United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
GROVER S. COPLEY, Plaintiff,
C.J. MAHON CONSTRUCTION COMPANY, LLC, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PHIL GILBERT DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on defendant C.J. Mahon
Construction Company, LLC's (“C.J. Mahon”)
motion to transfer this case to the United States District
Court for the Western District of Kentucky for the
convenience of the parties under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a)
(Doc. 12). Plaintiff Grover S. Copley has responded to the
motion (Doc. 17).
case arose after Copley, who worked on the crew of a dredge
owned and/or operated by C.J. Mahon, was injured while trying
to tie off barges. The incident occurred on the Ohio River
“within the jurisdiction of this court, ” Compl.
2, ¶ 1, near the Smithland Lock and Dam. Apparently
Copley was treated for his injuries in Evansville, Indiana,
and went through rehabilitation at home near Huntington, West
Virginia. C.J. Mahon is a citizen of Ohio but apparently does
sufficient business in the Southern District of Illinois to
be amenable to suit here (see, e.g.,
(describing an ongoing project in Grand Chain, Illinois)).
Copley brings this suit under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C.
§§ 30104-06, for negligence (Count I), and under
general maritime law for unseaworthiness (Count II) and for
maintenance and cure (Count III).
motion, C.J. Mahon argues that the accident actually occurred
within Kentucky's jurisdictional waters on the Ohio
River, and based on the Court's review of a Google map
(which is, of course, not an authoritative source), it
appears the entire Ohio River in the immediate vicinity of
the Smithland Lock and Dam is within Kentucky's
C.J. Mahon argues that this suit has no connection with
Illinois and should therefore be moved to the Western
District of Kentucky for the convenience of the parties. It
notes that Copley lives in West Virginia, the incident
occurred in Kentucky, and the eyewitnesses to the event are
in Kentucky (or at least not in Illinois).
argues in response that the Smithland locks are on the
Illinois side of the Ohio River and that, contrary to C.J.
Mahon's assertions, the incident occurred in Illinois. He
notes that the United States Army Corps of Engineers oversees
the locks from its office in Brookport, Illinois. He asserts
there was only one eyewitness to the accident, which suggests
the location of the sole eyewitness is of reduced importance
when measured against the other witnesses in the case, who
are likely to be from Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and West
Virginia. He urges the Court to respect his choice of the
Southern District of Illinois as the forum for this case, and
argues that C.J. Mahon has not shown the Western District of
Kentucky would be clearly more convenient. He notes that
Benton, Illinois, the location of the Southern District of
Illinois courthouse in which this case would be tried, is not
far from Paducah, Kentucky, where the case presumably would
be tried in the Western District of Kentucky, and that Benton
is closer to Evansville, Indiana, where his treating surgeon
lives and from which he would have to travel to testify.
preliminary matter, the Court notes that venue is proper in
this district regardless of the state in which the accident
occurred. C.J. Mahon does not contest that it resides in
Illinois under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(c)(2) because it is
subject to personal jurisdiction here, and that, as a
consequence, this action may be brought against it here, 28
U.S.C. § 1391(b)(1). Instead, it seeks a change of venue for
convenience under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Under §
1404(a), a district court may transfer a civil action to any
other district where the action might have been brought
originally “[f]or the convenience of parties and
witnesses, in the interest of justice.” 28 U.S.C.
§ 1404(a). The decision to transfer a case is left to
the discretion of the district court. Stewart Org., Inc.
v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988); Van Dusen v.
Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 622 (1964); Cote v.
Wadel, 796 F.2d 981, 985 (7th Cir. 1986); see
Norwood v. Kirkpatrick, 349 U.S. 29, 32 (1955).
deciding a § 1404(a) motion to transfer, the Court
should consider a number of case-specific factors such as the
convenience of the potential transferee forum to the parties
and witnesses and the interests of justice in general.
Stewart, 487 U.S. at 29-30; see Coffey v. Van
Dorn Iron Works, 796 F.2d 217, 219 (7th Cir. 1986)
(citing Van Dusen , 376 U.S. at 622). The movant has
the burden of establishing that the transfer is
“clearly more convenient.” Coffey, 796
F.2d at 219-20. The Court should give substantial weight in
favor of the forum in which the plaintiff chose to file the
complaint and should rarely transfer a case from the
plaintiff's selected forum. In re Nat'l Presto
Indus., Inc., 347 F.3d 662, 663-64 (7th Cir. 2003);
Heller Fin., Inc. v. Midwhey Powder Co., Inc., 883
F.2d 1286, 1294 (7th Cir. 1989).
the circumstances indicate that a transfer would be clearly
more convenient to the parties and witnesses, a court may
still refuse to transfer the case if it is not in the
interest of justice. Coffey, 796 F.2d at 220;
Van Dusen, 376 U.S. at 625. “Factors
traditionally considered in an ‘interest of
justice' analysis relate to the efficient administration
of the court system.” Coffey, 796 F.2d at 221.
One of these factors is where the litigants are more likely
to receive a speedy trial. Id.
Mahon has not carried its burden of showing that hearing this
case in the Western District of Kentucky is clearly more
convenient than hearing this case in the Southern District of
Illinois - even if the accident occurred in Kentucky - or
that the interests of justice favor such a transfer. It
argues that the accident occurred in Kentucky but does not
dispute that it is amenable to suit in Illinois. It also
states its belief that unnamed eyewitnesses are in Kentucky,
but it is likely that even if they are in Kentucky, they are
not far from Illinois since they presumably work at or are
connected with the Smithland Lock and Dam, on the
Illinois-Kentucky border. It notes that Copley is from West
Virginia but does not argue that Kentucky is more
convenient to him than Illinois, which is his chosen forum.
The Court gives substantial weight to that choice of forum.
Furthermore, Copley notes that one of his doctors who may
testify as a live witness at trial is closer to the Benton
courthouse in the Southern District of Illinois than he is to
the Paducah, Kentucky, courthouse in the Western District of
Kentucky. Other witnesses are from neither Illinois nor
Kentucky, and C.J. Mahon has not shown that Kentucky is
clearly more convenient than Illinois for those witnesses.
And finally, C.J. Mahon does not address the interests of
Court finds C.J. Mahon has not shown that it is clearly more
convenient to hear this case in Kentucky or that the
interests of justice favor a trial in Kentucky. Therefore,
the Court DENIES the motion to transfer venue (Doc. 12). The
Court further GRANTS Copley's motion to amend his
complaint to omit references to a jury (Doc. 18) and ORDERS
that Copley shall have seven days from the date of this order
to electronically file his amended complaint.