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Carmella Brickett v. National Railroad Passenger Corporation D/B/A Amtrak

August 3, 2011

CARMELLA BRICKETT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION D/B/A AMTRAK,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Young B. Kim

MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER

Before the court is the motion of Defendant National Railroad Passenger Corporation d/b/a Amtrak ("Amtrak") to transfer the case to either the District of Nevada or the Western District of Pennsylvania, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). For the following reasons, the motion is granted and the cause is transferred to the Western District of Pennsylvania:

Procedural History

On March 31, 2011, Plaintiff Carmella Brickett filed this action under the Federal Employers' Liability Act ("FELA"), 45 U.S.C. § 51 et. seq., alleging that Amtrak failed to maintain one of its train station platforms and to provide her with a safe place to work. (R. 1.) Two months later, on May 31, 2011, Amtrak filed the instant motion to transfer the case. (R. 10, 12.) On June 9, 2011, the parties consented to this court's jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (R. 15.) Brickett filed a response to Amtrak's motion to transfer on June 24, 2011, (R. 20, 21), and Amtrak filed a reply thereto on July 6, 2011, (R. 22). On July 21, 2011, the court held an oral argument on the motion and also gave the parties the option to file a supplemental brief addressing the issues raised at the oral argument by July 29, 2011. Amtrak timely submitted a supplemental brief in support of its motion to transfer but Brickett did not.

Background

Brickett seeks compensation for injuries she suffered while working as a Train Attendant on an Amtrak train. The subject accident happened on April 18, 2008, at a station owned and operated by the Union Pacific Railroad*fn1 in Winnecuma, Nevada ("the station").

(R. 12, Def.'s Mem., Ex. A; R. 22, Def.'s Reply Mem., Ex. A.) During the course of Train #0006's regularly scheduled stop at around 6:45 p.m., Brickett got off the train to remove garbage from the cafe car. As she was walking over to a dumpster, she tripped over rocks and gravel on the station's platform and fell onto her face and chest. As a result, Brickett alleges that she sustained a fractured sternum as well as injuries to her face and teeth. (R. 1, Compl. ¶ 15.) Immediately after the fall, Brickett applied ice to her injuries. The following day, Brickett sought medical treatment at a hospital in Denver, Colorado. Brickett subsequently received extensive follow-up medical and dental treatment after returning home to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Brickett filed the instant action alleging that Amtrak violated its duty to properly maintain the station. (R. 1, Compl. ¶ 16.) She contends that Amtrak knew that the station was in a state of disrepair because other employees and passengers had reported the station's unsafe condition to Amtrak. (Id. at ¶ 13.) Brickett therefore alleges that Amtrak failed to exercise ordinary care in providing her with a reasonably safe place to work by neglecting to inspect, repair, and warn her of the unsafe condition at the station, which resulted in her injuries. (Id. ¶¶ 16, 17.)

Amtrak moves to have this case transferred to either the District of Nevada or to the Western District of Pennsylvania. Amtrak contends that transferring the case to the District of Nevada would be proper because Brickett's cause of action arose in Nevada. Amtrak also contends that transferring the case to the Western District of Pennsylvania would be proper because Brickett lives in Pittsburgh and because she received the bulk of her medical treatment for her injuries in the Pittsburgh area. Additionally, Amtrak points out that material witnesses in this case are located closer to the District of Nevada and the Western District of Pennsylvania than to the Northern District of Illinois. Amtrak asserts that Brickett's only connection to the Northern District of Illinois is that her attorney's office is located in Chicago.

Brickett counters that the Northern District of Illinois is the most convenient forum because she has worked as an Amtrak employee "out of Chicago" for the past eight or nine years and most of the important fact witnesses work out of Chicago, including one who lives in Illinois. Brickett explained at oral argument that she lives in Pittsburgh but that she rides the Amtrak to Chicago and begins her assignment on Amtrak trains originating from Chicago, which is her "home terminal." She argues that neither Nevada nor Pennsylvania is more convenient than Illinois because the witnesses in this case are located in places other than Nevada or Pennsylvania, with only one witness located in Nevada and only her medical witnesses located in Pennsylvania. Brickett further asserts that because the Nevada station is under reconstruction, having physical access to the station should not be a consideration. She points out that photographs taken of the station near the time of her accident convey its condition at the time of the accident more accurately than could any information gleaned from accessing the newly renovated station.

Analysis

The relevant factors point to the conclusion that this case should proceed in the Western District of Pennsylvania. "Congress has codified the doctrine [of forum non convenience] 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). A court may "[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice . . . transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought."*fn2 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Under § 1404(a), the moving party must show that "(1) venue was 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 as well as the interests of justice." Continental Cas. Co. v. Staffing Concepts, Inc., No. 06 C 5473, 2009 WL 3055374, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Sep. 18, 2009) (citation omitted). The parties agree that venue and jurisdiction are proper in all three of the districts at issue in this case. As such, the court's decision turns on whether Amtrak has met its burden of demonstrating that the "transferee forum is clearly more convenient." Coffey v. Van Dorn Iron Works, 796 F.2d, 217, 220 (7th Cir. 1986).

In deciding whether a transfer of the case will serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses, and promote the interests of justice, a court must analyze the private interests of the parties as well as the public interests of the court. Research Automation, Inc. v. Schrader-Brideport Int'l, Inc., 626 F.3d 973, 978 (7th Cir. 2010). The weighing of the relevant interests "involves a large degree of subtlety and latitude, and therefore, is committed to the sound discretion of the trial judge." Coffey, 796 F.2d at 219. The factors relevant to the parties' private interests include "(1) plaintiff's choice of forum, (2) the situs of the material events, (3) the relative ease and access to sources of proof, (4) the convenience of the parties and (5) the convenience of the witnesses." First Nat'l Bank v. El Camino Resources, Ltd., 447 F.Supp.2d 902, 912 (N.D. Ill. 2006). The court must also consider the "interest of justice" or the "public interest," which "relates to the efficient administration of the court system." Research Automation, 626 F.3d at 978. These public interest factors include the following: "[1] docket congestion and likely speed to trial in the transferor and potential transferee forums; [2] each court's relative familiarity with the relevant law; [3] the ...


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