United States District Court, C.D. California
August 12, 2014
CALTEX PLASTICS, INC., a California corporation, Plaintiff,
GREAT PACIFIC PACKAGING, INC., a California corporation; AMAZING PACKAGING SUPPLIES, INC., a California corporation; and DOES 1-10, inclusive; Defendants.
ORDER RE: DEFENDANT GREAT PACIFIC PACKAGING, INC.'S MOTION TO TRANSFER VENUE 
RONALD S.W. LEW, District Judge.
Currently before the Court is Defendant Great Pacific Packaging, Inc.'s ("Great Pacific") Motion to Transfer Venue filed June 20, 2014 . Plaintiff Caltex Plastics, Inc. ("Plaintiff") filed its Opposition on July 8, 2014  and Defendant Great Pacific filed its Reply on July 15, 2014 . This matter was taken under submission on July 24, 2014 . Having reviewed all papers and arguments submitted pertaining to this Motion, the Court NOW FINDS AND RULES AS FOLLOWS:
The Court hereby DENIES Defendant Great Pacific's Motion.
Plaintiff is a California corporation with its principal place of business in Vernon, California. Compl. ¶ 3. Defendant Great Pacific is a corporation that manufactures products in California with headquarters in San Jose, California. Id. at ¶ 4. Defendant Amazing Packaging is also a California corporation with headquarters in San Jose, California. Id. at ¶ 5. Defendant Amazing Packaging Supplies, Inc. ("Amazing Packaging") distributes, sells, ships, and advertises product packaging materials. Id.
Plaintiff manufactures industrial and commercial packaging, including military packaging material for electronic devices. Id. at ¶ 12. Plaintiff's products have been granted permission by the Department of Defense ("DOD") to be advertised as meeting the MIL-PRF-81705 Type III ("81705 Spec") military specifications for heat-sealable, electrostatic discharge protective, flexible barrier materials. Id. at ¶¶ 13-15. At the commencement of the Action, Plaintiff was the only manufacturer of static shielding bags that met the special 81705 Spec designation. Id. at ¶ 17.
Plaintiff alleges that Defendants have misrepresented their products to meet the 81705 Spec in their advertisements when their products have not been certified as such. Id. at ¶¶ 18-20. Although Plaintiff has demanded that Defendants stop selling their falsely-advertised line of products, Defendants have continued with their sales. Id. at ¶ 21. As a result of the sales, Plaintiff alleges that customers have been deceived and that Plaintiff has been economically injured. Id. at ¶¶ 22-23.
Plaintiff brings the instant Action, asserting claims for unfair competition under California law and false advertising under California and federal law against Defendants. Id. at ¶¶ 1-2, 24-45.
Plaintiff filed its Complaint against Defendants on April 11, 2014 . Defendants filed an Answer on June 20, 2014 .
II. LEGAL STANDARD
B. Motion to Transfer Venue Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a)
Under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), "[f]or 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).
Before a court may transfer venue under 28 U.S.C. § 1404, it must find that: (i) the action is one that might have been brought in the transferee court and (ii) the convenience of the parties and the interest of justice favor the transfer. Colt Studio, Inc. v. Badpuppy Enter. , 75 F.Supp.2d 1104, 1112 (C.D. Cal. 1999) (citing Hatch v. Reliance Ins. Co. , 758 F.2d 409, 414 (9th Cir. 1985)). Transfer under § 1404(a) is discretionary. A.J. Indus. v. U.S. Dist. Court for Cent. Dist. Of Cal. , 503 F.2d 384, 389 (9th Cir. 1974). The purpose of § 1404(a) is to "prevent the waste of time, energy and money and to protect litigants, witnesses and the public against unnecessary inconvenience and expense." Van Dusen v. Barrack , 376 U.S. 612, 616 (1964) (quoting Cont'l Grain Co. v. Barge FBL-585 , 364 U.S. 19, 26-27 (1960)).
