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Rivers v. Union Pacific Railroad

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana

January 25, 2017

ANGIE RIVERS ET AL
v.
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD ET AL

          RULING

          JAMES J. BRADY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on a Motion to Transfer Venue (Doc. 13) brought by the Defendant, Anthony Forest Products, LLC (“AFP”). The Plaintiffs filed an Opposition (Doc. 22), and the Defendant filed a Reply (Doc. 26). Additionally, the second Defendant, Union Pacific Railroad Company (“Union Pacific”), filed a Motion to Adopt AFP's Motion to Transfer (Doc. 27). Oral argument is unnecessary. The Court's jurisdiction exists pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. For the reasons stated herein, Union Pacific's Motion to Adopt is GRANTED and AFP's Motion to Transfer is GRANTED.

         I. Background

         This suit has a very minimal connection to the Middle District of Louisiana. Its only connection to this district is that the Defendants' agents for service of process are located in Baton Rouge, LA.[1] This is a wrongful death suit filed by the survivors of Phillip Rivers (“Rivers”), a truck driver killed in an accident with a train operated by Union Pacific. The crossing where the incident occurred is in Plain Dealing, Bossier Parish, Louisiana, on private property owned by AFP. The Plaintiffs filed suit against both Union Pacific and AFP.

         AFP claims that at the time of the accident, Rivers was acting within the scope of his employment with AimWell Timber Company (“AimWell”). Right before the accident, Rivers had delivered some logs to the AFP mill. AFP claims that it has an indemnity agreement with AimWell which requires AimWell to defend and indemnify AFP for claims such as those asserted by Plaintiffs. Pursuant to this indemnity agreement, AFP has asserted a third-party complaint against AimWell and its insurer, Plaza Insurance Company (“Plaza”). These Third-Party Defendants have not filed responsive pleadings yet.

         Defendants AFP and Union Pacific bring a Motion to Transfer the case to the Western District of Louisiana, Shreveport Division. Defendants argue that this case should be transferred because this suit has no connection to the Middle District of Louisiana. The accident site is in the Western District, and all of the Plaintiffs and fact-witnesses are located much closer to the Shreveport Division of the Western District than they are to this Court.

         The Plaintiffs oppose the Motion, but, rather than addressing the merits of the Motion, they argue that such a Motion is premature. They assert that this Court cannot consider the Motion until the Third-Party Defendants file responsive pleadings.

         II. Discussion

         A. The Gilbert Factors Weigh Heavily In Favor of Transfer

         While a plaintiff has the “privilege of filing his claims in any judicial division appropriate under the general venue statute [28 USC § 1391], § 1404(a) tempers the effects of the exercise of this privilege.”[2] In other words, even when a plaintiff chooses an appropriate judicial division, the Court has discretion under § 1404(a) to transfer the action to another division if it determines that doing so would be more convenient for the parties and in the “interest of justice.”[3]

         In order to obtain a transfer, a defendant must satisfy two steps. First, the defendant must show that the sought-after forum, here the Western District of Louisiana, Shreveport Division, would have been an appropriate venue to begin with.[4] Next, the defendant must show that the sought-after forum is “clearly more convenient.”[5]

         To determine whether a sought-after forum is clearly more convenient, the Court must look to the Gilbert factors, a list of both private and public interest factors.[6] Although the Gilbert factors are helpful for determining whether transfer is appropriate, they are not necessarily exhaustive or exclusive.[7]

         The private interest factors to consider 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.”[8] The public interest factors to consider 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.”[9]

         Generally, a plaintiff's choice of forum is given great deference; however, when a plaintiff is not a resident of the chosen forum and the relevant actions giving rise to the dispute did not occur in the chosen forum, ...


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