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Mendoza v. Electrolux Home Products, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. California

November 2, 2017

ERIKA MENDOZA and JAMES HUNT, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
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)

          SHEILA K. OBERTO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This is 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. ¶ 18.)

         Electrolux, 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.

         II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         A. The Present Action

         On May 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.)

         On June 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.)

         Following 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.)

         B. The Rice Consolidated Action

         Prior 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.[1] 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 litigation below.

         On 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 ¶ 1.).

         Rice 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.)

         On 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.)

         On 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 *12.

         Following 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.)

         On 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).

         III. APPLICABLE LAW

         Title 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. 1986).

         To 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)).

         “Section 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 ...


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