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Teich v. U.S. Foods, Inc.

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

January 22, 2018

JOSEPH TEICH, Plaintiff,
v.
US FOODS, INC., Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          SARA L. ELLIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Joseph Teich, working and living in Florida, suffered a series of events that caused him depression and anger problems, and, one day, he lost his temper while working. His employer, Defendant U.S. Foods, Inc. (“US Foods”), terminated him. Teich alleges that U.S. Foods violated his rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., because U.S. Foods never offered him FMLA leave even though it knew he was suffering from a serious medical condition. U.S. Foods moves to transfer the case to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) or, in the alternative, to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim. Although Teich signed nondisclosure and noncompete agreements with U.S. Foods that fixed venue for claims arising from those agreements in Chicago, Illinois, Teich's claim does not arise from those agreements so the agreements' forum selection clauses are inoperative here. And although U.S. Foods is headquartered in this District, the convenience of the parties and the interests of justice favor transfer; the Court thus grants U.S. Foods' motion to transfer and transfers Teich's suit to the Middle District of Florida. Accordingly, the Court leaves the issue of U.S. Foods' motion to dismiss to that court's determination.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         For nearly twenty years, Teich worked for U.S. Foods, headquartered in Rosemont, Illinois. He was a senior territory manager in Port Orange, Florida. In 2015 Teich lost his father and began treatment for emotional stress. Then in 2016, his commissions decreased in a new pay system. In November 2016, he informed his district manager that he was suffering from mental health issues. While undergoing mental health treatment, in January 2017, Teich informed his regional manager that he was angry about the new pay structure and seeking treatment in anger management. In April 2017, while making a bank deposit for U.S. Foods, Teich “lost his cool.” Doc. 1 ¶ 31. In May 2017, Teich met with the vice president of sales and human resource manager to discuss his behavior, and during the meeting he informed them he was participating in mental health treatment. Two weeks later, the vice president of sales and the district manager terminated Teich because corporate had learned of the incident where he lost his temper.

         Teich's former supervisors and managers work in Florida. Two U.S. Foods employees involved in the decision to terminate Teich work in Port Orange and one, the regional human resources business partner, works in Charlotte, North Carolina.

         During his tenure at U.S. Foods, Teich signed Non-Solicitation and Non-Disclosure Agreements (“NDAs”). The NDAs restrict Teich's ability to disclose U.S. Foods' confidential information and prevent him from soliciting customers and employees. In his NDAs for 2011 through 2016, the NDAs stated: “The exclusive venue for any litigation between [Teich] and [US Foods] based upon any fact, matter or claim arising out of or relating to this Agreement shall be the state or federal courts located in Chicago, Illinois[.]” Doc. 22-4 ¶ 19; Doc. 22-5 ¶ 19; Doc. 22-6 ¶ 19; Doc. 22-7 ¶ 19; Doc. 22-8 ¶ 19; Doc. 22-9 ¶ 19.

         ANALYSIS

         I. Motion to Transfer

         Section 1404(a) states that the Court may transfer venue to another district “for the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice.” 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). To support transfer, U.S. Foods must demonstrate that “(1) venue is proper in this district; (2) venue is proper in the transferee district; (3) the transferee district is more convenient for both the parties and the witnesses; and (4) transfer would serve the interest of justice.” Gueorguiev v. Max Rave, LLC, 526 F.Supp.2d 853, 856 (N.D. Ill. 2007). U.S. Foods bears the burden of demonstrating that transfer is “clearly more convenient.” Heller Fin. Inc. v. Midwhey Powder Co., 883 F.2d 1286, 1293 (7th Cir. 1989) (quoting Coffey v. Van Dorn Iron Works, 796 F.2d 217, 219-20 (7th Cir. 1986)). The transfer decision is committed to the Court's sound discretion because the “weighing of factors for and against transfer necessarily involves a large degree of subtlety and latitude.” Coffey, 796 F.2d at 219.

