United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
ROYAL SMIT TRANSFORMERS BV ET AL.
HC BEA-LUNA M/V ET AL.
ORDER AND REASONS
M. AFRICK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Central Oceans USA, LLC (“Central Oceans”) has
filed a motion to transfer venue pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1404(a). Central Oceans requests a transfer of this
entire case to the U.S. District Court for the Western
District of Virginia, Charlottesville Division. If the entire
case cannot be transferred, Central Oceans asks that the
claims against it be severed and transferred. The motion is
opposed by the plaintiffs and by the other defendants. For
the following reasons, the Court transfers the
plaintiffs' claims against Central Oceans to the Western
District of Virginia.
plaintiffs claim to be the owners and/or insurers of three
electrical transformers that were allegedly damaged while in
transit from Rotterdam, the Netherlands, to St. Gabriel,
Louisiana. The plaintiffs contracted with Central
Oceans for the transport of the transformers. Central Oceans,
in turn, entered into contracts with the other defendants to
provide transportation services as follows: ocean carriage
aboard the MV HC BEA-LUNA by defendant Onego Shipping &
Chartering BV (“Onego Shipping”); rail carriage
by defendant Illinois Central Railroad Company
(“Illinois Central”); and truck carriage by
defendant Berard Transportation, Inc. (“Berard”).
Onego Shipping transported the transformers from a port in
the Netherlands to the Port of New Orleans, Illinois Central
moved the transformers from the Port of New Orleans to St.
Gabriel by rail, and Berard conveyed the transformers by
truck from the rail cars in St. Gabriel to the Entergy
substation in St. Gabriel where they were to be installed.
The plaintiffs claim that after the transformers were
delivered, an inspection determined that the transformers
sustained at least $1.6 million in damages as a result of
excessive vibration during shipment.
plaintiffs' contract with Central Oceans contains a
forum-selection clause which provides:
Law and Jurisdiction
Disputes arising under this MT Bill of Lading shall be
determined by the courts and in accordance with the law at
the place where the MTO [i.e., Central Oceans] has his
principal place of business.
R. Doc. No. 5-4, at 2. No one disputes the validity of the
forum-selection clause as to disputes arising between the
plaintiffs and Central Oceans. No one disputes that the
clause is mandatory as opposed to permissive. No one disputes
that Central Oceans has its principal place of business in
the Western District of Virginia. Nevertheless, the
plaintiffs and the other defendants argue that the private
interests of the parties and the interests of the public
require that the litigation be maintained in this Court
notwithstanding the forum-selection clause.
the defendants opposing transfer stress that they are not
subject to the forum-selection clause and argue that they are
not subject to personal jurisdiction in the Western District
of Virginia. See R. Doc. No. 21, at 1 (“Most
importantly, no district court in Virginia could exercise
personal jurisdiction over Berard because of the absolute
lack of contacts between Berard and Virginia both generally
and specific to this dispute.”); R. Doc. No. 23, at 3
(“[T]he Western District of Virginia cannot exercise
personal jurisdiction over Onego, since Onego lacks the
requisite minimum contacts with Virginia.”); R. Doc.
No. 24, at 2 (Illinois Central “denies that it is
subject to general personal jurisdiction in the . . . the
Western District of Virginia as [Illinois Central] has not in
any way purposefully availed itself of the privilege of
conducting activities within Virginia.”).
the parties opposing transfer argue that trying the case in
the Eastern District of Louisiana will be more convenient and
more efficient than trying the lawsuit in Virginia. According
to Onego Shipping, because the transformers were delivered to
the Port of New Orleans in this district and then transported
to St. Gabriel in the Middle District of Louisiana, any
surveys and/or inspections of the cargo would
“presumably, ” therefore, have been performed in
New Orleans and St. Gabriel, see R. Doc. No. 23, at
5, and discovery would be more convenient. Moreover, although
the lawsuit involves parties from around the world, many of
the witnesses and companies that actually handled the
cargo-the stevedores, the railroad, the trucking company, and
Entergy Louisiana, LLC-are likely located in Louisiana.
See Id. The cost of obtaining testimony may thus be
lower in the Eastern District of Louisiana. See id.;
see also R. Doc. No. 21, at 6 (“Not a single
portion of this voyage even remotely concerned the
Commonwealth of Virginia.”). Further, the parties will
have the ability to compel the attendance of potential
non-party witnesses at trial if the litigation remains here.
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 45(c)(1). They may not be able
to do so if the case is transferred.
Oceans responds that the plaintiffs knew at the time they
entered into the contract that Central Oceans would need to
contract with other companies in order to fulfill its
obligations. The contract itself provides that all of its
provisions would be enforceable notwithstanding that
eventuality. The contract reads: