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Advanced Turf Solutions, Inc. v. Johns

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Indianapolis Division

November 30, 2016

Advanced Turf Solutions, Inc., Plaintiff,
v.
Greg Johns, Kurt Dryden, Defendants.

          ORDER

          HON. JANE MAGNUS-STINSON, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         On November 3, 2016, the Court ordered the parties to show cause why this matter should not be transferred to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). [Filing No. 15.] The parties have responded to Court's Order; Plaintiff opposes the proposed transfer [Filing No. 17] while Defendants support it [Filing No. 18]. Having considered the parties' submissions and all relevant factors, the Court now concludes that interests of justice and convenience clearly weigh in favor of transferring this case to the Middle District of Tennessee.[1]

         I. Background

         This matter involves allegations that Defendants, Tennessee residents, stole trade secrets while working for Plaintiff in Nashville, Tennessee, and then misappropriated the information while working for their subsequent Nashville employer. [See Filing No. 3-1 at 5-16.] Plaintiff is an Indiana corporation, with locations in Tennessee, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. [Filing No. 31-1 at 6.] Plaintiff markets and distributes fertilizer products to “buyers in the turf and ornamental market.” [Filing No. 3-1 at 6.]

         From 2012 to 2016, Defendants worked in the sales department of Plaintiff's Nashville, Tennessee office. [Filing No. 3-1 at 6-7.] In August 2016, Defendants resigned and left for a company that competed with Plaintiff in the Tennessee fertilizer market. [Filing No. 3-1 at 7.] On August 26, 2016, Plaintiff filed suit in Indiana state court, alleging violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1030, and various state law causes of action. [Filing No. 3-1 at 10-16.] The thrust of Plaintiff's claims is that Defendants took customer lists, pricing information, and other proprietary information with them to Plaintiff's competitor, causing Plaintiff to lose business. [See id.] Plaintiff seeks damages and injunctive relief. [Filing No. 3-1 at 5-16.]

         On October 13, 2016, Defendants removed the case to this Court. [Filing No. 3.] On November 3, 2016, the Court issued its Order to Show Cause on the issue of transfer. [Filing No. 15.] The parties responded to the Court's Order [Filing No. 17; Filing No. 18], and the issue of transfer is now ripe for determination.

         II. Legal Standard

         The change of venue statute, codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), permits the Court “to transfer an action filed in a proper, though not necessarily convenient, venue to a more convenient district.” Research Automation, Inc. v. Schrader-Bridgeport Int'l, Inc., 626 F.3d 973, 977 (7th Cir. 2010). Section 1404(a) provides: “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 or to any district or division to which all parties have consented.” 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Section 1404(a) places the decision to transfer a case within the Court's sound discretion, based upon an “individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness.” Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988) (quoting Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 622 (1964)); In re Joint E. & S. Districts Asbestos Litig., 22 F.3d 755, 762 (7th Cir. 1994) (“[Section 1404(a)] was clearly intended to vest in the transferor court more discretion than it had been permitted to exercise under the common law doctrine [of forum non conveniens] . . . .”). This flexible inquiry “affords district courts the opportunity to look beyond a narrow or rigid set of considerations in their determinations.” Research Automation, 626 F.3d at 978.

         Here, the parties agree that this action could have been brought in the Middle District of Tennessee. [Filing No. 17 at 2; Filing No. 18.] Thus, the disputed elements are (1) whether the convenience of the parties and witnesses would be enhanced by transfer and (2) whether the interests of justice would be better served by transfer. 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a); Research Automation, 626 F.3d at 977-79. The convenience evaluation encompasses availability of witnesses and the parties' access to each potential forum. See Research Automation, 626 F.3d at 978. The interests of justice element includes factors such as docket congestion; familiarity with relevant law; the situs of material events; and the community's stake in resolving the controversy. Id.“The interest of justice may be determinative, warranting transfer or its denial even where the convenience of the parties and witnesses points toward the opposite result.” Id.

         III. Discussion

         Plaintiff, which brought suit in this District, opposes transfer. Plaintiff argues that its choice of forum should be given deference, that the convenience factors are otherwise neutral, and that the interest of justice weighs against transfer. Defendants support transfer, and argue that Plaintiff's choice of forum warrants less deference under the circumstances; that the convenience factors weigh strongly in favor of transfer; and that the interest of justice likewise requires transfer. The Court addresses each of these issues in turn.

         A. Plaintiff's Choice of Forum

         Plaintiff argues that its choice of forum is entitled to substantial deference in the transfer analysis. Plaintiff maintains that its choice to litigate in this District was motivated by its “strong connection to this dispute, ” and that this legitimate decision should be respected. [Filing No. 17 at 3.] Defendant, in response, admits that Plaintiff's choice of forum is relevant. However, Defendant argues that where, as here, the chosen forum has little connection to the controversy, that choice is merely one factor in the larger analysis.

         As a general proposition, a plaintiff's choice of forum is usually entitled to deference. In re Presto Indus., Inc.,347 F.3d 662, 663-64 (7th Cir. 2003). The amount of deference a particular choice of forum warrants, however, depends on the forum's connection to relevant events. See, e.g., Dunlap v. Switchboard Apparatus, Inc., 2012 WL 1712554 (S.D. Ind. 2012) (citing In re Presto, 347 F.3d at 663-64;Chicago, R.I. & Pac. R.R. Co. v. Igoe,220 F.3d 299, 304 (7th Cir. 1955)) (“[W]hen a plaintiff's choice of forum has little connection to relevant events, its choice is entitled to little deference.”); Valbruna Stainless, Inc. v. ADT Sec. Servs., Inc., 2010 WL 2772324, at *2 (N.D. Ind. 2010) (“Where the chosen forum is not the situs of material events, however, or if another forum has a stronger relationship to the dispute, plaintiff's selection is ...


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