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COULTMAN v. AMTRAK

March 30, 1994

PEARLINE COULTMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION a/k/a AMTRAK and CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN R. BARTELS

 MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

 The defendants National Railroad Passenger Corporation ("Amtrak") and CSX Transportation, Inc. ("CSX") move under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) for an order transferring the above-captioned case to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Defendants argue that the interest of justice, convenience of the parties and witnesses, and judicial economy best will be served by transferring the action to that forum. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants the defendants' motion.

 On or about August 12, 1992, plaintiff Pearline Coultman allegedly sustained injuries to her neck, back, shoulders, and elbow when the Amtrak "Colonial," a passenger train en route from New York to Hampton, Virginia, suddenly derailed, throwing her out of her seat and onto the floor. The Colonial was travelling on defendant CSX's main track in Newport News, Virginia at the time of the accident.

 Subsequent investigation conducted by local state and federal law enforcement officials revealed that the Colonial derailment resulted from an intentional act of criminal vandalism. Vandals forcibly had entered a locked, electronically-controlled CSX track switch and manually thrown the switch, redirecting the Colonial onto a railroad siding designed to accept trains operating at drastically reduced speeds. Joseph L. Loomis and Raymond Gary Borman, Jr. were apprehended in Virginia and charged with violating 18 U.S.C. § 1992 *fn1" in connection with the derailment. Loomis and Borman subsequently confessed to the crime, admitting that they had thrown the switch and that they intentionally had done so at a time when the Colonial already had passed a warning signal that could have alerted the engineer and allowed him to stop the train. The two pleaded guilty and were convicted of conspiring to derail the Colonial. Borman presently is serving a 16-year term of imprisonment; Loomis awaits sentencing.

 Plaintiff Coultman commenced the instant action against defendant Amtrak in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Kings County, on or about June 10, 1993. In August 1993, defendant Amtrak removed the action to this Court, asserting jurisdiction on the basis of diversity. *fn2" On or about October 10, 1993, plaintiff filed with this Court an amended complaint adding defendant CSX. In the amended complaint, plaintiff alleges that the defendants' negligence in the ownership, operation, maintenance, and control of the train and the railroad tracks proximately caused the derailment. Specifically, plaintiff claims that defendant Amtrak operated the Colonial at an excessive rate of speed and failed to obey applicable regulations and control signals. Defendant CSX's purported negligence apparently arises from its failure properly to maintain the tracks and protect the integrity of the switch thrown by Loomis and Borman. In defense of the action, Amtrak and CSX argue vehemently that they cannot be held liable for the unforeseeable criminal acts of Loomis and Borman, which they assert constitute the sole legal cause of the derailment and plaintiff's injuries.

 Other passengers on board the Colonial during the August 12, 1992 derailment have instituted personal injury actions against defendants Amtrak and CSX in the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, asserting claims of negligence nearly identical to those asserted here. See Anderson et al. v. The National Railroad Passenger Corp. d/b/a Amtrak and CSX Transportation Inc., Civ. Action No. 2:92 Civ. 1040 (E.D. Va. 1992). Negligence claims asserted by a total of fifty-one passengers have been joined and consolidated in the Anderson action. Discovery currently is underway, and the case is set for trial to commence in July 1994.

 DISCUSSION

 Section 1404(a) vests in the federal district courts discretion to transfer an action to a district in which the action might have been brought if the court determines that "the convenience of parties and witnesses" and "the interests of justice" warrant transfer. See 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a); Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29, 108 S. Ct. 2239, 2243, 101 L. Ed. 2d 22 (1988). The undisputed goal of Section 1404(a) "is to prevent waste 'of time, energy and money'" and "to protect litigants, witnesses and the public against unnecessary inconvenience and expense." Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 616, 84 S. Ct. 805, 809, 11 L. Ed. 2d 945 (1964) (quoting Continental Grain Co. v. Barge FBL-585, 364 U.S. 19, 26-27, 80 S. Ct. 1470, 1474-75, 4 L. Ed. 2d 1540 [1960]). Thus, Section 1404(a) directs the court to conduct an "individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness." Id. at 622, 84 S. Ct. at 812.

 The threshold inquiry on a Section 1404(a) motion is whether the transferee district, in this case the Eastern District of Virginia, is a district in which the action originally "might have been brought." Section 1391(b) of Title 28 sets forth the proper forum in which to commence an action, such as this one, wherein jurisdiction is not founded solely on diversity of citizenship. That section provides:

 
(b) A civil action wherein jurisdiction is not founded solely on diversity of citizenship may, except as otherwise provided by law, be brought only in (1) a judicial district where any defendant resides, if all defendants reside in the same State, (2) a judicial district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred . . . or (3) a judicial district in which any defendant may be found, if there is no district in which the action may otherwise be brought.

 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b) (1993). Because the Court concludes that a substantial part of the events giving rise to the instant claim transpired in the Eastern District of Virginia, that district constitutes a proper place of venue for the trial of this action pursuant to Section 1391(b)(2).

 The Court next must inquire whether the convenience of party and non-party witnesses and the interests of justice warrant transfer of the action. Defendants must meet the substantial burden of demonstrating by clear-cut evidence that "the balance of conveniences and the interests of justice favor a trial in the proposed transferee forum." St. Cyr v. Greyhound Lines, Inc., 486 F. Supp. 724, 727 (E.D.N.Y. 1980). Accord Levitt v. State of Maryland Deposit Ins. Fund Corp., 643 ...


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