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Welch v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

July 30, 2014

STEPHEN S. WELCH, Plaintiff,
v.
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

DAVID R. HERNDON, Chief District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Pending before the Court is defendant Union Pacific Railroad Company's ("Union Pacific") motion to transfer venue under 28 U.S.C. ยง 1404(a) (Doc. 10). Defendant moves to transfer this action to the Northern District of Oklahoma. Plaintiff Stephen S. Welch timely responded in opposition (Doc. 21). As defendant has not met its burden of demonstrating the proposed transferee forum is clearly more convenient, the Court DENIES the motion.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, a mechanic of defendant's residing in Vinita, Oklahoma filed this action against defendant on March 14, 2014, alleging that he was injured on October 9, 2011 when a ballast gave way and plaintiff had to lift and place a derailed buggy back on the rails. In sum, defendant instantly argues transfer of this action is warranted as the majority of witnesses live in Oklahoma, plaintiff's injuries occurred in Oklahoma, and plaintiff is an Oklahoma resident. On this basis, defendant argues that the convenience of the parties and witnesses, along with the interests of justice, weigh heavily in favor of transferring this suit.

Plaintiff responds that defendant's proposed forum is not "clearly more convenient" as an inspection of the accident site is not necessary, and the majority of plaintiff's treating physicians who will provide substantive, relevant, and material testimony reside outside the Northern District of Oklahoma and are either located proximately, or at least more accessibly, the Southern District of Illinois located in East St. Louis, Illinois.

III. LAW AND APPLICATION

Section 1404(a), provides that: "For the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interests of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought." Defendant bears the burden of establishing that the transferee forum is "clearly more convenient." Coffey v. Van Dorn Iron Works, 796 F.2d 217, 220 (7th Cir. 1986).

In weighing these factors, a task committed to the sound discretion of the trial judge, district courts must consider the statutory factors in light of all the circumstances of the case. Id. at 219. When assessing convenience, courts generally look to "each party's access to and distance from resources in each forum, " "the location of material events, " "the availability of and access to witnesses, " and "the relative ease of access to sources of proof." See Research Automation, Inc. v. Schrader-Bridgeport Int'l Inc., 626 F.3d 973, 978 (7th Cir. 2010).

As to the interests of justice, courts consider "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 controversies in each locale; and the relationship of each community to the controversy." Id. (citations omitted). The Court stresses that "unless the balance is strongly in favor of the defendant, the plaintiff's choice of forum should rarely be disturbed." In re Nat'l Presto Indus., Inc., 347 f.3d 662, 664 (7th Cir. 2003) (quoting Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501, 508 (1947)). Stated more plainly, a tie goes to plaintiff. Id. at 665.

Here, defendant has not met its burden of demonstrating that the suggested transferee forum is clearly more convenient than the present. As to the convenience of the parties, defendant cites to numerous witnesses who reside in various cities in Oklahoma as demonstrating that the Northern District of Oklahoma is clearly more convenient. Defendant claims "the operations of Union Pacific would be disrupted if the employee-witnesses were forced to spend days or perhaps weeks at a trial in the Southern District of Illinois to testify about events which occurred in the Northern District of Oklahoma" (Doc. 11, p. 13-14). Defendant additionally argues that every witness would be inconvenienced if forced to testify in the Southern District of Illinois. Finally, defendant cites to the accident's occurrence in Oklahoma and plaintiff's residence there as warranting transfer.

In response, plaintiff notes that although the accident occurred in Pryor, Oklahoma, an inspection of the accident site is not necessary (Doc. 21, p. 6). Further, plaintiff notes that Drs. Taylor, Boutwell, and Phillip, plaintiff's treating physicians, are located in St. Louis, Missouri, and their offices are located 23.1 miles, 22.8 miles, and 22.8 miles respectively from the courthouse in East St. Louis. Plaintiff notes that these three doctors' (who performed surgical procedures on plaintiff) knowledge of plaintiff's injuries is material to the instant case, as "the damage portion of his case will constitute the main focus of his trial and many of plaintiff's medical witnesses are expected to testify live" (Doc. 21, p. 7). Plaintiff further contends that if this case were to be transferred to the Northern District of Oklahoma, "it is likely that the physicians would refuse to appear live to testify."

Additionally, plaintiff cites employees at Union Pacific's headquarters, located in Omaha, Nebraska, who may testify, as "many of its records, including the plaintiff's personnel file and medical file and other sources of proof are likely located in Omaha, Nebraska" (Doc. 21, p. 5). As these witnesses will most likely have to travel by air from Omaha, Nebraska for trial, regardless of whether the trial takes place in this Court or Oklahoma, plaintiff notes this Court is approximately 16.1 miles from Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. Finally, plaintiff notes defendant's potential witnesses are mostly defendant's employees and are thus assumed to appear voluntarily.

On the basis of the above arguments, the Court finds defendant has not met its burden of demonstrating the Northern District of Oklahoma is clearly more convenient than this Court. In sum, defendant argues transfer is warranted as the accident at issue occurred in Oklahoma and it would be ...


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