United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO TRANSFER
RE: DKT. NOS. 14, 20
HAYWOOD S. GILLIAM, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
December 2, 2016, Plaintiff Jeremy Lapachet filed his
complaint against the following defendants: (A) County of
Stanislaus (“County”) and Stanislaus County
Sheriff Adam Christianson (collectively, “County
Defendants”); (B) California Forensic Medical Group,
Inc. (“CFMG”); Taylor Fithian, M.D.; Lani
Antonio, P.A.; Veronica Berghorst, R.N.; Jessamae Trinidad,
R.N.; Grashika Devendra, Psychiatric R.N.; Tabitha King,
L.V.N.; Amardeep Tawana, L.V.N.; and Judith Alejandre, L.V.N.
(collectively, “CFMG Defendants”); and (C) other
unknown defendants (“DOES 1 through 50”). Dkt.
No. 1 (“Compl.”). Plaintiff asserted eight causes
of action under federal and state law, including three causes
of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Compl. ¶¶
73-131. He allegedly suffered grievous, life-altering
injuries and became quadriplegic as a result of
Defendants' acts and omissions between October 24, 2015,
when he was placed in a “sobering cell” while
incarcerated at the County jail, and October 26, 2015, when
he was transported to the emergency room at the nearby
Doctors Medical Center. Id. ¶¶ 25-52. For
example, CFMG's nursing staff allegedly did not
adequately monitor or care for Plaintiff despite his abnormal
vital signs, self-harming behavior (such as striking his own
head and face), and visible injuries (including bleeding from
the head and hands), while County correctional officers
allegedly attacked him and violently dragged him out of his
cell by his head and neck. Id.
County Defendants and the CFMG Defendants both filed motions
to transfer the case to the Eastern District of California
(“Eastern District”) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1404(a), which are now fully briefed. See Dkt. No.
14 (“County Mot.”); Dkt. No. 20 (“CFMG
Mot.”). The Court heard arguments on April 27, 2017.
The Court GRANTS Defendants' motions to
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). The purpose
of this statute 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). The moving party bears
the burden of showing that the transferee district is a
“more appropriate forum.” See Jones v. GNC
Franchising, Inc., 211 F.3d 495, 499 (9th Cir. 2000).
The district court has broad discretion in deciding whether
or not transfer. See Ventress v. Japan Airlines, 486
F.3d 1111, 1118 (9th Cir. 2007) (“[T]he district
court's decision to change venue is reviewed for abuse of
discretion. Weighing of the factors for and against transfer
involves subtle considerations and is best left to the
discretion of the trial judge.” (citation and internal
quotation marks omitted)).
courts engage in a two-step analysis for motions to transfer.
First, they determine “whether the transferee district
was one in which the action might have been brought by the
plaintiff.” Hoffman v. Blaski, 363 U.S. 335,
343-44 (1960) (internal quotation marks omitted). If so, the
courts engage in “an individualized, case-by-case
consideration of convenience and fairness.” Stewart
Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29, (1988)
(internal quotation marks omitted). In this District, courts
typically consider the following factors: (1) plaintiffs'
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 to trial in each forum. See,
e.g., Ironworks Patents LLC v. Samsung Elecs.
Co., No. 17-cv-01958-HSG, 2017 WL 3007066, at *2 (N.D.
Cal. July 14, 2017); Perez v. Performance Food Grp.,
Inc., No. 15-cv-02390-HSG, 2017 WL 66874, at *2 (N.D.
Cal. Jan. 6, 2017); Brown v. Abercrombie & Fitch
Co., No. 4:13-cv-05205 YGR, 2014 WL 715082, at *2 (N.D.
Cal. Feb. 14, 2014); Wilson v. Walgreen Co., No.
C-11-2930 EMC, 2011 WL 4345079, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 14,
2011); Vu v. Ortho-McNeil Pharm., Inc., 602
F.Supp.2d 1151, 1156 (N.D. Cal. 2009); Williams v.
Bowman, 157 F.Supp.2d 1103, 1106 (N.D. Cal. 2001);
Royal Queentex Enters. v. Sara Lee Corp., No.
C-99-4787 MJJ, 2000 WL 246599, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 1,
2000). “This list is non-exclusive, and
courts may consider other factors, or only those factors
which are pertinent to the case at hand.” Martin v.
Glob. Tel*Link Corp., No. 15-cv-00449-YGR, 2015 WL
2124379, at *2 (N.D. Cal. May 6, 2015).
Plaintiff does not dispute that this case could have been
brought in the Eastern District. See Dkt. No. 33
(“Opp. I”) at 10; Dkt. No. 34 (“Opp.
II”) at 10. The inquiry therefore focuses on the
convenience and fairness factors.
the factors typically considered in this District have little
import here. The convenience of the Defendants' employee
witnesses is entitled to little weight because they can be
compelled by their employers to testify regardless of venue.
See Martin, 2015 WL 2124379, at *4. As to the
remaining witnesses, the Court is persuaded that “the
nexus of the events occurred in the Eastern District”
such that “logically the majority of witnesses will be
located there.” See Atayde v. Napa State
Hosp., No. 16-cv-00038-TEH, 2016 WL 1089248, at *3 (N.D.
