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Michael Mcfatridge and Ekl Williams, LLC v. Scottsdale Indemnity Company

March 2, 2011

MICHAEL MCFATRIDGE AND EKL WILLIAMS, LLC, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
SCOTTSDALE INDEMNITY COMPANY, NATIONAL CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, IMPERIAL CASUALTY AND INDEMNITY COMPANY, AND WHITE MOUNTAIN RE SOLUTIONS, LTD., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Edmond E. Chang

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Michael McFatridge alleges that various insurance companies owe him a duty to defend two lawsuits against him in the Central District of Illinois; his co-plaintiff is the law firm of Ekl Williams, which is representing him in the two Central District lawsuits. Plaintiffs seek immediate payment of the costs of defense as well as a declaration that the insurance companies owe a duty to defend. Defendants Scottsdale Indemnity Company and National Casualty Insurance Company move to transfer venue to the Central District of Illinois pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).*fn1 R.23.*fn2 After reviewing the relevant factors, the Court grants Defendants' motion to transfer because, in summary, there is a related lawsuit over insurance coverage already pending in the Central District of Illinois at the summary judgment stage, and McFatridge's costs of defense are being incurred in the Central District of Illinois.

I.

In 1987, two men were prosecuted and convicted for murder in the Circuit Court of Edgar County, Illinois, which is in the Central District of Illinois. R. 23, Def's Mot. to Transfer at 2 ¶ 6. Both men were prosecuted by Michael McFatridge, who was the State's Attorney of Edgar County. Id. at 2-3 ¶¶ 6, 12. The convictions were later vacated and the two men were released from prison. Id. at 2 ¶ 7. After winning their freedom, the two men filed separate 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaints against McFatridge in the Central District of Illinois. Id. at 2 ¶ 8. Ekl Williams, a law firm, rendered legal services defending McFatridge in these two lawsuits. Id. at 4 ¶¶ 17, 19. The Ekl Williams law firm is organized as an Illinois limited liability company with its principal place of business in Illinois. Id. at 1 ¶ 2. The case before this Court involves payment for the legal services provided by Ekl Williams to McFatridge.

But this case is not the first involving the payment for McFatridge's defense. In March 2007, the Scottsdale Indemnity Company and the National Casualty Company (collectively referred to as Scottsdale for convenience) filed suit in the Central District of Illinois, seeking a declaration that they owed no duty to defend or indemnify McFatridge in the underlying lawsuits. R. 23 at 2-3 ¶¶ 10, 12.*fn3

In that 2007 lawsuit, the District Court for the Central District of Illinois held that Scottsdale did not owe a duty to defend McFatridge and granted Scottsdale's motion for summary judgment, and the judgment was affirmed by the Seventh Circuit in April 2010. Id. at 3 ¶ 13 (citing National Casualty Co. v. McFatridge, 604 F.3d 335 (7th Cir. 2010)). In between the summary judgment in the district court and the Seventh Circuit affirmance, in December 2009 Scottsdale filed another suit in the Central District of Illinois, this one seeking (1) a declaration that White Mountains and Imperial Casualty and Indemnity Company (collectively referred to as White Mountains) owes a duty to defend and indemnify McFatridge; and (2) reimbursement from White Mountains of past payments made defending McFatridge. Id. at 3 ¶ 14. White Mountains filed a cross-claim, seeking a declaration that it owed no duty to defend or indemnify McFatridge. Id., Ex. E. In the 2009 Central District litigation, Scottsdale, White Mountains, and McFatridge all filed motions for summary judgment seeking a determination of (1) the extent to which White Mountains is responsible for defending and indemnifying McFatridge and (2) how much White Mountains must pay or reimburse Scottsdale. Id., Ex.F.

In July 2010, Ekl Williams filed this suit, originally in DuPage County Circuit Court, against all the defendants in the present case. The complaint was based on payments allegedly owed to Ekl Williams for legal services rendered. R.1, Def's Notice of Removal ¶ 1. The case was removed, based on diversity jurisdiction, to federal court in the Northern District of Illinois. In its current motion before the Court, Scottsdale requests that this Court transfer venue to the Central District of Illinois under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). R. 23.

II.

"Congress has codified the doctrine [of forum non conveniens] and has provided for transfer, rather than dismissal, when a sister federal court is the more convenient place for trial of the action." Sinochem Int'l Co. v. Malaysia Int'l Shipping Corp., 549 U.S. 422, 430 (2007); Hyatt Int'l Corp. v. Coco, 302 F.3d 707, 717-18 (7th Cir. 2002). More specifically, "[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." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Under § 1404(a), the moving party bears the burden of establishing that (1) venue is proper in the transferor district, (2) venue and jurisdiction would be proper in the transferee district, and (3) the transfer will serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses and is in the interest of justice. Coffey v. Van Dorn Iron Works, 796 F.2d 217, 219-20 (7th Cir.1986) (citations omitted). "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 judge." Id. at 219.

The parties in the present case do not dispute that venue and jurisdiction are proper in both the Northern and Central Districts of Illinois. Therefore, this Court will turn to whether transfer will serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses and promote the interests of justice. In making this determination, the Court must look to both private and public interests. Research Automaton v. Schrader-Bridgeport International, 626 F.3d 973, 978 (7th Cir. 2010). Private interests include: (1) the plaintiff's choice of forum; (2) the situs of the material events; (3) the relative ease of access to sources of proof; and (4) the convenience to the witnesses and parties. Id. Factors traditionally considered in the public interest analysis, also known as the "interest of justice" factors, include the congestions of the respective court dockets, prospects for a speedy trial, and the courts' familiarity with the applicable law. Id. 978; Coffey, 796 F.2d at 221. District courts may make any necessary factual findings when determining venue issues. In re LimitNone, LLC, 551 F.3d 572, 577 (7th Cir. 2008). The weight accorded to each factor is committed to the sound discretion of the Court. Coffey, 796 F.2d at 219.

III.

A.

1. Choice of Forum / Location of Events

The Court first considers the private-interest factors. Normally, a plaintiff's choice of forum is afforded substantial deference, but only if the chosen forum is related to the case. Research Automation v. Schrader-Bridgeport Int'l, 626 F.3d 973, 979 (7th Cir. 2010). Moreover, the ...


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