         The parties do not dispute that venue is proper in this District, but Teich argues that the parties agreed that his suit only belongs here. The NDAs' forum selection clause states that “[t]he exclusive venue for any litigation between [Teich] and [US Foods] based upon any fact, matter or claim arising out of or relating to this Agreement, including any contractual, statutory, tort, or common law claims, shall be the state or federal courts located in Chicago, Illinois[.]” E.g., Doc. 22-9 ¶ 19. The governing law of the NDAs is the law “of the state in which [Teich] resided at the time” he executed the NDAs. Id. That state appears to be Florida. Under Florida law, “the phrase ‘arising out of' is not ambiguous and has a broad meaning, ” meaning “‘originating from, ' ‘having its origin in, ' ‘growing out of, ' ‘flowing from, ' ‘incident to' or ‘having a connection with.'” Zucker for BankUnited Fin. Corp. v. U.S. Specialty Ins. Co., 856 F.3d 1343, 1349 (11th Cir. 2017) (quoting Taurus Holdings, Inc. v. U.S. Fidelity & Guar. Co., 913 So.2d 528, 529 (Fla. 2005)). Teich's FMLA claims allege that U.S. Foods failed to inform him of his FMLA rights or to offer him FMLA leave. Despite the broad definition of “arising out of” under Florida law, Teich's allegations do not arise out of or relate to his agreements to keep U.S. Food information confidential and to not solicit employees or customers post-employment. Therefore, the Court finds that Teich and U.S. Foods did not agree to limit venue for his pending claim to this District.

         The next issue is whether venue is proper in the proposed transferee district, the Middle District of Florida. Venue is proper in (1) “a judicial district in which any defendant resides, if all defendants are residents of the State in which the district is located;” (2) “a judicial district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred, or a substantial part of property that is the subject of the action is situated;” or (3) “if there is no district in which an action may otherwise be brought as provided in this section, any judicial district in which any defendant is subject to the court's personal jurisdiction with respect to such action.” 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b). U.S. Foods argues that the events giving rise to Teich's claim occurred in the Middle District of Florida. Teich does not argue that they did not nor could he. Teich worked out of Port Orange, located in the Middle District of Florida. He says he was denied information or actual rights under the FMLA by U.S. Food supervisors and managers who worked in Port Orange and Jacksonville, also in the Middle District of Florida. And although directed from corporate headquarters, two employees in Port Orange and one in North Carolina made the decision to terminate Teich. The Court finds that because a substantial part of the events giving rise to Teich's claim occurred in the Middle District of Florida, venue is proper there.

         The Court next addresses the convenience of the parties and the witnesses. In evaluating the convenience of the parties and witnesses, the Court considers “(1) the plaintiff's choice of forum; (2) the situs of material events; (3) the relative ease of access to sources of proof; (4) the convenience of the witnesses; and (5) the convenience to the parties of litigating in the respective forums.” Brandon Apparel Grp., Inc. v. Quitman Mfg. Co., 42 F.Supp.2d 821, 833 (N.D. Ill. 1999).

         First, courts typically give a plaintiff's choice of forum substantial deference. Id. This deference is lessened “where the plaintiff's chosen forum is not the plaintiff's home forum or has relatively weak connections with the operative facts giving rise to the litigation.” Body Sci. LLC. v. Boston Sci. Corp., 846 F.Supp.2d 980, 992 (N.D. Ill. 2012). This District is not Teich's home forum, and, as discussed above, most of the operative facts giving rise to the litigation occurred in the Middle District of Florida. Teich argues that the decision to terminate him was made at U.S. Foods' headquarters in Rosemont. See Doc. 1 ¶ 42 (“From Rosemont, Illinois Defendant directed Plaintiff's termination.”). But Teich alleges that most wrongful acts occurred in Florida. The Court finds that the operative facts have a weak connection to this District and so, this factor is neutral.

         Second, with respect to the situs of material events, Teich's FLSA claim is based on U.S. Foods' failure to notify him of his rights under the FLSA and its failure to offer him leave. These events occurred in Florida, in or around Port Orange. Teich does allege that U.S. Foods directed his termination from U.S. Foods' headquarters in Illinois. But the crux of Teich's claim is that U.S. Foods failed to inform ...


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