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Hammers v. Mayea-Chang

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Marshall Division

December 10, 2019




         Before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss for Improper Venue or, in the Alternative, Motion to Transfer Venue (“the Motion”) filed by Defendants Carlos Mayea-Chang (“Mayea-Chang”) and Dayca Transport Services (“Dayca”) (collectively, “Defendants”) pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(3). (Dkt. No. 3). Having considered the Motion, and for the reasons set forth herein, the Court finds the Motion should be and hereby is DENIED.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         The instant case involves an automotive collision alleged to have occurred on Interstate 20 at an unspecified location somewhere within Smith County, Texas. (Dkt. No. 1).[1] Plaintiff Robert Hammers (“Hammers”) filed the Complaint on May 21, 2019, alleging various claims of negligence arising from the collision. (Dkt. No. 1). In the Complaint, Hammers alleges that venue is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2). (Id. at 2 ¶ 4).

         On April 16, 2019, Defendants filed the present Motion seeking dismissal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a), or, in the alternative, an intra-district transfer pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). With respect to both bases for transfer, Defendants do not dispute that venue is proper in the Eastern District of Texas, but instead focus primarily on whether the case should have been brought in the Tyler Division rather than the Marshall Division.

         II. Venue Is Proper Under 28 U.S.C. § 1391

         Defendants allege that venue is improper because the appropriate judicial division is the Tyler Division rather than the Marshall Division of the Eastern District of Texas. The accident which gives rise to this case occurred in the Tyler Division. (Dkt. No. 3). As noted above, Defendants appear to concede that the Eastern District of Texas is a proper judicial district. (Id.) However, Defendants allege that the Marshall Division is improper.

         Hammers responds that “Defendants have wholly failed to state any acceptable basis” for the dismissal. (Dkt. No. 5 at 5). Specifically, Hammers argues that the Marshall Division is proper for a variety of reasons, including an uncontroverted assertion that the Marshall Division is more convenient for both Hammers and Defendants.

         The Court concludes that the Marshall Division is an appropriate venue under 28 U.S.C. § 1391. This issue presents a relatively straightforward question of statutory interpretation. “The task of statutory interpretation begins and, if possible, ends with the language of the statute.” United States v. Lauderdale Cty., 914 F.3d 960, 964 (5th Cir. 2019). “[W]hen decoding language, judges ‘must be attentive not to words standing alone but to surrounding structure and other contextual cues that illuminate meaning.'” Weaver v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 939 F.3d 618, 626 (5th Cir. 2019). “The meaning of a statutory provision ‘is often clarified by the remainder of the statutory scheme . . . .'” Ramos-Portillo v. Barr, 919 F.3d 955, 960 (5th Cir. 2019) (quoting Util. Air Regulatory Grp. v. EPA, 573 U.S. 302, 321 (2014)). Thus, courts “ought to ‘consider the entire text, in view of its structure and of the physical and logical relation of its many parts.'” In re Lopez, 897 F.3d 663, 670 n.5 (5th Cir. 2018) (quoting Antonin Scalia & Bryan A. Garner, Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts 167 (2012)).

         First and foremost, the venue statute which governs this case does not distinguish between judicial divisions, and instead is addressed to only judicial districts. See 28 U.S.C. § 1391. Specifically, § 1391 provides that a “civil action may be brought in” one of the following three locations:

(1) a judicial district in which any defendant resides, if all defendants are residents of the State in which the district is located;
(2) a judicial district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred, or a substantial part of property that is the subject of the action is situated; or
(3) if there is no district in which an action may otherwise be brought as provided in this section, any judicial district in which any defendant is subject to the court's personal jurisdiction with respect to such action.

Id. (emphasis added). Defendants do not dispute that this case meets the plain text of § 1391, because the Eastern District of Texas is “a judicial district in which a substantial part of the events . . . giving rise to the claim occurred.” See Id. § 1391(a)(2). Instead, Defendants seek to impose an additional requirement on the statutory text-a requirement related to judicial divisions-in an effort to compel transfer from the Marshall Division to the Tyler Division. Defendants' argument is both confused and misplaced.

