Among the factors the court should consider in exercising its discretion to transfer venue in the interest of justice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) are: plaintiff's choice of forum; the convenience of the witnesses and parties; the location of events giving rise to the suit; the relative ease of access to sources of proof; a forum's familiarity with governing law; and trial efficiency. The moving party bears the burden of establishing that the pertinent factors compel a change of forum. To meet this burden, a defendant must show that the relevant factors weigh strongly in favor of transfer. Ramada Franchise Systems, Inc. v. Cusack Development, Inc., 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7888, 1997 WL 304885, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. June 6, 1997).
These factors weigh strongly in favor of trial of this action in Nebraska, not New York. The majority of events giving rise to the suit occurred in Nebraska. Vickers' employees James Grassau and Les Pope submitted affidavits that (1) throughout negotiations for the purchase of the Machine, representatives from CPC and Giuliani came to Omaha; (2) no Vickers representative ever traveled to New York at any time during the negotiations, sale or delivery of the Machine; (3) representatives from CPC and Giuliani came to Omaha to repair the Machine; (4) the Machine is still at Vickers' facility in Omaha; (5) all of Vickers' records detailing the problems experienced with the Machine are located in Omaha; (6) all of Vickers' records of the negotiation, sale and delivery of the Machine are located in Omaha. Other relevant events relating to the parties continuing obligations with respect to the Machine took the form of telephone calls or written correspondence.
In contrast, plaintiffs can point to few connections that this action has to New York. They allege that at some point after the sale of the Machine to Vickers, an agreement was entered into by Vickers, CPC and Giuliani USA concerning the provision of warranty service to Vickers. This agreement was negotiated by telephone and correspondence between Giuliani USA in New York and Vickers in Nebraska. But plaintiffs do not dispute Vickers' representation that no representative of Vickers ever came to New York for any purpose relating to the Machine.
The convenience of witnesses also weighs in favor of Nebraska as the more appropriate forum. Vickers maintains that all of its witnesses who negotiated the purchase of the Machine, operated the machine, and dealt with plaintiffs in connection with repairs of the Machine -- at least five people -- live and work in Nebraska. It appears that CPC's witnesses live and work in Wisconsin, which is closer to Omaha than it is to New York City. Giuliani's witnesses who live in Italy will be only marginally more inconvenienced if required to travel to Nebraska rather than New York. Plaintiffs point to only two potential witness located in New York, Giuliani USA's Executive Vice President, who undertook "all of the negotiation, phone calls and faxes concerning the drafting" of the service agreement among Vickers, CPC and Giuliani USA, and Giuliani USA's National Sales Manager, a former CPC employee who was "directly involved" with Vickers' order of the Machine.
Finally, plaintiffs do not contend that New York law governs this action.
The only factor that weighs against transfer is plaintiffs' choice of forum. While New York is the place of residence of one plaintiff, it cannot be seriously argued that any events giving rise to the action occurred here, except insofar as one party to some telephone calls and written correspondence was located in New York. That minimal connection to New York does not outweigh the numerous and substantial connections that this action has to Nebraska, and the significant factors that favor transfer to that forum.
Moreover, it is apparent that this action could have been brought in Nebraska. Vickers is subject to personal jurisdiction in Nebraska because it does business in Nebraska. CPC is subject to personal jurisdiction in Nebraska because, according to the complaint, it sold the Machine to Vickers in Nebraska. See Neb.Rev.St. § 25-536 ("[a] court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a person . . . who acts directly or by an agent, as to a cause of action arising from the person . . . contracting to supply services or things in this state"). And, because both defendants are subject to personal jurisdiction in Nebraska, venue is proper in Nebraska. See 28 U.S.C. § 1391(a)(1), (c).
Plaintiffs argue that transfer should be denied because this declaratory judgment action was filed twelve days before Vickers filed the Nebraska Action, and plaintiffs are entitled to the benefit of the "first-filed" rule. This contention is meritless. Transfer of this action to Nebraska in the interest of justice would be appropriate even if there were no related action already pending in that forum. The first-filed rule does not supersede the inquiry into the balance of convenience required under § 1404(a), and a transfer justified under § 1404(a) is proper even if the action to be transferred was filed before a related action was filed in the transferee district. River Road Int'l, L.P. v. Josephthal Lyon & Ross Inc., 871 F. Supp. 210, 214-215 (S.D.N.Y. 1995).
The center of gravity of this litigation is in Nebraska: the Machine was sold and delivered to a company in Nebraska and operated and serviced in Nebraska; many witnesses live and work in Nebraska and many documents relevant to the action are in Nebraska. The action has little connection to New York. Because the relevant factors weigh heavily in favor of transfer, this action is transferred in the interest of justice to the District Court of Nebraska. In light of the change of venue, plaintiffs' motion is denied as moot.
Dated: New York, New York
March 17, 1998
MIRIAM GOLDMAN CEDARBAUM
United States District Judge
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