Thanos v. Unum Life Insurance Company of America

Northern District of California, cand-4:2015-cv-03616

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO TRANSFER; DENYING MOTION TO DISMISS WITHOUT PREJUDICE by Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers granting {{6}} Motion to Transfer Case to Central District of California; denying without prejudice {{7}} Motion to Dismiss. The hearing set for October 6, 2015 is hereby VACATED.

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1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 6 NICHOLAS THANOS, M.D., 7 Case No. 15-cv-03616-YGR Plaintiff, 8 v. ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION 9 TO TRANSFER; DENYING MOTION TO UNUM LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, DOES 1- DISMISS WITHOUT PREJUDICE 10 50, Re: Dkt. Nos. 6, 7 11 Defendant. 12 Plaintiff Nicholas Thanos instituted this bad faith insurance action against defendant Unum Northern District of California United States District Court 13 Life Insurance Company, claiming defendant improperly stopped payment on several disability 14 insurance policies he held. Presently before the court is defendant's motion to transfer to the 15 Central District of California pursuant to 28 U.S.C. section 1404(a). (Dkt. No. 6, "Mtn.".) 1 16 Having carefully considered the papers submitted, and good cause shown, the Court 17 hereby GRANTS defendant's motion to transfer.2 18 I. BACKGROUND 19 Plaintiff Nicholas Thanos purchased several disability income replacement insurance 20 policies from defendant. (Dkt. No. 1-1, Complaint, ¶ 10.) Plaintiff paid all policy premiums and 21 at all times performed the necessary duties required of him under the relevant policies. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 22 12.) On July 3rd, 2009, plaintiff slipped and fell, injuring his neck. (Id. ¶ 14.) The resulting neck 23 injury forced plaintiff to reduce his work hours from sixty (60) hours per week to approximately 24 1 25 Defendant also filed a motion to dismiss and/or strike plaintiff's complaint. (Dkt. No. 7.) Because the court finds transfer appropriate, the motion to dismiss is DENIED WITHOUT 26 PREJUDICE to refiling upon transfer in the Central District. 2 27 The Court finds defendant's motion to transfer appropriate for decision without oral argument, as permitted by Civil Local Rule 7-1(b) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. 28 Accordingly, the hearing set for October 6, 2015 is hereby VACATED. 1 twenty-four (24) hours per week. (Id. ¶¶ 19-20.) Plaintiff, therefore, sought payment of benefits 2 to compensate for his lost income. (Id. ¶¶ 18, 21, 30.) Defendant initially paid some benefits, but 3 ceased payment on November 1, 2012. (Id. ¶¶ 21, 28.) Plaintiff claims he is owed outstanding 4 benefits on the policies and instituted this action for damages based on breach of contract and 5 breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. (Id. ¶¶ 31-52.) 6 Plaintiff originally filed this action in San Francisco Superior Court, and defendant 7 subsequently removed to the Northern District of California on grounds of diversity jurisdiction. 8 (See Dkt. No. 1, Notice of Removal,"NOR.") Defendant now seeks to transfer the case to the 9 Central District of California because plaintiff is a resident of the Central District and many of the 10 potential witnesses in this case reside in the Central District, including plaintiff's treating 11 physicians, employees, and family members. Plaintiff does not dispute these compelling facts, but 12 opposes transfer, primarily on the grounds that he chose this venue because his attorneys are Northern District of California United States District Court 13 located here in the Northern District. 14 I. TRANSFER UNDER 28 U.S.C. SECTION 1404(a) 15 A. Legal Standard 16 Transfer under 28 U.S.C. section 1404(a) is proper where, "[f]or the convenience of parties 17 and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other 18 district or division where it might have been brought." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). The purpose of 19 section 1404(a) is to "prevent the waste of time, energy and money and to protect litigants, 20 witnesses and the public against unnecessary inconvenience and expense." Van Dusen v. Barrack, 21 376 U.S. 612, 616 (1964) (internal quotation marks omitted). Courts considering transfer must 22 first determine whether the action could have been brought in the target district in the first 23 instance. See Hoffman v. Blaski, 363 U.S. 335, 343-44 (1960). The action could have been 24 brought in a district that has subject matter jurisdiction over the claims and personal jurisdiction 25 over the defendant, and where venue would have been proper. See id. 26 If the action could have been brought in the target district, courts then undertake an 27 "individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness." Stewart Org., Inc. v. 28 Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988) (quoting Van Dusen, 376 U.S. at 622) (internal quotations 2 1 omitted). In conducting this step of the analysis, the district court has broad discretion in deciding 2 whether to grant transfer. See Ventress v. Japan Airlines, 486 F.3d 1111, 1118 (9th Cir. 2007); 3 Jones v. GNC Franchising, Inc., 211 F.3d 495, 498 (9th Cir. 2000). Relevant factors the Court 4 may consider include: 5 (1) plaintiffs' choice of forum, (2) convenience of the parties, (3) convenience of the witnesses, (4) ease of access to the evidence, 6 (5) familiarity of each forum with the applicable law, (6) feasibility of consolidation with other claims, (7) any local interest in the 7 controversy, and (8) the relative court congestion and time of trial in each forum. 