An action is one that might have been brought in the transferee court when (i) the transferee court would have had subject matter jurisdiction at the time the action was filed; (ii) defendants would have been subject to personal jurisdiction; and (iii) venue would have been proper. E. & J. Gallo Winery v. F. & P. S.p.A. , 899 F.Supp. 465, 466 (E.D. Cal. 1994) (citing Hoffman v. Blaski , 363 U.S. 335, 343-44 (1960)).
In determining whether the convenience of the parties and the interest of justice favor transfer, the court should consider certain factors, including:
(1) the location where the relevant agreements were negotiated and executed, (2) the state that is most familiar with the governing law, (3) the plaintiff's choice of forum, (4) the respective parties' contacts with the forum, (5) the contacts relating to the plaintiff's cause of action in the chosen forum, (6) the differences in the costs of litigation in the two forums, (7) the availability of compulsory process to compel attendance of unwilling non-party witnesses, and (8) the ease of access to sources of proof.
Jones v. GNC Franchising, Inc. , 211 F.3d 485, 498-99 (9th Cir. 2000); see also Sec. Investor Prot. Corp. v. Vigman , 764 F.2d 1309, 1317 (9th Cir. 1985).
The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the balance of these factors favors the transfer. Commodity Futures Trading Comm'n v. Savage , 611 F.2d 270, 279 (9th Cir. 1986); Pfeiffer v. Himax Techs., Inc. , 530 F.Supp.2d 1121, 1123 (C.D. Cal. 2008); Florens Container v. Cho Yang Shipping , 245 F.Supp.2d 1086, 1089 (N.D. Cal. 2002). A transfer of venue is not appropriate unless the factors enumerated strongly favor venue elsewhere. Pac. Car & Foundry v. Pence , 403 F.2d 949, 953 (9th Cir. 1968). "The defendant must make a strong showing of inconvenience to warrant upsetting the plaintiff's choice of forum." Decker Coal v. Commonwealth Edison , 805 F.2d 834, 843 (9th Cir. 1986).
Defendant Great Pacific seeks to transfer the instant Action from the Central District of California ("CDCA") to the Northern District of California ("NDCA").
District courts have the discretion to grant a motion to transfer under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) when the transferee forum is a forum where a case might have been brought originally and when the interest of justice favors a transfer of venue. Colt Studio , 75 F.Supp.2d at 1112 (citing Hatch , 758 F.2d at 414). To determine whether a transfer is in the best interests of justice, courts undergo an "individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness." Id . "Unless the balance of convenience is strongly in favor of the defendant, plaintiff's choice of forum should not, or should rarely, be disturbed." Id . (citing Continental Oil Co. v. Atwood & Morrill Co. , 265 F.Supp. 692 (D. Mont. 1967)).
A. Whether the Action Could Have Been Brought in the NDCA
A district is one where an action might have been brought if, at the time of the action's commencement, the transferee court would have had subject-matter jurisdiction, the defendants would have been subject to personal jurisdiction there, and venue would have been proper. E. & J. Gallo Winery , 899 F.Supp. at 466.
At the time of the Action's commencement, the NDCA would have had subject-matter jurisdiction over this Action because Plaintiff brings federal Lanham Act claims. Compl. ¶¶ 24-31; 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1338; 15 U.S.C. § 1121. Additionally, because Defendants' headquarters are located in the NDCA, Defendants would have been subject to personal jurisdiction in the NDCA and venue would have been proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b). Id. at ¶¶ 4-5. Section 1391(b)(1) states that venue is proper in "a judicial district in which any defendant resides, if all defendants are residents of the State in which the district is located." Accordingly, the Court finds that the Action could have originally been brought in the NDCA.
B. Whether Convenience and Fairness Warrant a Transfer to the NDCA in this Case
1. Convenience of Parties
Defendant Great Pacific argues that transfer is warranted because its counsel and Defendants' principal places of business are located in the NDCA. Mot. 4:15-16; Brock R. Lyle Decl. ¶¶ 2-3.
