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Harutyunyan v. Love

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

October 28, 2019

RUBEN HARUTYUNYAN, ET AL., Plaintiffs
v.
ANDY LOVE, ET AL., Defendants

         SECTION: “E” (4)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          SUSIE MORGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Andy Love, Pearl Denise Love, and National General Insurance Company.[1] Plaintiffs oppose the motion.[2] For the following reasons, the motion is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         This case arises from a motor vehicle accident that occurred on November 24, 2017, in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana.[3] Defendants argue the Court should grant summary judgment in their favor because Plaintiffs' claims are prescribed.[4]

         SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate only “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”[5] “An issue is material if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action.”[6]When assessing whether a material factual dispute exists, the Court considers “all of the evidence in the record but refrains from making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence.”[7] All reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the nonmoving party.[8]There is no genuine issue of material fact if, even viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, no reasonable trier of fact could find for the nonmoving party, thus entitling the moving party to judgment as a matter of law.[9]

         If the dispositive issue is one on which the moving party will bear the burden of persuasion at trial, the moving party “must come forward with evidence which would ‘entitle it to a directed verdict if the evidence went uncontroverted at trial.'”[10] If the moving party fails to carry this burden, the motion must be denied. If the moving party successfully carries this burden, the burden of production then shifts to the nonmoving party to direct the Court's attention to something in the pleadings or other evidence in the record setting forth specific facts sufficient to establish that a genuine issue of material fact does indeed exist.[11]

         If the dispositive issue is one on which the nonmoving party will bear the burden of persuasion at trial, the moving party may satisfy its burden of production by either (1) submitting affirmative evidence that negates an essential element of the nonmovant's claim, or (2) demonstrating there is no evidence in the record to establish an essential element of the nonmovant's claim.[12] When proceeding under the first option, if the nonmoving party cannot muster sufficient evidence to dispute the movant's contention that there are no disputed facts, a trial would be useless, and the moving party is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law.[13] When, however, the movant is proceeding under the second option and is seeking summary judgment on the ground that the nonmovant has no evidence to establish an essential element of the claim, the nonmoving party may defeat a motion for summary judgment by “calling the Court's attention to supporting evidence already in the record that was overlooked or ignored by the moving party.”[14] Under either scenario, the burden then shifts back to the movant to demonstrate the inadequacy of the evidence relied upon by the nonmovant.[15]

         If the movant meets this burden, “the burden of production shifts [back again] to the nonmoving party, who must either (1) rehabilitate the evidence attacked in the moving party's papers, (2) produce additional evidence showing the existence of a genuine issue for trial as provided in Rule 56(e), or (3) submit an affidavit explaining why further discovery is necessary as provided in Rule 56(f).”[16] “Summary judgment should be granted if the nonmoving party fails to respond in one or more of these ways, or if, after the nonmoving party responds, the court determines that the moving party has met its ultimate burden of persuading the court that there is no genuine issue of material fact for trial.”[17]

         “[U]nsubstantiated assertions are not competent summary judgment evidence. The party opposing summary judgment is required to identify specific evidence in the record and to articulate the precise manner in which that evidence supports the claim. ‘Rule 56 does not impose upon the district court a duty to sift through the record in search of evidence to support a party's opposition to summary judgment.'”[18]

         FACTS

         The following facts are undisputed. On November 24, 2017, Plaintiffs were involved in a car accident with Defendants Andy Love and Pearl Denise Love in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana.[19] Plaintiffs filed their original complaint for damages against Defendants Andy Love and Pearl Denise Love in the United States District Court for the Central District of California (California District Court) on November 10, 2018.[20]Plaintiffs reside in Los Angeles County, California, and Defendants Andy Love and Pearl Denise Love reside in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana.[21]

         On November 22, 2018, the California District Court ordered Plaintiffs to show cause why their lawsuit should not be transferred to Louisiana.[22] Ultimately, on December 27, 2018, the California District Court ordered the action be transferred to the Eastern District of Louisiana.[23] The action was transferred to this district on January 7, 2019.[24] Plaintiffs added National General Insurance Company as a Defendant on February 1, 2019.[25] Plaintiffs did not serve any of the Defendants before November 24, 2018.[26] There are no disputed issues of material fact.[27] As a result, the only question is whether Defendants, as movants, have shown they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Louisiana Civil Code article 3492 provides a delictual action, such as the action in this case, is subject to a one-year prescriptive period.[28] All parties agree the prescriptive period for Plaintiffs' claim, if uninterrupted, would have lapsed on November 24, 2018, one year after the date of the car accident. According to Louisiana Civil Code article 3462, Plaintiffs could interrupt that prescriptive period only by (1) commencing suit in a court of competent jurisdiction and proper venue, or (2) serving a defendant within the prescriptive period after commencement of suit in a court without jurisdiction or venue.[29]

         Defendants argue Plaintiffs' claim is prescribed under Louisiana law because Plaintiffs neither filed suit in a court of proper venue nor served a defendant before Louisiana's one-year prescriptive period ran.[30] Because Plaintiffs' claim is not prescribed on its face, Defendants' have the burden of showing Plaintiffs' claim is prescribed.[31]

         I. The California District Court's Transfer of Plaintiffs' Case

         On December 27, 2018, the California District Court ordered this action be transferred to the Eastern District of Louisiana, a court with venue, rather than be dismissed.[32] In ordering the transfer, the court stated:

As Plaintiffs note, the one-year statute of limitations related to their claim expired on November 24, 2018. . . . [F]orcing them to file anew in Louisiana would effectively foreclose their claim. . . . Courts may take into consideration the applicable statute of limitations when deciding whether to dismiss or transfer a case . . . . The Court determines, therefore, that justice requires the Court to transfer the case to the Eastern District of Louisiana rather than dismiss it.[33]

         It is clear the California District Court considered the interests of justice and ordered this case be transferred, rather than dismissed, to avoid termination of the action based on prescription.[34] Although the California District Court referenced transfer under 28 U.S.C. § 1406, [35] the question before the Court is whether 28 U.S.C. § 1631 also applies and provides the rule for determining whether this action has prescribed.

