The opinion of the court was delivered by: United States District Judge Jeffrey T. Miller
ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO PLAINTIFFS' CLAIMS SEVER ILLINOIS PLAINTIFFS AND TRANSFER VENUE OF ILLINOIS
In April 2011, Plaintiff Raymond Tschudy filed a class action complaint in San Diego Superior Court claiming that Defendant J.C. Penney Corporation, Inc. ("JCP") violated several California laws by failing to fully compensate employees for unused paid vacation time. The action was removed to this court shortly thereafter. On February 8, 2012, the court granted Plaintiffs' motion to file a second amended complaint, which also contains claims against JCP by several Plaintiffs residing in Illinois. JCP now moves to transfer the Illinois Plaintiffs' claims from this court to the Northern District of Illinois. For the reasons stated below, the motion is GRANTED.
II. LEGAL STANDARD AND DISCUSSION
A. Standard for Venue Transfer
Venue transfer is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), which states that an action can be transferred to another district "[f]or the convenience of the parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice" if the case could have originally been brought in the transferee court. Here, there is no dispute that the Illinois Plaintiffs' claims could have been brought in the Northern District of Illinois, so the court need only examine whether transfer would serve the interest of justice and be more convenient for the parties and witnesses. District courts may look to a host of factors in deciding whether to transfer venue, including (but not limited to) (1) which state is more familiar with the governing law, (2) the respective parties' contacts with the forum, (3) plaintiff's choice of forum, (4) ease of access to witnesses and other evidence, and (5) differences in litigation costs. Jones v. GNC Franchising, Inc., 211 F.3d 495, 498-99 (9th Cir. 2000). The Ninth Circuit has also enumerated several public interest factors appropriate for consideration, including (1) court congestion, (2) the local interest in trying localized controversies at home, (3) avoidance of unnecessary conflict of laws problems, and (4) unfairness of burdening citizens in an unrelated forum with jury duty. Decker Coal Co. v. Commonwealth Edison Co., 805 F.2d 834, 843 (9th Cir. 1986).
In general, "[t]he defendant must make a strong showing of inconvenience to warrant upsetting the plaintiff's choice of forum." Decker Coal, 805 F.2d at 843. However, "[t]he degree to which courts defer to the plaintiff's chosen venue is substantially reduced where the plaintiff's venue choice is not its residence or where the forum chosen lacks a significant connection to the activities alleged in the complaint." Center for Biological Diversity v. Lubchenco, 2009 WL 4545169 at *4 (N.D. Cal. 2009) (unreported decision). See also Pacific Car & Foundry Co. v. Pence, 403 F.2d 949, 954 (9th Cir. 1968) ("If the operative facts have not occurred within the forum of original selection and that forum has no particular interest in the parties or the subject matter, the plaintiff's choice is entitled to only minimal consideration.").
B. Important Factors in this Case
Though both Plaintiffs and Defendant have factors weighing in their favor, on balance the court finds that transfer to the Northern District of Illinois will better serve convenience and the interest of justice.
1. Plaintiffs' Choice of Forum
The parties agree that because Plaintiffs seek to represent a class in this litigation, their choice of forum is given less weight than it would be given in a typical case. Lou v. Belzberg, 834 F.2d 730, 739 (9th Cir. 1987) (explaining that while "great weight is generally accorded plaintiff's choice of forum," less weight is accorded to that choice if they represent a class); Rafton v. Rydex Series Funds, 2010 WL 2629579 at *2 (N.D. Cal. 2010). Further, as explained above, Plaintiffs' choice of forum is given less deference because this district has no connection to the parties or events that occurred in Illinois. See Pacific Car & Foundry Co., 403 F.2d at 954. Plaintiffs point out that they have not filed the case in this district in order to gain a procedural advantage, but only because the California Plaintiffs' claims are also pending here. While that may be true, the nature of Plaintiffs' motive does not alter the fact that the Illinois Plaintiffs have little or no connection to California, and thus does not persuade the court to accord Plaintiffs' choice of forum more weight. In sum, while the Plaintiffs' choice of forum will be considered in the court's calculus, it will not be granted significant deference.
2. Familiarity with Governing Law
JCP's motion urges the court to transfer the case because an Illinois court would be better equipped to decide claims under Illinois law. Plaintiffs' opposition argues that because California and Illinois laws are almost identical on the subject at hand, this factor does not weigh in favor of trying the case in Illinois. The parties devote a significant portion of their briefs to discussing case law and pointing out the similarities and distinctions that exist between the states' case law authority.
First, the court notes that performing the inquiry requested by Plaintiffs may be somewhat imprudent: in order to determine whether the laws are indeed identical in all situations that could arise in this litigation, the court would be required to look deeply into Illinois case law. If the court were to master Illinois law sufficiently to decide at this point whether Illinois law and California law are identical, it would ...