Cal. Mar. 21, 2016). Nevertheless, if this case is
transferred to the Eastern District, it will be assigned to
the federal courthouse in Fresno, California, which is not
substantially more or less convenient in relation to Modesto,
California, where the nexus of events occurred. See
E.D. Cal. Local Rule 120(d) (cases arising in Stanislaus
County assigned to Fresno courthouse); Dkt. No. 33-1, Exs. E-
F (reflecting similar driving times between courthouses and
correctional facility where Plaintiff was injured). Thus, the
convenience of the witnesses is also neutral. Moreover,
courts do not typically consider the convenience of parties,
like Plaintiff, who have chosen to bring a case in a forum
where they do not reside. See Perez, 2017 WL 66874,
at *3; Brown, 2014 WL 715082, at *4; Arreola v.
Finish Line, No. 14-cv-03339-LHK, 2014 WL 6982571, at *9
(N.D. Cal. Dec. 9, 2014). For the majority of Defendants, the
Oakland and Fresno courthouses are almost equivalently
convenient, and even for Dr. Fithian, who allegedly lives and
works in Monterey, California, the difference in travel times
is modest. See Compl. ¶ 8; Dkt. No. 33-1, Ex.
C-D. Therefore, the convenience of the parties is also
neutral. Furthermore, the ease of access to evidence is
neutral or carries minimal weight because documentary
evidence can be produced electronically. See Perez,
2017 WL 66874, at *4; Martin, 2015 WL 2124379, at
*5; Brown, 2014 WL 715082, at *5. And to
the extent that the County jail must be inspected, the
location is more or less equally convenient in relation to
the two courthouses in question. Finally, the familiarity of
each forum with the applicable law is neutral, and the
feasibility of consolidation is inapplicable.
the disposition of this motion turns on weighing
Plaintiff's choice of forum against the Eastern
District's local interest in the controversy. As to the
former, the plaintiff's choice of forum is usually given
“great weight.” Lou v. Belzberg, 834
F.2d 730, 739 (9th Cir. 1987). The Ninth Circuit has
In judging the weight to be accorded [the plaintiff's]
choice of forum, consideration must be given to the extent of
[the parties'] contacts with the forum, including those
relating to [the plaintiff's] cause of action.
Pacific Car & Foundry Co. v. Pence, 403 F.2d
949, 954 (9th Cir. 1968). If the operative facts have not
occurred within the forum and the forum has no interest in
the parties or subject matter, [the plaintiff's] choice
is entitled to only minimal consideration. Id.
Id. However, the weight of deference accorded is not
a binary choice between “great weight” and
“minimal consideration.” The Ninth Circuit has
found that “less deference” is owed to a
nonresident plaintiffs' choice of forum. Gemini
Capital Grp., Inc. v. Yap Fishing Corp., 150 F.3d 1088,
1091 (9th Cir. 1998) (citing Contact Lumber Co. v. P.T.
Moges Shipping Co., 918 F.2d 1446, 1449 (9th Cir. 1990);
Pac. Car, 403 F.2d at 954); see also Lucas v.
Daiichi Sankyo Co., No. C 11-0772 CW, 2011 WL 2020443,
at *3 (N.D. Cal. May 24, 2011) (declaring that nonresident
plaintiff's choice of forum is owed “substantially
reduced” deference). And courts have found that less
deference is owed to the plaintiff's choice of forum
where the operative facts did not occur there. See
Anderson v. County of Siskiyou, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS
41023, *7 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 11, 2011) (“The deference
otherwise accorded to the plaintiff's choice of forum is
further undermined by the minimal nexus between this District
and the events that form the basis of the action.”)
(citing Metz v. U.S. Life Ins. Co. in City of New
York, 674 F.Supp.2d 1141, 1146 (C.D. Cal. 2009))). In
short, “the 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 lacks a significant connection to the
activities alleged in the complaint.” Carolina Cas.
Co. v. Data Broad. Corp., 158 F.Supp.2d 1044, 1048 (N.D.
Cal. 2001) (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted).
considering the parties' contacts with this District,
including those related to Plaintiff's claims, the Court
accords substantially reduced deference to Plaintiff's
choice of forum. Plaintiff does not reside in this District.
See Dkt. Nos. 1-1, 14-1. In addition, there is a
relatively minimal nexus between this District and the
injuries Plaintiff suffered at the County jail between
October 24, 2015 and October 26, 2015, notwithstanding
Plaintiff's argument that those events were “set
into motion” by policies and procedures set at
CFMG's headquarters in this District. See Opp. I
at 12; Opp. II at 12.
contrast, the Eastern District has a strong local interest in
deciding this controversy. Courts have recognized the
particular salience of this factor in cases regarding the
treatment and safety of prisoners. For example, in
Atayde, where a prisoner had committed suicide while
incarcerated in a correctional facility located in the
Eastern District, the court declared that it was “in
the Eastern District's interest to determine whether the
jail acts with deliberate indifference to the safety of its
prisoners . . . .” 2016 WL 1089248, at *4. In
Williams, where a prisoner allegedly suffered sexual
harassment, assault, abuse, and intimidation at the hands of
her doctor in a prison located in the Eastern District, the
court found that the Eastern District had a
“strong” interest in the controversy because that
is “where the alleged wrong occurred.” 157
F.Supp.2d at 1104, 1109. Moreover, the alleged existence of
“a pattern of improper treatment of female inmates at
[the prison]” was “undoubtedly a concern to the
Eastern District.” Id. at 1109-10. Similarly,
Plaintiffs allegations raise serious concerns regarding the
safety of prisoners, the quality of medical care, and the
behavior of correctional ...