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Bodley v. Whirlpool Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. California

May 24, 2018

JAMES BODLEY, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
WHIRLPOOL CORPORATION, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO TRANSFER RE: ECF, 34

          JON S. TIGAR United States District Judge

         Before the Court is Defendant Whirlpool Corporation's motion to dismiss, stay, or transfer under the first-to-file rule, or in the alternative, to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This case involves two overlapping prospective class action lawsuits against Whirlpool: the first-filed case in the Western District of Michigan and the instant case filed in the Northern District of California. For the following reasons, the Court will grant the motion, and transfer the instant case to the Western District of Michigan.

         I. REQUEST FOR JUDICIAL NOTICE

         Whirlpool asks the Court to take judicial notice of the docket, complaint, and order granting the partial motion to dismiss from Burch v. Whirlpool Corporation, 1:17-cv-00018-PLM-RSK (hereinafter “Burch”), the lawsuit in the Western District of Michigan. ECF No. 34 at 12. Plaintiffs do not oppose Whirlpool's request for judicial notice of these documents. See generally, ECF No. 35. Because a court “may take notice of proceedings in other courts . . . if those proceedings have a direct relation to matters at issue, ” Bias v. Moynihan, 508 F.3d 1212, 1225 (9th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted), the Court grants Whirlpool's request in its entirety.

         II. JURISDICTION

         District courts have diversity jurisdiction over class action lawsuits when the amount in controversy exceeds $5, 000, 000 (exclusive of interest and costs), there are more than 100 members in the proposed class, and any member of the proposed class is a citizen of a State different from any defendant. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d). Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) states that Plaintiffs' combined claims amount to at least $5, 000, 000 exclusive of interest and costs, that there are at least 100 class members in the proposed class, and that the class representatives are citizens of California while Whirlpool is a citizen of Delaware and Michigan. ECF No. 24 ¶ 17. The Court therefore has jurisdiction over this matter.

         III. BACKGROUND

         At the moment, there are two nationwide prospective class action lawsuits against Whirlpool regarding dishwashers that are defective in the same way. On January 5, 2017, Warren Burch filed a complaint in the Western District of Michigan. Burch, ECF No. 1. In his First Amended Complaint, Burch seeks to represent a proposed class of nationwide and Virginia consumers who bought and use Whirlpool residential dishwashers. Burch, ECF No. 13 ¶¶ 2, 34-35. He alleges that Whirlpool's dishwashers “are defective in that their upper rack adjusters . . . are made of brittle plastic that routinely break during normal use.” Id ¶ 2. Burch sued for breach of express warranty, breach of implied warranty, fraudulent concealment, and unjust enrichment; however, breach of implied warranty is the only cause of action that remains. Burch, ECF No. 22.

         On September 19, 2017, roughly nine months after Burch filed his complaint, Plaintiffs James Bodley and Kyle Matson filed the instant action. ECF No. 1. Plaintiffs seek to represent nationwide and California consumers who bought a KitchenAid dishwasher or a home with a KitchenAid dishwasher already installed. FAC ¶ 96. They allege that the “upper rack assemblies . . . are defective and fail as the heat generated by the dishwasher causes the plastic components to become brittle and break . . . .” Id. ¶ 3. Plaintiffs seek relief for violations of the Unfair Competition Law and the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, fraudulent concealment, breach of express and implied warranty, breach of express and implied warranty under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, and breach of express and implied warranty under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. Id ¶¶ 111 -223.

         Whirlpool moves to dismiss, stay, or transfer this action under the first-to-file rule. See ECF No. 34. Whirlpool also moves, in the alternative to dismiss all nine causes of action for failure to state a claim. See id Plaintiffs oppose both. See ECF No. 35.

         IV. LEGAL STANDARD

         The first-to-file rule “allows a district court to transfer, stay, or dismiss an action when a similar complaint has already been filed in another federal court. . . .” Alltrade, Inc. v. Uniweld Prods. Inc., 946 F.3d 622, 623 (9th Cir. 1991). A district court examines three threshold factors in deciding whether to apply the first-to-file rule: the chronology of the two actions, the similarity of the parties, and the similarity of the issues. Id at 625-26; Pacesetter Sys., Inc. v. Medtronic, Inc., 678 F.2d 93, 95 (9th Cir. 1982) (citations omitted); see also Cedars-Sinai Med. Ctr. v. Shalala, 125 F.3d 765, 769 (9th Cir. 1997). “The principle underlying the federal comity doctrine is ‘wise judicial administration, giving regard to conservation of judicial resources and comprehensive disposition of litigation.'” Benson v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., No. C-09-5272 EMC, 2010 WL 1445532, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 7, 2010) (quoting Pacesetter Systems, 678 F.2d at 94-95).

         While the first-to-file rule “should not be disregarded lightly, ” Church of Scientology v. U.S. Dep't of the Army, 611 F.2d 738, 750 (9th Cir. 1979), overruled on other grounds by Animal Legal Def. Fund v. U.S. Food & Drug Admin., 836 F.3d 987 (9th Cir. 2016), “district courts can, in the exercise of their discretion, dispense with the first-filed principle for reasons of equity.” Ward v. Follett Corp., 158 F.R.D. 645, 648 (N.D. Cal. 1994). Courts can deviate from the first-to-file rule when the first suit was filed in bad faith, or anticipatorily, or when there is evidence of forum shopping, or an imbalance of convenience. Alltrade, 946 F.2d at 628.

         V. ...


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