The convenience of counsel is irrelevant to determining the convenience of the parties. Costco Wholesale Corp. v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. , 472 F.Supp.2d 1183, 1195-96 (S.D. Cal. 2007). Still, the Court finds that the location of Defendants' headquarters, employees, and relevant business activities in the NDCA weighs slightly in favor of transfer. Adachi v. Carlyle/Galaxy San Pedro, L.P. , 595 F.Supp.2d 1147, 1151-52 (S.D. Cal. 2009) (transferring venue where all named defendants resided in the transferee district, party witnesses could more conveniently appear in the transferee district, and the location of events giving rise to the claim occurred in the transferee district).
Courts also weigh the relative sizes of parties' businesses in determining the balance of inconveniences. Allstar Mktg. Grp., LLC v. Your Store Online, LLC , 666 F.Supp.2d 1109, 1131-32 (C.D. Cal. 2009). In Allstar, the Court found that transfer was appropriate in part because the plaintiffs were large corporations and the defendants were small businesses whose operations would be disrupted if they were forced to send their two employees to litigate outside of their home forum. Id.
Defendant Great Pacific states that Defendants are "small businesses" that would be "seriously inconvenienced" by litigating in the CDCA. Reply 6:13-4. However, Defendant Great Pacific does not provide any evidence other than this conclusory statement that it and Defendant Amazing Packaging are smaller businesses than Plaintiff. Defendant Great Pacific also fails to show that litigating in the NDCA would be so inconvenient as to disrupt its business activities.
Accordingly, as Defendant Great Pacific does not provide any evidence that Defendants would be seriously inconvenienced if required to litigate in the CDCA, the Court finds that the convenience of the Parties does not weigh toward transfer.
2. Convenience of Witnesses
"The convenience of witnesses is often the most important factor in deciding whether to transfer an action." Getz v. Boeing Co. , 547 F.Supp.2d 1080, 1083 (N.D. Cal. 2008) (quoting Bunker v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., No. C 05-04059 JSW, 2006 WL 193856, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 23, 2006)). "A party moving for transfer for the convenience of the witnesses must demonstrate, through affidavits or declarations containing admissible evidence, who the key witnesses will be and what their testimony will generally include." E. & J. Gallo Winery , 899 F.Supp. at 466. In weighing the balance of inconveniences for parties' witnesses, courts discount inconvenience to employee witnesses, as they can be compelled to testify by their employers. Getz , 547 F.Supp.2d at 1084.
Defendant Great Pacific states that its "key witnesses" are located in either San Jose or outside California. Reply 4:27-5:2; Lyle Decl. ¶ 3. Id . However, Defendant Great Pacific has failed to detail the specific identities and whereabouts of its witnesses, including whether its out-of-state witnesses are party or non-party witnesses. As the movant, Defendant Great Pacific must sufficiently identify its witnesses to justify transfer for the convenience of witnesses. Bohara v. Backus Hosp. Med. Benefit Plan , 390 F.Supp.2d 957, 963 (C.D. Cal. 2005). Defendant Great Pacific has clearly failed to do so here.
Plaintiff similarly fails to sufficiently identify its witnesses, however. Because neither party has made any showing of inconvenience to non-party witnesses, the Court finds that it lacks information to assess this factor. Getz , 547 F.Supp.2d at 1084 (finding that the convenience of witnesses did not weigh in favor of either party where neither party had identified any non-party witnesses residing in either the transferor or transferee district). Thus, the Court finds that this factor is neutral.
