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Mables v. Indymac Bank

June 9, 2008

LEMONT MABLES, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
INDYMAC BANK, F.S.B., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge George W. Lindberg

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Defendant Indymac Bank, F.S.B. ("Indymac") moves this court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) to transfer jurisdiction of this case to the United States District Court for the Central District of California. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is denied.

I. RELEVANT FACTS

Plaintiff Lemont Mables ("Mables") is an individual who resides in the Northern District of Illinois. He, along with a Larissa Henderson-Mables and Earlene Calvin, initiated the instant lawsuit against Indymac on behalf of themselves and a purported class of similarly situated minority individuals who claim to be the victims of Indymac's racially discriminatory mortgage lending practices. Ms. Henderson-Mables resides in the Northern District of Illinois and Ms. Calvin resides in the Central District of California. The members of plaintiffs' purported nationwide class are located throughout the United States, including both Illinois and California. In the complaint, the named plaintiffs allege violations of the federal Equal Credit Opportunity Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1691, et seq., and the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3601, et seq..

Indymac is a federal savings bank with its principal place of business in the Central District of California. Indymac does not have any branch banks in Illinois, but it originates mortgage loans across the United States, including in Illinois. The vast majority of Indymac's senior employees are located in southern California or Texas and none are located in Illinois. Further, Indymac claims that the documents relevant to this case are likely located outside of Illinois because Indymac does not have any storage facilities for loan files in Illinois. Most of Indymac's loan records are located in the Central District of California.

The factual and legal allegations in the instant complaint are virtually identical to the allegations in the complaint filed in Ulloa v. Indymac Bank, F.S.B., No.08-1312 (C.D. Cal.). Further, some of Mables' attorneys in this case were also attorneys of record for the plaintiffs in the Ulloa case. Mables' attorneys filed the Ulloa case on February 26, 2008 in the Central District of California. They filed the instant case on April 17, 2008 and dismissed the Ulloa case the next day. The plaintiffs in Ulloa dismissed their case before the California court made any rulings adverse to them. In fact, they dismissed the case before Indymac filed an answer or pleading responsive to the complaint and before the court made any substantive rulings. There is also a case currently pending before Judge Bucklo in this district, Ware v. Indymac Bank F.S.B., No. 07 C 1982, that involves similar, but more limited factual and legal allegations than those alleges by Mables and the plaintiffs in Ulloa.

II. LEGAL ANALYSIS

Section 1404(a) provides: "[f]or 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 other words, a transfer is appropriate if: (1) venue is proper in both the transferor and transferee courts; (2) transfer will serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses; and (3) transfer is in the interest of justice. See Boyd v. Snyder, 44 F. Supp. 2d 966, 968 (N. D. Ill. 1999). Whether to transfer a case is within the sound discretion of the transferor court. Coffey v. Van Dorn Iron Works, 796 F.2d 217, 219-20 (7th Cir. 1986). The party requesting transfer bears the burden of demonstrating that the transferee forum is clearly more convenient than the transferor forum. Id.

Both parties concede that venue is proper in this court and the Central District of California. Therefore, the court proceeds directly to an analysis of the second factor, whether transfer will serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses. The court finds that it would not. In assessing the convenience of the parties and witnesses, the Court considers five sub-factors. See Hanley v. Omarc, Inc., 6 F. Supp. 2d 770, 774 (N.D. Ill. 1998). First, the court looks to the plaintiffs' chosen forum, which is normally accorded deference. In this case, the deference is negligible because plaintiffs filed this action on behalf of a purported nationwide class of similarly situated individuals. See Boyd v. Snyder, 44 F.Supp.2d 966, 970 (N.D.Ill. 1999)(quoting Georgouses v. NaTec Resources, Inc., 963 F.Supp. 728, 730 (N.D.Ill. 1997)("When 'plaintiff alleges a class action, plaintiff's home forum is irrelevant.'").

The next factor, the situs of the material events, is neutral and does not weigh in favor of transfer. Indymac claims that the Central District of California is the situs of material events because its corporate offices are located there. Indymac reasons that its discriminatory lending policies, if they exist, would have been formulated at its corporate offices. Mables disagrees arguing that the situs of material events is in the Northern District of Illinois because Indymac's discriminatory policies were implemented against him and other purported class members in this district.

The court need not determine which district has the most substantial contacts to events material to this case. "As long as contacts in [plaintiff's] chosen district are substantial, 'venue is proper notwithstanding the possibility that [defendant's] activities may have been more substantial somewhere else.'" Moore v. AT&T Latin America Corp., 177 F.Supp.2d 785, 788 (N.D.Ill. 2001). Substantial, material events occurred in both Illinois and California, thus this factor does not weigh in favor of transfer. In light of Mables' allegations that he felt the effects of Indymac's discriminatory lending practices in the Northern District of Illinos because he executed his Indymac loan here and the property that is subject to the mortgage is here, this district is an appropriate forum for trying this case.

The third and fourth factors, the convenience of the witnesses and ease of access to sources of proof, are also neutral. Indymac argues that its key witnesses and at least one plaintiff are located in the Central District of California, while Mables argues that he and at least one other plaintiff are located in this district. Indymac is a national bank and the inconvenience of flying its trial witnesses, if any, to Chicago is minimal and does not appear substantially greater than the inconvenience to Mables and the other Illinois plaintiffs of flying to California for trial.

Further, the ease of access to sources of proof does not weigh heavily in favor of one forum over the other. Indymac argues that all of its documentary evidence and relevant witnesses are likely in California. Relevant documents could be in the tens of thousands and if the case remains here, Indymac would be forced to transfer its sources of proof across the country. This argument is misplaced. The actual number of documents and witnesses that will have to travel to Illinois, if this case goes to trial, are likely small. Further, the parties can conduct pretrial discovery in California, negating the need to transport documents and witnesses outside of California.

The last factor, the convenience of the parties in litigating in each respective forum does not weigh in favor of transfer. Indymac argues that it is more convenient for the parties to litigate the case in California because Indymac's witnesses and evidence are located there. As the court noted above, the parties can conduct pretrial discovery in California and, in the event the case proceeds to trial, the number of trial witnesses and documents are likely small. Further, Indymac is already litigating a case similar to the instant case in this district ...


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