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Camarena v. Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

July 1, 2015



EDMOND E. CHANG, District Judge.

Plaintiff Angela Camarena has sued Defendant Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc., alleging that Vanderbilt violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (commonly known as the TCPA), 47 U.S.C. § 227, by calling her cell phone without permission and using an automated dialing system to do so.[1] Vanderbilt now moves to transfer the case to the Eastern District of Tennessee, where the company is based. Camarena, who lives in California, prefers to litigate the matter here in Chicago. For the reasons explained below, Vanderbilt's motion is granted.

I. Background

In 1997, Angela Camarena's father took out a loan from Vanderbilt to finance the purchase of a mobile home. R. 1, Compl. ¶ 5. According to the complaint, Vanderbilt is the leading issuer of credit for mobile homes in the United States, and services loans in all 50 states. Id. ¶ 4. After Camarena's father became ill and fell behind on his loan payments in mid-2013, Vanderbilt began calling Camarena and her father demanding payment on the loan. Id. ¶¶ 6-7. Camarena resides in Brawley, California. Id. ¶ 3.

Camarena alleges that she tried unsuccessfully to clarify with Vanderbilt's representatives whether her father had carried an insurance policy to cover the loan upon his death. Id. ¶ 9. In the meantime, Vanderbilt's calls continued into 2014, including being placed to Camarena's brother and grandmother as well, threatening foreclosure and repossession of the mobile home. Id. ¶ 11. Camarena never provided her number to Vanderbilt, never authorized the communications, and repeatedly asked Vanderbilt to stop calling. Id. ¶ 13.

Camarena believes that Vanderbilt used "skip tracing, " a method involving "pulling credit histories and searching publicly available databases" to obtain contact information for persons that may be "obligated for consumer debts, " as well as something called "Automatic Number Identification" to find her number. Id. ¶¶ 14, 15. Camarena alleges that Vanderbilt operates large-scale call centers across the country that use automated dialing systems to repeatedly call individuals believed to be debtors, including herself. Id. ¶¶ 19, 21, 28. Camarena brought suit here in the Northern District of Illinois on behalf of a nationwide class of persons who have been contacted by Vanderbilt's automated dialing systems in this way, which allegedly violates the TCPA. Id. ¶¶ 29, 30; see 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1).

II. Legal Standard

"For the convenience of the 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). To justify a transfer of venue, several factors must be satisfied: (1) venue must be proper in the transferor district, (2) venue would be proper in the transferee district, (3) the transferee district would be more convenient for the parties and witnesses, and (4) transfer would serve the interests of justice. See Jaramillo v. DineEquity, Inc., 664 F.Supp.2d 908, 913 (N.D. Ill. 2009); see also Coffey v. Van Dorn Iron Works, 796 F.2d 217, 219 n.3 (7th Cir. 1986). "Section 1404(a) is intended to place discretion in the district court to adjudicate motions for transfer according to an individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness." Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); see also Coffey, 796 F.2d at 219 ("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."). The moving party has the burden of establishing "that the transferee forum is clearly more convenient." Coffey, 796 F.2d at 219-20.

III. Discussion

To begin, for the purposes of this motion, neither party contests that venue is proper in this District and also would be proper in the proposed transferee district, the Eastern District of Tennessee.[2] The Court therefore turns to whether transfer would provide convenience and serve the interests of justice. Both factors weigh strongly in favor of transfer.

A. Convenience

In assessing convenience, "courts generally consider 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, Inc. v. Schrader-Bridgeport Int'l., Inc., 626 F.3d 973, 978 (7th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted). On the whole, the elements favor litigating this case in Tennessee.

First, most of the relevant witnesses in this case are in Tennessee. Vanderbilt's headquarters are in Maryville, Tennessee, located in the Eastern District of Tennessee, where nearly 900 of its 1053 employees work (and where former employees who might be called to testify also reside), including those likely to have direct knowledge of the calls made to Camarena and the policies and procedures behind such communications. R. 23-1, Affidavit of Vice President of Collections David Barton ¶¶ 2, 4, 5. These include Vanderbilt's Vice President of Collections, Chief Financial Officer, and other managers and team leaders (all of whom have knowledge of the loan servicing and telecommunication systems and records of communications with borrowers and customers). Id. ¶ 5. Telecommunications employees of a corporate affiliate of Vanderbilt that might very well have been involved in the calls also reside in the Maryville area. Id. ¶ 7. If the case continues to be litigated and goes to trial in Chicago, all of these witnesses, whose testimony would cover Vanderbilt's relevant practices, would have to incur travel expenses, which are a "central measure of [in]convenience." Craik v. Boeing Co., 37 F.Supp. 3d 954, 962 (N.D. Ill. 2013). Thus, Vanderbilt has met its burden of identifying potential non-party witnesses and explaining the subject matter of their testimony, supporting its contention that there is greater convenience in litigating in Tennessee. See Heller Fin., Inc. v. Midwhey Powder Co., 883 F.2d 1286, 1294 (7th Cir. 1989) (party moving for transfer is "obligated to clearly specify the key witnesses to be called and make at least a generalized statement of what their testimony would have included").

Second, transfer to Tennessee would mean improved access to resources for Vanderbilt, without any identifiable downside for Camarena. Camarena urges the Court to consider the time and expense of travel she would incur in getting to Tennessee. R. 31, Pl.'s Resp. Br. at 7. However, she chose to bring the action in a location thousands of miles from her home to begin with. There may not be any non-stop flights between San Diego (her home airport) and the Eastern District of Tennessee, as Camarena asserts, but she offers no specifics about just how much longer and more expensive a trip would be to Tennessee compared to Illinois. See id. In any event, even if she were to provide those details, it would not matter as much, as the convenience of non-party witnesses outweighs that of the parties. Amorose v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc., 521 F.Supp.2d 731, 736 (N.D. Ill. 2007) ("The convenience of party witnesses is less relevant ...

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