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Morgan v. Healthcare Cost Containment United Association, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 25, 2015

LYNN MORGAN, Plaintiff,
v.
HEALTHCARE COST CONTAINMENT UNITED ASSOCIATION, INC., ICAN BENEFIT GROUP LLC; and DOES 1 through 50, inclusive, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

MORRISON C. ENGLAND, Jr., Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff Lynn Morgan ("Plaintiff") brought this action against Defendants Healthcare Cost Containment United Association, Inc. ("HCCUA") and ICAN Benefit Group LLC (collectively "Defendants") seeking damages for wrongful termination and non-payment of wages. Currently before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Transfer Venue to the Southern District of Florida pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). ECF No. 13. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion is DENIED.[1]

BACKGROUND

In June 2008, HCCUA hired Plaintiff to serve as its President and work out of its office in Miami, Florida. Pl.'s Compl., ECF No. 1-1, ¶¶ 1, 2, 6. Plaintiff alleges that throughout her employment with Defendants, she noticed and raised objections to a number of unethical business practices. Id . ¶¶ 2-18. Nonetheless, she continued to work in Florida from June 2008 until she moved to California in December 2011. Id . ¶ 1. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants welcomed her move and "wished her well." Pl.'s Opp'n, ECF No. 14, at 2. Defendants dispute this well-wishing and contend that it was made clear to Plaintiff that she was putting her job in jeopardy by moving to California. Glassberg Decl., ECF No. 19-1, ¶ 4.

On August 31, 2012, less than one year after moving to California, Plaintiff's employment was terminated by HCCUA. Compl. ¶ 18. Defendants subsequently sued Plaintiff in Florida state court; that matter is still proceeding. In August 2014, Plaintiff brought suit in California state court with claims for wrongful termination, nonpayment of wages, failure to pay all wages due upon discharge, unfair competition, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Compl. ¶¶ 24-29, 31-35, 37-41, 43-51, 53-58, 60-65. Defendants later removed the case to the Eastern District of California. See ECF No. 1.

Defendants now seek to transfer this case to the Southern District of Florida. Defendants argue that hearing the case in Florida would be more convenient for non-party witnesses, that a portion of the events took place in Florida, and that documents relevant to this case are stored in Florida. Def.'s Mot., ECF No. 13-1.

STANDARD

"For 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). The purpose of Section 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) (internal quotation marks omitted). On a motion to transfer venue, the moving party must make "a strong showing of inconvenience to warrant upsetting the plaintiff's choice of forum." Hope v. Otis Elevator Co., 389 F.Supp.2d 1235, 1243 (E.D. Cal. 2005) (quoting Decker Coal Co. v. Commonwealth Edison Co., 805 F.2d 834, 843 (9th Cir. 1986)). The Court has discretion in deciding whether such transfer is warranted based on an "individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness." Van Dusen, 376 U.S. at 622.

Once the court determines that a case could have been brought before the proposed transferee court, it must consider a number of private and public factors relating to the interests of the parties and the judiciary. For example, the court may consider: (1) the convenience of the parties and witnesses, (2) the interests of justice, (3) the plaintiff's choice of forum, (4) the parties' contacts with the forum, (5) the relationship of the plaintiff's cause of action to the forum, (6) the difference in litigation costs between the two fora, (7) the availability of compulsory process to compel attendance of unwilling non-party witnesses, and (8) the ease of access to evidence. See 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a); Jones v. GNC Franchising, Inc., 211 F.3d 495, 498-99 (9th Cir. 2000).

ANALYSIS

This action could have been brought in the Southern District of Florida. A venue is considered proper if all of the defendants reside in the district or the action at issue took place there. 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b). Here, all Defendants reside in Florida and some of the circumstances that led to Plaintiff's Complaint occurred in Florida. Specifically, Plaintiff was hired and worked for a number of years in Florida, and even after moving to California, she communicated and worked with Defendants in Florida. Thus, this case could have been brought before the Southern District of Florida. Accordingly, the Court will now address the aforementioned private and public factors.

A. The Convenience of Parties and Witnesses

Courts can assess the nature of hardship associated with a particular forum on parties and witnesses involved in litigating a cause of action. See Jones, 211 F.3d at 498-99. This factor is considered one of the most important when weighing a motion to transfer venue. See, e.g., Denver & Rio Grande W. Ry. Co. v. Bhd. of R.R. Trainmen, 387 U.S. 556, 560 (1967) ("[V]enue is primarily a matter of convenience of litigants and witnesses."). Here, Defendants reside in Florida and conduct the entirety of their business there. Plaintiff, on the other hand, lives in California and is of more limited income, especially since her termination. Defendants, institutional organizations, appear to be in the better position to travel to California to litigate this matter if necessary.

Yet the Court finds that the convenience of non-party witnesses leans toward transferring the matter to Florida. Plaintiff names only two witnesses that live in California-her husband and her acupuncturist; both are expected to testify about Plaintiff's emotional distress. Defendant and Plaintiff intend to call a large number of employees and affiliates of Defendants. All of these individuals live in Florida. The number of ...


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