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Gonzalez v. Sea Fox Boat Company, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

February 1, 2019

HUGO GONZALEZ
v.
SEA FOX BOAT COMPANY, INC.

         SECTION I

          ORDER & REASONS

          LANCE M. AFRICK, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is defendant Sea Fox Boat Company, Inc.'s (“Sea Fox”) motion[1] to transfer the above-captioned consolidated matters to the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, Lake Charles Division, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). For the following reasons, the motion is granted.[2]

         I.

         This case arises out of a tragic boating accident that occurred on July 29, 2018.[3]According to the complaints, a vessel designed, manufactured, marketed, and sold by Sea Fox exploded on the Calcasieu River in Lake Charles, Louisiana, causing severe injuries to plaintiffs Hugo Gonzalez, Galloway Outlaw-Knight, and Jeremy Eades, all of whom were aboard the vessel at the time of the explosion.[4] The plaintiffs individually filed lawsuits against Sea Fox, and the matters were eventually consolidated before this Court.[5] Each plaintiff has since filed an amended complaint naming Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A. (“Yamaha”) as an additional defendant.[6]The plaintiffs allege that Yamaha designed, manufactured, marketed, and sold a filter that was installed on the subject boat.[7]

         Sea Fox filed a counterclaim against the plaintiffs, alleging that the explosion was a result of their own negligence.[8] Additionally, Sea Fox filed a third-party complaint against the alleged owners of the boat, Daniel and Francene Henderson (the “Hendersons”), alleging that the explosion was also a result of the Henderons's negligence in maintaining the boat.[9]

         II.

         Sea Fox moves the Court to transfer these consolidated cases to the Western District of Louisiana, Lake Charles Division, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), 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.

         The moving party has the burden of showing “good cause” for a transfer by “clearly demonstrat[ing] that a transfer is ‘[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice.'” In re Volkswagen of Am., Inc., 545 F.3d 304, 315 (5th Cir. 2008) [hereinafter Volkswagen II] (quoting § 1404(a)). If the transferee court is not clearly more convenient, then the court deciding whether to transfer should respect the plaintiff's choice of venue. Id.; see also In re Horseshoe Entm't, 337 F.3d 429, 434 (5th Cir. 2003) (“[I]t is clear under Fifth Circuit precedent that the plaintiff's choice of forum is clearly a factor to be considered but in and of itself it is neither conclusive nor determinative.”). “The district court has broad discretion in deciding whether to order a transfer.” Balawajder v. Scott, 160 F.3d 1066, 1067 (5th Cir. 1998) (quoting Caldwell v. Palmetto State Sav. Bank, 811 F.2d 916, 919 (5th Cir. 1987)).

         To determine whether a transfer is warranted, courts consider several private and public interest factors:

The private interest 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.” . . . The public interest 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.”

Volkswagen II, 545 F.3d at 315 (citations omitted). The foregoing list is not exhaustive, and no one factor is dispositive. Id.

         III.

         As a threshold matter, the plaintiffs do not dispute that these cases could have been filed in the Western District of Louisiana. The Lake Charles Division is an appropriate venue because the boat accident that forms the basis of the actions occurred within the Western District of Louisiana. See 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2).[10]

         Thus, the Court must decide whether Sea Fox has established good cause for its requested transfer, and it must determine whether the Western District of Louisiana is clearly a more convenient forum. The Court will weigh the private and public interest factors separately.

         PRIVATE INTEREST FACTORS

         On balance, the Court concludes that the private interest factors weigh in favor of granting Sea Fox's motion.

         Relative ease of access to sources

         “Courts consider the distance between the current location of the evidence and the trial venue in ascertaining the relative ease of access to sources of proof.” SP Plus Corp. v. IPT, LLC, No. 16-2474, 2016 WL 9280320, at *7 (E.D. La. Dec. 12, 2016) (Feldman, J.). Although “electronic discovery renders discovery of the documents at either venue a less cumbersome task than in yesteryear, this factor still bears on the analysis.” Id. (citing Volkswagen II, 545 F.3d at 315).

         Sea Fox argues that this factor weighs in favor of transferring the cases: immediately following the accident, the plaintiffs were treated at a hospital in Lafayette, Louisiana, which is closer to Lake Charles than New Orleans; the accident was investigated by Lake Charles authorities; and it appears that the eyewitnesses to the accident all live in or near Lake Charles.[11] Therefore, accident ...


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