United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO TRANSFER; DENYING AS MOOT MOTION TO DISMISS Re: Dkt. Nos. 20, 21
WILLIAM H. ORRICK, District Judge.
Plaintiffs Yesenia Ruiz and Fernando Dorantes allege that they purchased dairy products produced by defendants Darigold, Inc. and the Northwest Dairy Association in reliance on a Corporate Social Responsibility Report issued by the defendants in 2010. They contend that, contrary to the Corporate Social Responsibility Report, the defendants' cows are in fact mistreated, the milk produced is from sick cows, and the defendants' dairy workers are exploited. They assert claims under California, Oregon, and Washington consumer protection laws and for common law fraud.
The defendants have filed motions to transfer this matter to the Western District of Washington and to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. Because the great majority of witnesses, parties and evidence are in the Western District of Washington, and there is very little connection to this District, the motion to transfer is GRANTED. The motion to dismiss is DENIED AS MOOT because this matter is transferred.
Defendant Darigold, Inc. is a dairy agricultural marketing corporation. Compl. ¶ 14. Darigold is a wholly owned subsidiary of defendant Northwest Dairy Association. Both Darigold and The Northwest Dairy Association are headquartered in Seattle. Id.; Campbell Decl. ¶ 5. The Northwest Dairy Association is owned by its member dairy farms, which are independently owned and operated. Compl. ¶ 14; Campbell Decl. ¶ 3. The Northwest Dairy Association currently has over 480 member farms: over 310 are in Washington, approximately 70 are in Idaho and Oregon, each, 27 are in Utah, one is in Montana, and three are in California. Campbell Decl. ¶¶ 6, 9. The members of the Northwest Dairy Association deliver their raw milk to the Northwest Dairy Association. Most of the Northwest Dairy Association's milk is processed by its wholly-owned subsidiary, Darigold. Campbell Decl. ¶ 4. Darigold operates 12 processing facilities: six are in Washington, three in Idaho, two in Oregon, and one in Montana. Campbell Decl. ¶ 7. None is in California.
In 2010, Darigold published a Corporate Social Responsibility Report, available on its website. Compl. ¶ 2. According to plaintiffs, the Corporate Social Responsibility Report represented that the defendants sell "milk and milk products that have been produced in an environment that is safe for animals, healthy for consumers, and respectful of workers' rights." Compl. ¶ 3. The plaintiffs contend that they purchased the defendants' milk relying on the representations in the Corporate Social Responsibility Report that the defendants' "member dairies treated their workers and cows well." Compl. ¶¶ 10-11. The plaintiffs allege that, contrary to the representations in the Corporate Social Responsibility Report, some of the defendants' milk is "produced under conditions where dairy cows are injured and sick, where despite suffering from bloody and swollen udders, cows are still milked, and where workers are denied the most basic labor protections, such as drinkable water, lunch rooms, meal and rest periods, and an environment free of discrimination." Compl. ¶ 2.
The plaintiffs have sued the defendants for violating California, Oregon, and Washington consumer protection laws and for common law fraud. The plaintiffs seek to represent a class of "[a]ll persons who purchased Darigold products in California, Oregon or Washington at any time after Darigold published its [Corporate Social Responsibility Report] in 2010." Compl. ¶ 33.
The defendants have moved to transfer this matter to the Western District of Washington under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), on grounds that venue in the Western District of Washington will better serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses, and interests of justice. Dkt. No. 20. The defendants have also moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. Dkt. No. 21.
Even where venue is proper, "[f]or the convenience of 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). A motion for transfer lies within the broad discretion of the district court, and must be determined on an individualized basis. Jones v. GNC Franchising, Inc., 211 F.3d 495, 498 (9th Cir. 2000). Courts in this district evaluate the following factors to determine which venue is more convenient: (1) plaintiff's choice of forum, (2) convenience of the parties, (3) convenience of the witnesses, (4) ease of access to the evidence, (5) familiarity of each forum with the applicable law, (6) feasibility of consolidation with other claims, (7) any local interest in the controversy, and (8) the relative court congestion and time of trial in each forum. See, e.g., Kysone v. Regis Corp., 14-cv-1410 WHO, 2014 WL 2959483, *2 (N.D. Cal. June 30, 2014) (citing Williams v. Bowman, 157 F.Supp.2d 1103, 1106 (N.D. Cal. 2001)). "The convenience of non-party witnesses is often the most important factor in a transfer analysis." Cedillo v. Transcor Am., LLC, 2013 WL 4565826, *5 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 27, 2013)
As discussed below, the convenience of the witnesses, ease of access to evidence, and local interest in the controversy all weigh heavily in favor of transfer. Convenience of the parties also weighs in favor of transfer, though less heavily. In contrast, only plaintiffs' choice of forum and relative court congestion weigh in favor of denying transfer, ...