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ROYAL INS. CO. OF AMERICA v. UNITED STATES

March 25, 1998

ROYAL INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, Plaintiff, against UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: FRANCIS

 JAMES C. FRANCIS IV

 UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

 On the night of September 21-22, 1995, the Nighthawk III, a 45-foot fishing vessel, ran aground on a breakwater while entering Ventura Harbor in California. The vessel's insurer, Royal Insurance Company of America ("Royal"), subsequently filed this action for damages against the United States, contending that the United States Coast Guard had been negligent in maintaining the light that marks the breakwater. The government now moves pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) to transfer this case to the Central District of California for the convenience of the parties and in the interest of justice. The motion raises two novel issues: (1) whether the domicile of the insurer or that of its insured is more relevant in evaluating the convenience of the parties, and (2) whether the relative expertise of the federal courts in the alternative venues is an appropriate consideration.

 Background

 The Nighthawk III is a fishing boat owned by Gregory B. Artz. Complaint P 5. At approximately 2400 hours on September 21, 1995, Mr. Artz was aboard the vessel as it was returning to Ventura Harbor. Complaint P 8. The entrance to the harbor is marked by Ventura Marina South Breakwater Light No. 3, which is maintained by the United States Coast Guard. Complaint P 6. The Nighthawk III ran aground, and the plaintiff maintains that the accident occurred because the breakwater light was either extinguished or only dimly lit at the time. Complaint PP 7, 8.

 When the vessel grounded, Mr. Artz made a distress call that was received by the Ventura Port District Harbor Patrol. Notice of Motion, Exh. D. The Harbor Patrol dispatched a boat to the scene and towed the Nighthawk III to the Ventura Boat Yard. Notice of Motion, Exh. D. Thereafter, the vessel was inspected by the plaintiff's surveyor, Skip Riley.

 Royal, the vessel's insurer, apparently paid approximately $ 70,000 to Mr. Artz to cover the damage sustained. Notice of Motion, Exh. B. The office responsible for Royal's marine subrogation claims is located in Manhattan, Affidavit of Alice E. Teal dated Jan. 22, 1998 P 2, and Royal accordingly filed the instant action in the Southern District of New York.

 The government now moves to transfer the case to the Central District of California, since that is the site of the accident as well as the residence of most witnesses. Royal opposes the motion and contends that, as the plaintiff, its choice of forum should be honored and that the law concerning maintenance of navigational aids is more developed in this jurisdiction.

 Discussion

 The statute governing transfer of cases provides that "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." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Here, there is no dispute that this action could have been filed in the Central District of California. Accordingly, the determination whether to transfer on grounds of convenience lies in the broad discretion of the district court. In re Cuyahoga Equipment Corp., 980 F.2d 110, 117 (2d Cir. 1992). However, the burden of demonstrating the desirability of transfer rests with the moving party. Filmline (Cross-Country) Productions, Inc. v. United Artists Corp., 865 F.2d 513, 521 (2d Cir. 1989); Eskofot A/S v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 872 F. Supp. 81, 95 (S.D.N.Y. 1995).

 In evaluating a forum non conveniens motion, courts take into account a variety of factors including: (1) the plaintiff's original choice of forum, (2) the locus of the operative facts, (3) the convenience and relative means of the parties, (4) the convenience of witnesses, (5) the availability of process to compel the attendance of witnesses, (6) the location of physical evidence, including documents, (7) the relative familiarity of the courts with the applicable law, and (8) the interests of justice, including the interest of trial efficiency. See id.; Frasca v. Yaw, 787 F. Supp. 327, 330-33 (E.D.N.Y. 1992); 17 Moore's Federal Practice § 111.13[1][b] (3d ed. 1997). This list is not exhaustive. Some other factors, such as contractual choice of forum clauses or the enforceability of a judgment, are either irrelevant to this case or have not been addressed by the parties.

 A. Plaintiff's Choice of Forum

 A plaintiff's choice of venue is entitled to significant consideration and will not be disturbed unless other factors weigh strongly in favor of transfer. See In re Warrick, 70 F.3d 736, 741 (2d Cir. 1995); Eskofot, 872 F. Supp. at ...


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