3. Other Convenience Factors
"As a general matter, a plaintiff's choice of forum should be awarded deference." Barnes & Noble, Inc. v. LSI Corp. , 823 F.Supp.2d 980, 993-94 (N.D. Cal. 2011). A "defendant must make a strong showing of inconvenience to warrant upsetting the plaintiff's choice of forum." Decker Coal , 805 F.2d at 843 (citing Mizokami Bros. of Ariz. v. Mobay Chem. Corp. , 660 F.2d 712, 718 (8th Cir. 1981)). Here, Plaintiffs have chosen to sue in their home forum. As such, their choice of forum is afforded substantial weight and weighs against transfer. See In re Ferrero Litig. , 768 F.Supp.2d 1074, 1078 (S.D. Cal. 2011) (citing Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno , 454 U.S. 235, 256 (1981)).
In assessing the relative ease of access to evidence, courts examine the location of records and documents. DeFazio v. Hollister Emp. Share Ownership Trust , 406 F.Supp.2d 1085, 1091 (E.D. Cal. 2005) (citing Jones , 211 F.3d at 499). The moving party must "show the location and importance of the documents in question." Id . While advances in technology have lessened the burden of transporting documents, courts may transfer an action if transporting evidence would cause undue hardship. Id .; see Park v. Dole Fresh Vegetables, Inc. , 964 F.Supp.2d 1088, 1095 (N.D. Cal. 2013). Here, Defendant Great Pacific alleges that "[a]ll of the documentary evidence in this matter is housed and maintained at Defendant's headquarters in San Jose, in the NDCA." Mot. 5:21-25. However, Defendant Great Pacific does not identify the important documents in question or specify their whereabouts, and Defendant Great Pacific does not state whether transporting the documents would be unduly burdensome. Thus, the Court finds that this factor is neutral.
To determine whether local interest favors a particular forum, courts must look to the "primary focus" of an action. Hawkins v. Gerber Prods. Co., 924 F.Supp.2d 1208, 1216 (S.D. Cal. 2013). In a false advertising cases, the "primary focus... is the development and marketing of... goods, and decisions about how such goods were to be advertised to consumers." Id .; see also Vu v. Ortho-McNeil Pharm, Inc. v. LSI Corp., 602 F.Supp.2d 1151, 1157 (N.D. Cal. 2009); Williams v. Bowman , 157 F.Supp.2d 1103, 1109-10 (N.D. Cal. 2001). Considering the allegations in Plaintiff's false advertising and unfair competition claims, the Court finds that the primary focus of the Action is on allegations of conduct that would have occurred in the NDCA. Compl. ¶¶ 18-19. As such, the Court finds that this factor weighs slightly in favor of transfer.
The Court finds that the NDCA and CDCA are equally familiar with the applicable law, as all district courts are "equally capable of applying federal law." Allstar, 666 F.Supp. at 1133; Costco Wholesale , 472 F.Supp.2d 1183; see also Cargill Inc. v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am. , 920 F.Supp. 144, 148 (D. Colo. 1996). District courts within the same state are also equally capable of applying state law. Getz , 547 F.Supp.2d at 1085. Here, because both the NDCA and the CDCA are federal district courts in California, they are equally familiar with the federal and California laws involved. Thus, this Court finds that this factor is neutral.
Additionally, the Court finds that, upon consideration of all convenience factors, the relative court congestion does not weigh in favor of either party. Costco Wholesale , 472 F.Supp.2d at 1196 ("Court[s] should not transfer a case on the basis of docket congestion after determining the balance of the other factors weighs against transfer.").
Finally, the Parties do not dispute that the only related case has been settled. Opp'n 10:6-7. Accordingly, the Court finds that the feasibility of consolidation weighs is neutral.
On balance, although Defendant Great Pacific has shown that some activities and information related to the Action occurred in the NDCA, it has failed to demonstrate through facts and admissible evidence that the balance of inconveniences weighs strongly in favor of transfer. Cochran v. NYP Holdings, Inc. , 58 F.Supp.2d 1113, 1119 (C.D. Cal. 1998). Thus, because Defendant Great Pacific has not met its "heavy burden, " the Court DENIES Defendant's Motion to Transfer Venue . Id.
IT IS SO ORDERED.