         For the past thirty years, the federal courts have uniformly held that because § 1391 “does not distinguish between the divisions of a judicial district, venue properly lies in any division” of an otherwise-appropriate judicial district.[2] Griffin v. Tyson Foods, Inc., No. 2:16-cv-734-JRG- RSP, 2017 WL 345926, at *2 (E.D. Tex. Jan. 24, 2017); see also, e.g., Battee v. Ben E. Keith Co., No. 2:17-cv-00161-JRG-RSP, 2017 WL 1832043, at *1 (E.D. Tex. May 5, 2017); McKee v. Grantham, No. 2:16-cv-00184-RSP, 2016 WL 3567038, at *1 (E.D. Tex. July 1, 2016); Walker v. IBEW, No. 2:15-cv-01283-JRG-RSP, 2015 WL 5783802, at *2 (E.D. Tex. Sept. 30, 2015); Monroe v. Walmart Stores Tex., LLC, No. 2:11-cv-329-JRG, 2012 WL 3887006, at *2 (E.D. Tex. Sept. 6, 2012); Johnson v. Merchant, 628 F.Supp.2d 695, 696-97 (N.D. Miss. 2009) (“‘[I]f there is no local rule, venue need be set only on a district basis, disregarding divisions.” (citing Jordon v. Bowman Apple Prods. Co., 728 F.Supp. 409 (W.D. Va. 1990))); Crumrine v. NEG Micon USA, Inc., 104 F.Supp.2d 1123, 1126 (N.D. Iowa 2000) (“Furthermore, in 1988, Congress repealed the federal statute that formerly established ‘divisional venue' in civil cases in federal court, 28 U.S.C. § 1393 . . . When 28 U.S.C. § 1393 was repealed . . . the concept of divisional venue disappeared.” (quoting Bishop v. C & P Trucking Co., Inc., 840 F.Supp. 118, 119 (N.D. Ala. 1993) (quotation marks omitted))).

         The text of § 1391 only imposes restrictions on the judicial district in which a case may be filed; it does not impose any restriction on the division within such district where a case may be filed. See Griffin, 2017 WL 345926, at *2. The statute which previously imposed a divisional venue requirement, 28 U.S.C. § 1393, was repealed more than thirty years ago in 1988. Thus, under § 1391, a division is only improper when it falls within an improper judicial district. Id. Conversely, § 1391 permits a civil action to be filed in any division, so long as the division is within a proper judicial district. Id.

         Defendants' interpretation to the contrary is improper because it would require engrafting a new divisional requirement onto the text of § 1391. Cf. Weaver, 939 F.3d at 626 (“[W]e decline to engraft what [Congress] declined to enact.”). In enacting § 1391, Congress only chose to impose a district-based venue requirement, not a divisional requirement. See 28 U.S.C. § 1391. “[O]ur constitutional structure does not permit this Court to ‘rewrite the statute that Congress has enacted.'” Puerto Rico v. Franklin Cal. Tax-Free Tr., 136 S.Ct. 1938, 1949 (2016) (quoting Dodd v. United States, 545 U.S. 353, 359 (2005)); see also Henry Schein, Inc. v. Archer & White Sales, Inc., 139 S.Ct. 524, 528 (2019) (explaining that courts may not “rewrite” a statute for any reason, even when there may be substantial policy justifications for doing so).[3]

         The Court's interpretation of the plain text of § 1391 is reinforced by the surrounding statutory provisions, which demonstrate that Congress understood how to include a divisional restriction on venue when it wished to do so. See Ramos-Portillo, 919 F.3d at 960 (instructing courts to look at surrounding provisions). In order to address a “change of venue” based on litigation convenience, Congress enacted a separate and distinct statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1404, which 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) (emphasis added). By expressly distinguishing between transfer to another “district or division, ” Congress designed § 1404 to “apply as much to transfers between divisions of the same district as to transfers from one district to another.” In re Radmax, Ltd., 720 F.3d 285, 288 (5th Cir. 2013) (emphasis added). Similarly, Congress has previously enacted a venue statute imposing precisely this divisional requirement-28 U.S.C. § 1393-which has since been repealed. See Judicial Improvements and Access to Justice Act, Pub. L. No. 100-702, § 1001, 102 Stat 4642 (1988). In contrast to these surrounding provisions, a distinction between divisions and districts is conspicuously absent from § 1391.

         The presence of a divisional distinction in § 1404 and § 1393 is no less important than the absence of a divisional distinction in § 1391. See Ramos-Portillo, 919 F.3d at 960; In re Lopez, 897 F.3d at 670 n.5. “Congress has included” a divisional restriction in § 1404 and § 1393, closely-related venue provisions, “clearly demonstrating that it knows how to impose such a requirement when it wishes to do so.” Whitfield v. United States, 543 U.S. 209, 216-17 (2005). “Where Congress has chosen not to do so, we will not override that choice . . . .” Id. Since Congress has chosen not to include a division-based restriction on venue in § 1391, this Court will not “engraft what [Congress] declined to enact.” See Weaver, 939 F.3d at 626. Doing so would actually require the Court to engraft what Congress has already repealed. See 28 U.S.C. § 1393. Clearly, § 1391 does not impose a division-based restriction. Accordingly, the Court concludes that venue is proper in this division because it is part of this district, and all Parties agree that venue is proper in this district.

         III. Transfer for Convenience Is Not Appropriate

         As an alternative basis for relief, Defendants contend that the Court should transfer the case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), which provides that the court may transfer a case based on “the convenience of parties and witnesses” 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).