8 9 Jones, 211 F.3d at 498-99 ("A motion to transfer venue under § 1404(a) requires the court to 10 weigh multiple factors in its determination [of] whether transfer is appropriate in a particular 11 case." (citing Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. at 29)). This list is non-exclusive and courts may consider 12 other factors. See Williams v. Bowman, 157 F.Supp.2d 1103, 1106 (N.D. Cal. 2001) (noting that Northern District of California United States District Court 13 this list of factors "does not exhaust the possibilities" and highlighting differing combinations of 14 factors used by courts in conducting this analysis). The moving party carries the burden to show 15 that the transferee district is the more appropriate forum. Jones, 211 F.3d at 499. 16 B. Analysis 17 1. This Action Could Have Been Brought in the Central District of California 18 Plaintiff does not dispute that this action could have been brought in the Central District. 19 First, the Central District, like this district, has subject matter jurisdiction over the instant action 20 based on diversity of citizenship. (See NOR at 2:12-5:15; 28 U.S.C. §1332.) Second, the 21 defendant is subject to specific personal jurisdiction throughout California in connection with this 22 case, having purposefully directed its relevant activities within the state. See Schwarzenegger v. 23 Fred Martin Motor Co., 374 F.3d 797, 802 (9th Cir. 2004) (citing Lake v. Lake, 817 F.2d 1416, 24 1421 (9th Cir. 1987)). Third, venue would have been proper in the Central District at the time this 25 suit was filed because a substantial part of the events or omissions relevant to this case occurred 26 there. 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2); Kaia Foods, Inc. v. Bellafiore, 70 F.Supp.3d 1178, 1184 (N.D. Cal. 27 2014). For all of these reasons, step one in the analysis is satisfied. 28 3 2. Convenience and Fairness Factors Weigh in Favor of Transfer 1 The Court now moves to the second step of the analysis and considers the relevant 2 convenience and fairness factors, namely: (a) plaintiff's choice of forum, (b) convenience to the 3 parties, (c) convenience to witnesses, and (d) ease of access to the evidence.3 The Court addresses 4 each in turn. 5 a. The Plaintiff's Choice of Forum 6 While a plaintiff's choice of forum always weighs against transfer under section 1404(a), a 7 court considering transfer must determine how much weight to give this choice under the 8 circumstances. See, e.g., Vu v. Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical, Inc., 602 F.Supp.2d 1151, 1156-57 9 (N.D. Cal. 2009); Getz v. Boeing Co., 547 F.Supp.2d 1080, 1082-83 (N.D. Cal. 2008). Generally, 10 a plaintiff's choice of forum is entitled to considerable weight and a defendant must make a strong 11 showing of inconvenience to warrant upsetting this choice. Decker Coal Co. v. Commonwealth 12 Northern District of California Edison Co., 805 F.2d at 834, 843 (9th Cir. 1986). However, the plaintiff's choice is given less United States District Court 13 deference where, as here, the plaintiff is not a resident of the district and the operative facts did not 14 occur in that district. See Vu, 602 F.Supp.2d at 1156. Plaintiff resides in the Central District and 15 the operative facts occurred there. See Vu, 602 F.Supp.2d at 1156-57 (giving "considerably less 16 weight" to plaintiffs' choice of forum where plaintiffs resided in and the operative facts also 17 occurred in the target district). Accordingly, plaintiff's choice of forum is entitled to little 18 deference under the circumstances. 19 Plaintiff contends that, although he does not reside in the Northern District, the Court 20 should nonetheless defer to his choice of forum because he was unable to locate counsel with the 21 requisite expertise in the Central District. Plaintiff claims he was only able to locate qualified 22 counsel in San Francisco, and that this case should remain in the Northern District out of 23 24 3 25 The parties also addressed the relative local interests of the Northern and Central Districts. The Court finds that this factor is, at most, neutral. This case generally implicates 26 California insurance law, in which the Central and Northern Districts have equal interests. Although the dispute involves a resident of the Central District suing over disability insurance 27 policies created and delivered in the Central District, the defendant who allegedly breached them is not a resident of either forum. Thus, the Central District's interest is not great enough to weigh 28 against plaintiff's choice of forum. 4 1 convenience for his counsel and in the interest of saving litigation expenses. Convenience of the 2 parties' attorneys, however, is not an appropriate factor for courts to consider when ruling on a 3 motion to transfer. Vu, 602 F. Supp. 2d at 1156-57. Because plaintiff does not reside in the 4 Northern District, and his attorneys' convenience is irrelevant under the transfer analysis, the 5 Court finds that this factor does not weigh against transfer. 