         28 U.S.C. § 1406(a) provides:

The district court of a district in which is filed a case laying venue in the wrong division or district shall dismiss, or if it be in the interest of justice, transfer such case to any district or division in which it could have been brought.

         Under § 1406, a case may be transferred to a district in which it could have been brought, rather than dismissed, if the transferor court is the wrong venue and the interests of justice so require, even if the transferor court lacks jurisdiction.[36]

         28 U.S.C. § 1631 provides:

Whenever a civil action is filed in a court . . . and that court finds that there is a want of jurisdiction, the court shall, if it is in the interest of justice, transfer such action or appeal to any other such court in which the action or appeal could have been brought at the time it was filed or noticed, and the action or appeal shall proceed as if it had been filed in or noticed for the court to which it is transferred on the date upon which it was actually filed in or noticed for the court from which it is transferred.

         Under § 1631, when the court finds “a want of jurisdiction, ”[37] a case may be transferred to a court in which the action could have been brought, rather than dismissed, if the interests of justice so require. In that event, the action shall proceed “as if it had been filed” in the transferee court on the date upon which it was actually filed in the transferor court. “A case is ‘transferable' [pursuant to § 1631] when three conditions are met: (1) the transferee court would have been able to exercise its jurisdiction on the date the action was misfiled; (2) the transferor court lacks jurisdiction; and (3) the transfer serves the interest of justice.”[38]

         The Court must determine whether the portion of § 1631 supplying the date on which an action shall be considered filed in a transferee court applies such that this action shall proceed as if it had been filed in this Court on November 10, 2018.[39] In this case, it is clear to the Court the interests of justice require a transfer and the case could have been brought in this Court. It is less clear, however, whether the California District Court transferred this case based on a “want of jurisdiction” as § 1631 requires. Courts have debated whether the phrase “want of jurisdiction, ” as it is used in § 1631, refers only to subject matter jurisdiction or also includes lack of personal jurisdiction or, as in this case, venue.

         The California District Court that transferred this case sits in the Ninth Circuit and, as a result, the Ninth Circuit's interpretation of §1631 controls with respect to the transfer.[40] The Ninth Circuit has determined the word “jurisdiction” in § 1631 is to be interpreted broadly and has applied § 1631 to cases in which either personal or subject matter jurisdiction is lacking or in which venue is improper. For example, in Gray & Co. v. Firstenberg Machinery Co., the Ninth Circuit directed a district court lacking personal jurisdiction over a defendant to transfer the case pursuant to § 1631 if the interest of justice required.[41] In Rodriguez-Roman v. I.N.S., the Ninth Circuit held, “[F]or purposes of [§ 1631], a court lacks jurisdiction if venue does not lie. A contrary construction would undermine the statutory purpose of eliminating ‘the risk of filing in the wrong court.'”[42]Finally, in Trejo-Mejia v. Holder, the Ninth Circuit held “we lack jurisdiction for purposes of [§ 1631] because venue does not lie.”[43] Accordingly, the application of § 1631 to the transfer of Plaintiffs' case based on improper venue is proper under Ninth Circuit precedent.[44]

         The Ninth Circuit is not alone in its interpretation. The First, Third, Sixth, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits have broadly interpreted the text of § 1631 and permitted transfers based on a lack of personal jurisdiction as well as subject-matter jurisdiction.[45]The Tenth Circuit has explicitly held the phrase “want of jurisdiction” authorizes transfer in cases in which venue is improper, regardless of whether personal or subject matter jurisdiction lies.[46]

         The Fifth Circuit has not decided this issue. In Bentz v. Recile the court specifically reserved the question of whether § 1631 authorizes transfers based on lack of personal jurisdiction.[47] In Phillips v. Illinois Central Gulf Railroad the Fifth Circuit considered the application of § 1631 to a transfer based on a lack personal jurisdiction but declined to decide the matter because not even § 1631 would save the plaintiff's time-barred claim since he initially filed suit in Texas after the prescriptive period in Louisiana ran.[48]

         Although the Fifth Circuit has not squarely addressed this issue, it appears to this Court the Fifth Circuit would agree that § 1631 authorizes transfers based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction, personal jurisdiction, or improper venue.[49] In Dornbusch v. C.I.R., the Fifth Circuit held it could transfer the appeal before it based on improper venue and noted “it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Congress used ‘jurisdiction' in section 1631 in a broad, general, nontechnical sense rather than in the more constricted, specific sense in which jurisdiction is distinguished from venue.”[50]

         The legislative history of § 1631 supports this broad interpretation adopted by the Ninth and most other circuits. At the time § 1631 was before Congress, the members made clear the purpose of § 1631 was “to enhance citizen access to justice” and ensure a litigant is not left “without a remedy because of a lawyer's error or a technicality of procedure.”[51]A decision finding ...


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