United States District Court, E.D. California
ERIKA MENDOZA and JAMES HUNT, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
ELECTROLUX HOME PRODUCTS, INC., Defendant.
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO TRANSFER
PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 1404 TO THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF
PENNSYLVANIA (DOC. 4)
K. OBERTO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
a putative consumer class action alleging that certain
over-the-range microwave ovens sold by Defendant Electrolux
Home Products, Inc. (“Electrolux”) contain
defective stainless steel handles that heat to excessive
temperatures when the cooking surface below is in use.
(See Doc. 1-1 (“Compl.”).) Plaintiff
Erika Mendoza lives in Modesto, California, and alleges she
purchased a microwave containing a defective handle at a
Direct Appliance store in Modesto. (Compl. ¶ 14.)
Plaintiff James Hunt lives in Bakersfield, California, and
alleges he purchased a microwave containing a defective
handle at a Lowe's store in Bakersfield. (Id.
a Delaware corporation with its headquarters in Charlotte,
North Carolina, moves under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a)
(“§ 1404(a)”) to transfer this case to the
United States District Court for the Middle District of
Pennsylvania. (Doc. 4.) The Court took the matter under
submission on the papers pursuant to Local Rule 230(g).
(See Doc. 26.) For the following reasons, the Court
GRANTS Electrolux's motion and TRANSFERS this case to the
Middle District of Pennsylvania.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
The Present Action
19, 2017, Plaintiffs Mendoza and Hunt (collectively
“Plaintiffs”) filed suit in California state
court alleging claims based upon California's Consumer
Legal Remedies Act (“CLRA”), Cal. Civ. Code
§ 1750 et seq., Unfair Competition Law
(“UCL”), Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200
et seq., and the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act,
Civ. Code section 1790 et seq. Plaintiffs allege
that Electrolux's over-the-range microwaves are designed
for installation on a vertical wall directly above the
cooking surface of the range, and as such, are warranted as
safe to use while the stovetop is on. (Compl. ¶ 2.)
Plaintiffs contend that when the cooking surface below is in
operation, however, the microwave's stainless steel
handle “heats to excessive temperatures rendering it
unfit for use as intended and exposing anyone who touches it
to a substantial risk of permanent and/or serious
injury.” (Id. ¶ 3.) Plaintiffs seek to
represent a class comprised of “[a]ll persons in
California who purchased a Microwave with a stainless steel
handle since at least February 18, 2011 and continuing to the
present.” (Id. ¶ 59.)
22, 2017, Electrolux removed this action pursuant to the
Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”), which confers
federal jurisdiction where (1) there are 100 or more members
in plaintiffs proposed class, (2) at least one member of the
proposed class has a different citizenship than at least one
defendant (i.e., minimal diversity), and (3) the
matter in controversy exceeds the aggregate sum of $5, 000,
000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(2), (5), & (6). Electrolux
then moved under § 1404(a) to transfer this action to
the United States District Court for Middle District of
Pennsylvania, where a consolidated, earlier-filed putative
class litigation is pending. (See Doc. 4.)
Electrolux's filing of the motion to transfer, Plaintiffs
moved to remand the case on July 24, 2017, arguing, inter
alia, that CAFA's amount in controversy requirement had
not been met. (See Doc. 13.) On September 20, 2017,
the assigned district judge denied Plaintiffs' motion to
remand. (Doc. 47.)
The Rice Consolidated Action
to Plaintiffs' commencement of this suit in California
state court, Plaintiffs' counsel filed a consolidated
amended class action complaint in federal court in the Middle
District of Pennsylvania on March 24, 2017. Rice v.
Electrolux Home Products, Inc., Case No.
4:15-cv-00371-MWB (M.D. Pa., filed March 24, 2017) (Brann,
J.). There appears to be significant factual overlap between
Plaintiffs' allegations and the Rice
consolidated action. As both the factual and procedural
history of the Rice consolidated action are
pertinent to the determination of Electrolux's motion to
transfer, the Court briefly summarizes the background of that
February 18, 2015, Plaintiffs' counsel filed a putative
class action against Electrolux on behalf of named plaintiff
Elaine Rice (“Rice”) styled Rice v.
