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Huddleston v. Illinois Central Railroad Co.

January 5, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Phil Gilbert District Judge


This matter comes before the Court on the Court's order to show cause why this case should not be transferred to the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois (Doc. 8) and the motion of defendant Illinois Central Railroad Company ("Illinois Central") to transfer this case to the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) (Doc. 13). Sensibly, the parties have effectively merged the briefing on these two matters. Plaintiff Jack L. Huddleston, Jr., has responded to the show cause order and Illinois Central's motion to transfer (Docs. 17 & 18), and Illinois Central has replied to Huddleston's response (Docs. 23 & 24).

I. Background*fn1

Huddleston brought this case in the Southern District of Illinois under the Federal Employers' Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. § 51 et seq., and the Locomotive Boiler Inspection Act, 49 U.S.C. § 20701. Huddleston worked for Illinois Central from 1975 to 2009. For most of his career, he was based in Urbana, Illinois, in the Central District, and lived -- and continues to live -- nearby. At some point, he was based in Decatur, Illinois, also in the Central District. Some of his positions required stationary work on Illinois Central's facilities and equipment within the Central District and some required him to travel on a train both within the Central District and outside the Central District into the Southern District and Kentucky.

In this case, Huddleston seeks compensation for injuries he suffered in two discrete incidents that occurred while he was working as a locomotive engineer for Illinois Central. The first incident occurred when fifteen to twenty cars were shoved into his train on August 6, 2006, in Champaign, Illinois. The second incident occurred when Huddleston's locomotive cab seat fell apart and malfunctioned on August 28, 2008, in Rantoul, Illinois. Huddleston did not seek immediate medical treatment for injuries from those incidents. Champaign and Rantoul are both in the Central District of Illinois.

Huddleston also seeks compensation for cumulative trauma injuries he suffered from exposure to repetitive movements, vibrations, jolts and slacks while traveling in Illinois and Kentucky over his career with Illinois Central. Specifically, Huddleston made a number of trips from the Champaign area, where his employment was based, to Centralia, Illinois, and Bluford, Illinois, both of which are in the Southern District. He also made a number of trips to Fulton, Kentucky, which required traversing the Southern District. Based on Huddleston's own affidavit and records of his train travel, it appears that less than half of his total train travel miles were within the Southern District. The vast majority of his work, whether in a train yard, working on train tracks or traveling on a train, occurred in the Central District.

Over his career with Illinois Central, Huddleston was seen by physicians in the Champaign area, including Dr. David Fletcher, who declined to allow him to return to work in July 2009. Beginning in May 2009, Huddleston started seeing Dr. Matthew Gornet, a disc replacement surgeon in Chesterfield, Missouri. Huddleston also sought a second surgical opinion from Dr. George Schoedinger, III, a surgeon in St. Louis, Missouri, and Swansea, Illinois. Swansea is within the Southern District.

Many of the witnesses expected to be called in this case, including Huddleston and his family, witnesses to the two discrete incidents and their aftermath, the defendant's risk management investigator, and the doctors who observed Huddleston over his career, are in the Central District. Huddleston's direct supervisors who actually had contact with him and his daily co-workers are in the Central District, although the supervisors who had jurisdiction over him while he was traveling in Southern Illinois are in the Southern District. Additionally, some of his more senior Illinois Central supervisors are in Kentucky and Tennessee, which are closer to the Southern District than the Central District of Illinois. Other witnesses, including those familiar with the condition of tracks, trains and other equipment within the Southern District, with the collective bargaining agreement governing Huddleston's' employment and with safety complaints to Illinois Central, are in the Southern District or in Tennessee.

The Court has questions about whether this case ought to be tried in the Southern District of Illinois in light of the fact that the two discrete incidents involved in this case took place in the Central District of Illinois and it was unclear the magnitude of the Southern District's connection to Huddleston's cumulative trauma claim. Illinois Central believes the case belongs in the Central District and accordingly filed the pending motion to transfer venue for the convenience of the parties and witnesses and in the interest of justice. Huddleston maintains that a transfer of venue is not warranted.

II. Transfer Standards

Illinois Central does not contest that venue is proper in the Southern District of Illinois under 28 U.S.C. § 1391 or 45 U.S.C. § 56 and therefore does not seek a change of venue pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406, which governs transfer or dismissal when venue is improper. Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 634 (1964). Indeed, Illinois Central is an Illinois corporation with its headquarters in the Northern District of Illinois and business operations in the Southern District of Illinois. Therefore, under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(c), it is deemed to be a resident of, among other districts, the Southern District of Illinois and is subject to venue here.*fn2

Instead, Illinois Central relies exclusively on 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), under which a district court may transfer a civil action to any other district where the action might have been brought originally "[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). The decision to transfer a case is left to the discretion of the district court. Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988); Van Dusen, 376 U.S. at 622; Cote v. Wadel, 796 F.2d 981, 985 (7th Cir. 1986); see Norwood v. Kirkpatrick, 349 U.S. 29, 32 (1955).

In deciding a § 1404(a) motion to transfer, the Court should consider a number of case-specific factors such as the convenience of the potential transferee forum to the parties and witnesses and the interests of justice in general. Stewart, 487 U.S. at 29-30; see Coffey v. Van Dorn Iron Works, 796 F.2d 217, 219 (7th Cir. 1986) (citing Van Dusen , 376 U.S. at 622). "The movant . . . has the burden of establishing, by reference to particular circumstances, that the transferee forum is clearly more convenient," Coffey, 796 F.2d at 219-20, and the Court must give some weight in favor of the forum in which the plaintiff chose to file the complaint, Heller Fin., Inc. v. Midwhey Powder Co., 883 F.2d 1286, 1294 (7th Cir. 1989); Macedo v. Boeing Co., 693 F.2d 683, 688 (7th Cir. 1982).

Courts frequently consider specific factors such as the plaintiff's choice of forum, the location of the relevant events, documents and evidence, the convenience to the witnesses and parties, the relation of the controversy to the forum, the court's familiarity with the applicable law and the speed with which a case can be tried. Methode Elecs., Inc. v. Delphi Auto. Sys. LLC, 639 F. Supp. 2d 903, 907 (N.D. Ill. 2009). Even if the circumstances indicate that a transfer would be clearly more convenient to the parties and witnesses, a court may still refuse to transfer the case if it is not in the interest of justice. Coffey, 796 F.2d at 220; Van Dusen, 376 U.S. at 625. "Factors traditionally considered in an ...

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