) (internal citation omitted); Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 622 (1964) (noting that the remedial purpose of § 1404(a) requires "individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness"). The movant, here C.H. Robinson, bears the burden of establishing that the transferee fora are clearly more convenient. Coffey, 796 F.2d at 219.

In these cases, the parties do not dispute that venue is proper in both the Northern District of Illinois and the venues to which C.H. Robinson seeks to transfer these cases (the Northern District of Georgia for the Amorose plaintiffs, the Western District of Louisiana for the Cahn plaintiffs, the Middle District of Tennessee for the Johnson plaintiffs, and the Central District of Illinois for Poepsel). The only disputed issues between the parties are whether the districts to which C.H. Robinson has requested these actions be transferred are more convenient fora, and whether transfer would be in the interests of justice. I consider these issues below.

III.

In determining whether a forum is more convenient and whether a transfer would be in the interest of justice, the court must consider the private interests of the parties as well as the public interest of the court. N. Shore Gas Co. v. Salomon, Inc., 896 F. Supp. 786, 791 (N.D. Ill. 1995). The factors relevant to the parties' private interests include (1) the plaintiff's choice of forum; (2) the situs of material events; (3) the convenience of the parties; and (4) the convenience of the witnesses. Coll. Craft Cos., Ltd. v. Perry, 889 F. Supp. 1052, 1054 (N.D. Ill. 1995). The factors relevant to the public interest of the court include the court's familiarity with the applicable law and concerns relating to the efficient administration of justice. Id. at 1056. The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the balance of the factors weighs heavily in favor of transfer and that transfer would not merely shift inconvenience from one party to another. Fink v. Declassis, 738 F. Supp. 1195, 1198 (N.D. Ill. 1990).

A. Plaintiff's Choice of Forum

A plaintiff's choice of forum is generally given substantial weight, particularly when it is the plaintiff's home forum. Vandeveld v. Christoph, 877 F. Supp. 1160, 1167 (N.D. Ill. 1995). Unless the balance is strongly in favor of the defendant, the plaintiff's choice of forum should rarely be disturbed. In re Nat'l Presto Indus., Inc., 347 F.3d 662, 664 (7th Cir. 2003) (internal citations omitted). Here, the plaintiffs' choice of forum was the Northern District of Illinois. However, it is undisputed that none of the plaintiffs reside in the Northern District of Illinois. In addition, a plaintiff's choice of forum is afforded less deference when another forum has a stronger relationship to the dispute or when the forum of plaintiff's choice has no connection to the material events. Chicago, Rock Island & Pac. R.R. Co. v. Igoe, 220 F.2d 299, 304 (7th Cir. 1955). Here, C.H. Robinson argues that decisions about how to classify plaintiffs for purposes of the FLSA were made at the branch level, and that C.H. Robinson's operations within the Northern ...


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