Electrolux Home Products, Inc., Case No.
4:15-cv-0371-MWB (M.D. Pa., filed Feb. 18, 2015) (Brann, J.).
(See Doc. 5, Declaration of Caitlin C. Blanche in
Support of Def's Mot. to Transfer (“Blanche
Decl.”), ¶ 3 Ex. 1.) As in this action, Rice
contends that certain over-the-range microwave ovens sold by
Electrolux contain defective stainless steel handles such
that the handle “can reach temperatures of over
168°F when the cooking surface below is in operation,
presenting a risk of serious injury to anyone who touches the
handle with a bare hand.” (Id. Ex. 1 ¶
sought to certify two putative classes. First, she sought to
certify an “Injunctive/Declaratory Relief Class”
under Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b)(2), consisting of “[a]ll
persons in the United States who own a Microwave with a
stainless steel handle (Part # 5304471830).”
(Id. Ex. 1 ¶ 62.) Second, she sought to certify
a class under Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b)(3), consisting of
“[a]ll persons in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania who
own a Microwave with a stainless steel handle (Part #
5304471830)” and/or all persons in “Other
States” (i.e., thirty-four additional states,
including California, and the District of Columbia)
“who own a Microwave with a stainless steel handle
(Part # 5304471830).” (Id. Ex. 1 ¶ 63.)
By Memorandum and Order entered July 28, 2015, presiding
district judge Matthew W. Brann struck Rice's
“Other States” subclass, finding Rice lacks
standing to represent that subclass because she was not a
member of that class. (See Id. Exs. 2 & 3.)
October 11, 2016, Plaintiffs' counsel filed another
putative class action against Electrolux, this time in
federal court in the District of Maryland, on behalf of named
plaintiff Alex Kukich (“Kukich”) styled
Kukich v. Electrolux Home Products, Inc., Case No.
1:16-cv-03412-ELH (D. Md., filed Oct. 11, 2016) (Hollander,
J.). See Kukich v. Electrolux Home Prod, Inc., Civil
Action No. ELH-16-3412, 2017 WL 345856, at *1 (D. Md. Jan.
24, 2017). As Plaintiffs allege here, Kukich alleged that
certain over-the-range microwave ovens sold by Electrolux
contain defective stainless steel handles. Id.
Kukich sought to certify two putative classes: (1) a Rule
23(b)(2) class consisting of “[a]ll persons in the
United States who own a Microwave with a 400-Grade Stainless
Steel Handle, ” and (2) a Rule 23(b)(3) class
consisting of “[a]ll persons in the State of Maryland
who own a Microwave with a 400-Grade Stainless Steel Handle
that was purchased during the four (4) years preceding the
filing of this action.” (Id.)
November 10, 2016, Electrolux moved to transfer the
Kukich case to the Middle District of Pennsylvania
pursuant to § 1404(a) for handling by Judge Brann.
(Blanche Decl. ¶ 7, Ex. 5; ¶ 8, Ex. 6). On January
24, 2017, the District of Maryland granted the motion to
transfer, finding that “the balance of factors strongly
supports the transfer of this case to the Middle District of
Pennsylvania.” Kukich, 2017 WL 345856, at *14.
With respect to the pending Rice action, the
District of Maryland found that “the pendency of the
Rice case in the Middle District of Pennsylvania
strongly supports the transfer, for the reasons advanced by
Electrolux.” Id. at *11. In particular, the
Kukich court found that “the cases involve the
identical alleged defect” “lawyers from the same
law firms represent the plaintiffs in both cases, ”
“much of the discovery will be the same for both cases,
” and “Judge Brann has presided over Rice since
the case was filed, and he is undoubtedly familiar with the
factual and legal issues.” Id. at *11-12. The
court further found that “it would be a complete waste
of time and resources to undertake the same discovery in a
separate case, ” and the court agreed with Electrolux
that “‘there is no need to burden two courts with
virtually identical lawsuits.'” Id. at
the transfer of the Kukich action to the Middle
District of Pennsylvania, Judge Brann ordered the parties,
pursuant to a stipulation, to file a consolidated complaint
that consolidated the Rice and Kukich
cases. (Blanche Decl. ¶ 11, Ex. 9 ¶ 8(b)). On March
24, 2017, Rice and Kukich filed a consolidated amended class
action complaint, seeking to represent a Rule 23(b)(2) class
consisting of “[a]ll persons in the United States who
own a Microwave with a ‘Handle Defect'”
(i.e., a microwave's stainless steel handle that,
“[w]hen the cooking surface below is in operation . . .