         The threshold inquiry when analyzing transfer under § 1404(a) is “whether the judicial district to which transfer is sought would have been a district in which the claim could have been filed.” In re Volkswagen AG, 371 F.3d 201, 203 (5th Cir. 2004) [hereinafter Volkswagen I].[4]

         Once this initial threshold has been met, courts determine whether the case should be transferred by analyzing various public and private factors. See Humble Oil & Ref. Co. v. Bell Marine Serv., Inc., 321 F.2d 53, 56 (5th Cir. 1963). The private factors are: (1) the relative ease of access to sources of proof; (2) the availability of compulsory process to secure the attendance of witnesses; (3) the cost of attendance for willing witnesses; and (4) all other practical problems that make trial of a case easy, expeditious, and inexpensive. Volkswagen I, 371 F.3d at 203 (citing Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 241 n.6 (1981)). The public factors are: (1) the administrative difficulties flowing from court congestion; (2) the local interest in having localized interests decided at home; (3) the familiarity of the forum with the law that will govern the case; and (4) the avoidance of unnecessary problems of conflict of laws or in the application of foreign law. Id. These factors are to be decided based on “the situation which existed when suit was instituted.” Hoffman v. Blaski, 363 U.S. 335, 343 (1960). Though the private and public factors apply to most transfer cases, “they are not necessarily exhaustive or exclusive, ” and no single factor is dispositive. In re Volkswagen of Am., Inc., 545 F.3d 304, 314-15 (5th Cir. 2008) [hereinafter Volkswagen II].

         To prevail on a motion to transfer under § 1404(a), the movant must show that transfer is “clearly more convenient” than the venue chosen by the plaintiff. Id. at 315. Absent such a showing, plaintiff's choice of venue must be respected. Id. When deciding a motion to transfer under § 1404(a), the court may consider undisputed facts outside of the pleadings, such as affidavits or declarations, but must draw all reasonable inferences and resolve factual conflicts in favor of the non-moving party. See Sleepy Lagoon, Ltd., v. Tower Grp., Inc., 809 F.Supp.2d 1300, 1306 (N.D. Okla. 2011); see also Cooper v. Farmers New Century Ins. Co., 593 F.Supp.2d 14, 18-19 (D.D.C. 2008); Reilly v. Meffe, 6 F.Supp.3d 760, 765 (S.D. Ohio 2014) (“In resolving venue questions, courts ‘may examine facts outside the complaint but must draw all reasonable inferences and resolve factual conflicts in favor of the plaintiff.'” (quoting Audi AG & Volkswagen of Am. v. Izumi, 204 F.Supp.2d 1014, 1017 (E.D. Mich. 2002))); 5B Charles A. Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Edward H. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1352 (3d ed. 2013) (“A district court may examine facts outside the complaint to determine whether its venue is proper. And . . . the court must draw all reasonable inferences and resolve all factual conflicts in favor of the plaintiff.”); accord Trois v. Apple Tree Auction Ctr., Inc., 882 F.3d 485, 492-93 (5th Cir. 2018) (“Venue issues are generally reviewed for abuse of discretion. . . . ‘[V]iew[ing] all the facts in a light most favorable to the plaintiff,' Ambraco, Inc. v. Bossclip B.V., 570 F.3d 233, 237 (5th Cir. 2009), ‘the court is permitted to look at evidence in the record beyond simply those facts alleged in the complaint and its proper attachments.' Id. at 238.”) (alterations in original). Because the question of convenience is intensely fact-bound, “[t]here can be no question . . . that the district courts have ‘broad discretion in deciding whether to order a transfer.'” Volkswagen II, 545 F.3d at 311.

         A. Defendants Have Failed to Adequately Brief This Issue

         As an initial matter, the Court notes that the briefing from both sides on this issue is exceptionally sparse. The briefing fails to specify critical factual information that is necessary to decide the issues presented by the instant Motion. For example, neither the briefing nor the complaint identify where the auto-accident specifically occurred;[5] where Hammers received medical treatment;[6] from whom Hammers received medical treatment (let alone where such medical professionals are located); and which witnesses, other than the Parties, who will testify at trial.

         Based on the failure to address the relevant facts, the Court finds that Defendants have substantively failed to carry their burden to demonstrate that transfer to the Tyler Division is “clearly more convenient.” Volkswagen II, 545 F.3d at 315. Though both Parties fail to discuss many of the operative facts relevant to this Motion, it is the movant who “is required to identify specific evidence in the record and to articulate the precise manner in which that evidence supports his or her claim.” Diaz v. Kaplan Higher Educ., L.L.C., 820 F.3d 172, 176 (5th Cir. 2016). This is because the movant bears the burden to show a sufficient justification to override the plaintiff's choice of venue. Volkswagen II, 545 F.3d at 315. When the movant fails to provide the factual foundation that is necessary to evaluate the relative convenience of the present and proposed venues, the Court lacks a basis to conclude that the proposed venue is “clearly more convenient” than the present venue. Id. Put another way, if the facts governing convenience are not clearly set forth, the Court cannot conclude that the proposed venue is “clearly more convenient.” Id. Any such unsupported request to transfer to such proposed venue must be denied. Id.

         The Federal Circuit, applying Fifth Circuit law, has recognized that courts may deny a request for transfer when the party seeking transfer fails to provide specific factual information which is necessary to evaluate the potential convenience ...

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