6 b. Convenience of the Parties 7 "Convenience of the parties is an important factor to consider for transfer of venue." Flint 8 v. UGS Corp., 2007 WL 4365481, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 12, 2007). In this case, the Central 9 District will be a more convenient forum for plaintiff because he resides there. Indeed, plaintiff's 10 counsel recently represented to defense counsel that the Southern Division of the Central District 11 would be most convenient for plaintiff. (Dkt. Nos. 16-1, 16-2) (Santa Ana "would be most 12 convenient for the Plaintiff and his witnesses") (emphasis supplied).4 Plaintiff argues in Northern District of California United States District Court 13 opposition that both districts are equally convenient for defendant. This argument does not 14 persuade in light of the undisputed fact that neither party resides in the Northern District. 15 Moreover, courts in this District have recognized that transfer is less inconvenient for plaintiffs at 16 the outset of litigation. See U.S. ex rel. Swan v. Covenant Care Inc., 1999 WL 760610, at *3 17 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 21, 1999) ("Plaintiffs will not be inconvenienced by a transfer of the action at this 18 point because the litigation is relatively young, and this court has not yet become greatly involved 19 in this litigation."). This litigation is still in its infancy, as the pleadings are not yet settled. The 20 Court finds that this factor favors transfer. 21 c. Convenience of the Witnesses 22 The relative convenience to the witnesses is the most important factor in a section 1404(a) 23 analysis, and the convenience of non-party witnesses is more important than the convenience of 24 the parties. Clark v. Sprint Spectrum L.P., 2010 WL 5173872, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 15, 2010). In 25 that regard, the convenience of a party's employee witnesses is entitled to little weight because 26 4 27 On a motion to transfer, the Court may consider factual submissions from a moving defendant, such as declarations. Cadenasso v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., 2014 WL 28 1510853, at *2 n. 2 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 15, 2014). 5 1 they can be compelled by their employers to testify regardless of venue. See STX, Inc. v. Trik Stik, 2 Inc., 708 F. Supp. 1551, 1556 (N.D. Cal. 1988) (noting that the convenience of a party's employee 3 witnesses "must be discounted" in the analysis). 4 The parties agree that many of the witnesses who will likely be called in this case are 5 located in the Central District. For example, plaintiff's treating physicians, family, and employees 6 all reside in the Central District, not the Northern District. As cited above, plaintiff's argument 7 that this factor should be neutral to the extent defendant's employees are out of state carries little 8 weight. Because plaintiff has not pointed to any nonparty witness in this case located outside of 9 the Central District, this factor also favors transfer. 10 d. Ease of Access to the Evidence 11 The location of evidence may be an important factor in a convenience and fairness analysis 12 under section 1404(a). Vu, 602 F. Supp. 2d at 1156. Where the evidence is in electronic form, Northern District of California United States District Court 13 this factor is neutral or carries only minimal weight. See, e.g., Sarinara v. DS Waters of Am. Inc., 14 2013 WL 3456687, at *2 (N.D. Cal. July 9, 2013) (finding ease of access to evidence to be a 15 neutral factor "given the availability of digital records"); Friends of Scot., Inc. v. Carroll, 2013 16 WL 1192956, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 22, 2013) ("with technological advances in document storage 17 and retrieval, transporting documents does not generally create a burden"). Here, the bulk of the 18 evidence in this case is already in digital form, and already in the possession of plaintiff's counsel. 19 Thus, the location of the evidence is neutral in this case. 20 e. Balancing the Discretionary Factors 21 For these reasons, all of the fairness and convenience factors favor or are neutral to transfer 22 to the Central District. Here, as in Vu, plaintiff's choice of forum is entitled to little deference 23 because he resides in the Central District. See Vu, 602 F.Supp.2d at 1155-57 (granting defendant's 24 motion to transfer). The Central District is more convenient for the parties and witnesses. Id. The 25 events giving rise to plaintiff's claim occurred in the Central District. Id. Finally, either forum is 26 equally convenient for the out-of-state corporate defendant. Id. As was also the case in Vu, 27 plaintiff's only connection to this District appears to be the location of his chosen counsel. Id. 28 Because "the location of plaintiff's counsel is not an appropriate factor for the Court to consider 6 1 when deciding a motion to transfer," this alone is insufficient for this action to remain the 2 Northern District. Id. at 1157. Based upon the foregoing, the Court concludes that transfer will 3 serve the convenience of the witnesses and promote the interests of justice. See id. 4 II. CONCLUSION 5 For the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS the defendant's motion to transfer this action 6 to the Central District of California. Defendant's motion to dismiss and to strike is DENIED 7 WITHOUT PREJUDICE to refiling upon transfer. 8 This Order terminates Docket Numbers 6 and 7. 9 The Clerk is directed to transfer the file in this case to the Central District of California. 10 IT IS SO ORDERED. 11 Dated: October 2, 2015 12 Northern District of California United States District Court 13 ______________________________________ YVONNE GONZALEZ ROGERS 14 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 7