heats to excessive temperatures rendering it unfit for use as
intended and exposing anyone who touches it to a substantial
risk of permanent and/or serious injury.”), and two
Rule 23(b)(3) classes consisting of “[a]ll persons. . .
who own a Microwave with a Handle Defect” in the states
of Pennsylvania and Maryland, respectively. (Id.
¶ 12, Ex. 10 ¶¶ 2, 66-67.) The consolidated
amended class action complaint asserts claims for declaratory
relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2201, et seq.,
strict liability-design defect and failure to warn, negligent
failure to warn, violation of the Magnuson-Moss Consumer
Production Warranties Act, 15 U.S.C. § 2301, et
seq, breach of implied warranty of merchantability,
breach of express warranty, and negligence. (Id. Ex.
10 ¶¶ 79-178.)
April 14, 2017, Electrolux filed a partial motion to dismiss
the Rice consolidated amended class action complaint.
(Blanche Decl. ¶ 13, Ex. 11.) The motion has been fully
briefed but, as of the date of this Order, has not been ruled
on by Judge Brann. See Rice v. Electrolux Home Products,
Inc., Case No. 4:15-cv-0371-MWB (M.D. Pa.) (docket).
28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) provides: “[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 or to any district or division to which all parties
have consented.” The purpose of this section 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. The
Barge FBL-585, 364 U.S. 19, 26, 27 (1960)). The party
requesting the transfer bears the burden of showing that the
balance of conveniences weighs heavily in favor of the
transfer in order to overcome the strong presumption in favor
of a plaintiff s choice of forum. Piper Aircraft Co. v.
Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 255-56 (1981); Decker Coal Co.
v. Commonwealth Edison Co., 805 F.2d 834, 843 (9th Cir.
support a motion to transfer under § 1404(a), the moving
party must first show the proposed transferee court possesses
subject matter jurisdiction over the action, the parties
would be subject to personal jurisdiction in the transferee
court, and venue would have been proper in the transferee
court. Hoffman v. Blaski, 363 U.S. 335, 344 (1960);
A.J. Indus., Inc. v. U.S. Dist. Ct. for the Cent. Dist.
of Cal, 503 F.2d 384, 386 (9th Cir. 1974). Once this
threshold requirement has been established, the Court next
looks at whether the convenience of parties and witnesses,
and the interests of justice favor transfer. 28 U.S.C. §
1404(a). According to the Ninth Circuit, relevant factors
determining whether transfer will promote convenience and
fairness include: (1) the location where the relevant
agreements were negotiated and executed, (2) the state that
is most familiar with the governing law, (3) the plaintiffs
choice of forum, (4) the respective parties' contacts
with the forum, (5) the contacts relating to the plaintiffs
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 495, 498-99 (9th Cir. 2000) (citing Stewart
Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988)).
1404(a) is intended to place discretion in the district court
to adjudicate motions for transfer according to an
‘individualized, case-by-case consideration of
convenience and fairness.'” Stewart Org,
487 U.S. at 29 (quoting Van Dusen, 376 U.S. at 622).
In determining whether transfer is proper, the court must
“balance the preference accorded plaintiffs choice of
forum with the burden of litigating in an inconvenient
forum.” Decker Coal, 805 F.2d at 843
(citations omitted). The court has the broad discretion to
address some of these or other factors based on the
particular facts of each case. Bibo v. Federal Express,
Inc., No. C07-2505 TEH, 2007 WL 2972948, at *2 (N.D.
Cal. Oct. 10, 2007). “No single factor is ...