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Marina Lafleur, and Theresa Croy, Individually and On Behalf of All v. Dollar Tree Stores

June 18, 2012

MARINA LAFLEUR, AND THERESA CROY, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DOLLAR TREE STORES, INC., D/B/A DOLLAR TREE AND D/B/A DEALS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Marvin E. Aspen

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MARVIN E. ASPEN, District Judge:

Plaintiffs Marina LaFleur and Theresa Croy filed this putative class and collective action against Defendant Dollar Tree on behalf of Store Associates and Assistant Store managers across the country. Plaintiffs allege that Dollar Tree required or permitted them to work "off the clock" and overtime without compensation in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") and applicable state wage and hour laws. Plaintiffs have sought conditional certification of the action, as well as equitable tolling of the FLSA's "wasting statute" of limitations. Dollar Tree filed both a motion to dismiss and the instant motion to transfer venue on March 6, 2012. For the reasons discussed below, we grant Dollar Tree's motion and transfer this action to the Eastern District of Virginia, Norfolk Division.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff LaFleur is a former Assistant Manager with Dollar Tree. Plaintiff Croy is currently an Assistant Manager, and formerly an Hourly Associate. Both are residents of Kane County, Illinois and have been employed by Dollar Tree at a store in Geneva, Illinois. (Compl. ¶¶ 11--12, 22--23, 51.)

Dollar Tree is a publicly-traded corporation headquartered in Chesapeake, Virginia, with locations in 48 states that offer a wide variety of products for $1 each. (Id. ¶¶ 13--17.) All Dollar Tree stores are corporately-owned and operated. (Id. ¶ 16.) According to the Complaint, Dollar Tree "maintains operating policies and procedures that apply uniformly to all stores nationwide." (Id. ¶ 19.) Plaintiffs allege that "[r]egardless of the size of the store, its location or district, every detail of how the store is managed and run is uniformly fixed, mandated and controlled by Defendant through its policies, directives, and mandated procedures." (Id.)

These uniform procedures include human resources "practices governing wages and compensation, that apply to all . . . employees nationwide." (Id. ¶ 20.) Specifically, Plaintiffs contend that Dollar Tree has nationwide policies to pay Hourly Associates and Assistant Managers on an hourly basis and to require such employees to work "off the clock." (Id. ¶¶ 21, 24--34.) For example, Plaintiffs allege that Dollar Tree requires Assistant Managers and Hourly Associates to clock out at the end of a scheduled shift, then prepare deposits at the store and travel to the bank to make the deposit-equating to at least 15 minutes of unpaid time each occasion. (Id. ¶¶ 27--31.) Employees, including Plaintiffs, are or were also forced to continue working after clocking out for their 30 minute lunch break. (Id.) Plaintiffs allege that, as a result of these practices, Dollar Tree failed to compensate them, along with similarly-situated employees across the country, for work performed and associated overtime wages. (Id. ¶¶ 24, 35, 37--38, 43--44, 53.) Based on these allegations, the Complaint brings three causes of action, alleging violations of the FLSA, the Illinois Minimum Wage Law, the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act, and similar state wage and hour laws applicable to the putative class members. (Id. ¶¶ 75--105.)

Dollar Tree is currently defending several similar putative class/collective actions pending in other federal district courts, including courts in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, and Michigan. (Mem. at 2 & n.2.) Dollar Tree has moved to transfer these cases to the Eastern District of Virginia. (Id.) While four of the motions remain undecided, the district judge presiding over Smith v. Dollar Tree Stores, Inc. in the Northern District of Georgia granted Defendant's transfer motion on May 10, 2012. (Suppl. Auth. at 1 & Ex. A.)

ANALYSIS

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), a court may, for the convenience of the parties and witnesses and in the interest of justice, transfer any civil matter to another district where venue is proper. A court may transfer a case if a moving party shows that: (1) venue is proper in the district where the action was originally filed; (2) venue would be proper in the transferee court; and (3) the transfer will serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses as well as the interests of justice. See Morton Grove Pharm., Inc. v. Nat'l Pediculosis Ass'n, 525 F. Supp. 2d 1039, 1044 (N.D. Ill. 2007).

The parties do not dispute that venue is proper in either the Northern District of Illinois or the Eastern District of Virginia. (Mem. at 5--6; Resp. at 4.) In determining where a defendant resides for venue purposes, 28 U.S.C. § 1391(c) provides that "a defendant that is a corporation shall be deemed to reside in any judicial district in which it is subject to personal jurisdiction at the time the action is commenced." The sole defendant here is a corporation that was subject to personal jurisdiction in both the Northern District of Illinois and the Eastern District of Virginia at the time this case was brought. In addition, both courts have subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 because this case arises under federal law, the FLSA. Neither party contests these points.

The main concern, then, is whether transfer to the Eastern District of Virginia will serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses and the interests of justice. As the Seventh Circuit has recognized, deciding whether to transfer a case requires "flexible and individualized analysis" based on the circumstances of a particular case. Research Automation, Inc. v. Schrader-Bridgeport Int'l, Inc., 626 F.3d 973, 978 (7th Cir. 2010) (internal citations omitted). The district court determines the weight given to each factor and has wide discretion in deciding whether transfer is appropriate. Tice v. American Airlines, Inc., 162 F.3d 966, 974 (7th Cir. 1988); Coffey v. Van Dorn Iron Works, 796 F.2d 217, 219 (7th Cir. 1986). The plaintiff's choice of forum is usually favored "unless the balance is strongly in favor of the defendant." In re Nat'l Presto Indus., Inc., 347 F.3d 662, 664 (7th Cir. 2003). As the party seeking transfer, Dollar Tree has the burden to show that "the transferee forum is clearly more convenient" than the transferor forum. Heller Fin., Inc. v. Midwhey Powder Co., Inc., 883 F.2d 1286, 1293 (7th Cir. 1989) (internal citations omitted).

In deciding whether transfer would promote convenience, courts consider such factors as "the availability of and access to witnesses, [] each party's access to and distance from resources in each forum[,] . . . the location of material events and the relative ease of access to sources of proof." Research Automation, 626 F.3d at 978 (internal citations omitted). Relevant interest of justice factors under the transfer statute include: "docket congestion and likely speed to trial in the transferor and potential transferee forums, . . . each court's relative familiarity with the relevant law, . . . the respective desirability of resolving ...


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