United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
OPINION AND ORDER
L. ELLIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Motion to Transfer
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
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 ...