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Michel v. Petco Animal Supplies Stores, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. New York

May 18, 2017

DESERIE MICHEL, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
PETCO ANIMAL SUPPLIES STORES, INC., and PETCO HOLDINGS, INC., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER

          LASHANN DEARCY HALL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Deserie Michel brings the instant action against Defendants Petco Animal Supplies Stores, Inc. and Petco Holdings, Inc. (collectively, “Petco” or “Defendants”) on behalf of a purported class of Assistant Store Managers at Petco in New York, alleging violations of the New York Labor Law (“NYLL”).

         BACKGROUND

         I. The Kellgren Action

         Kellgren v. Petco, which is pending in the Southern District of California, is a nationwide Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) collective action brought by Assistant Store Managers at Petco against Petco Animal Supplies, Inc., Petco Holdings, Inc., and “Does 1 to 100.” (See Am. Compl. ¶ Introduction, Kellgren v. Petco, No. 13-cv-644 (S.D. Cal.), ECF No. 20. (“Kellgren Compl.”).) The Kellgren complaint alleges that the defendants improperly classified Assistant Store Managers as exempt from overtime pay and accordingly failed to pay proper overtime wages. (Id. ¶¶ 34-36.) The Kellgren complaint alleges only violations of the FLSA. (Id. ¶¶ 47-59.) Discovery in Kellgren is still progressing and is scheduled to be completed by August 2, 2017. (Second Am. Scheduling Order, Kellgren v. Petco, No. 13-cv-644 (S.D. Cal.), ECF No. 184.) One hundred and fifty-eight New York Assistant Store Managers were sent a notice and consent form to join the Kellgren action. (Reply Decl. of Maneker ¶ 10, ECF No. 26-1.) Thirty-three individuals chose to opt in, including Michel. (Id.; see Notice of Filing Consents to Become Party Plaintiffs, Kellgren v. Petco, No. 13-cv-644 (S.D. Cal.), ECF No. 118.)

         II. The Instant Action

         Michel filed the instant complaint on April 14, 2016, two weeks after she opted into the Kellgren case on March 31, 2016. (Compl., ECF No. 1 (“Michel Compl.”); see Notice of Filing Consents to Become Party Plaintiffs, Kellgren v. Petco, No. 13-cv-644.) Michel was employed by Defendants from September 2013 to February 2015 as an Assistant Store Manager at a Petco store in Brooklyn, New York. (Michel Compl. ¶ 2.) Michel alleges that Defendants improperly classified Assistant Store Managers as exempt from the overtime pay requirements of the NYLL, resulting in a failure to pay overtime wages. (Id. ¶¶ 25, 41-45.) In addition, Michel alleges that Defendants failed to comply with the NYLL's wage statement and record-keeping requirements. (Id. ¶¶ 46-53.) The complaint is limited to New York state law claims and does not allege any violations of the FLSA. On September 15, 2016, Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint or, in the alternative, to transfer the case to the Southern District of California or stay the case. (Defs.' Notice of Mot., ECF No. 24.) Defendants' motion to dismiss or stay the case is denied.[1]For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' motion to transfer the case is granted.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Legal Standard

         A court typically evaluates a motion to transfer under 28 U.S.C. § 1404 under a two-pronged inquiry. First, the court must determine whether the proposed venue is proper. That is, “whether the action sought to be transferred is one that ‘might have been brought' in the district court in which the movant seeks to have the case litigated.” Blechman v. Ideal Health, Inc., 668 F.Supp.2d 399, 403 (E.D.N.Y. 2009) (quoting Frasca v. Yaw, 787 F.Supp. 327, 330 (E.D.N.Y. 1992)).

         Second, if the proposed venue is proper, the court considers “whether the transfer will serve the convenience of witnesses and parties and is in the interests of justice.” Id. In making this second inquiry, the court takes into account several factors, including: (1) the convenience of the parties; (2) the convenience of witnesses; (3) the relative means of the parties; (4) the locus of operative facts and relative ease of access to sources of proof; (5) the attendance of witnesses; (6) the weight accorded the plaintiff's choice of forum; (7) calendar congestion; (8) the desirability of having the case tried by the forum familiar with the substantive law to be applied; (9) practical difficulties; and (10) trial efficiency and how best to serve the interests of justice, based on an assessment of the totality of material circumstances. Id. (collecting cases and outlining factors for fairness analysis). None of these factors are singularly dispositive, and the court has “broad discretion in determining whether transfer is warranted.” Id.; see also In re Cuyahoga Equip. Corp., 980 F.2d 110, 117 (2d Cir. 1992) (“[M]otions to transfer lie within the broad discretion of the district court and are determined upon notions of convenience and fairness on a case-by-case basis.”); Am. Steamship Owners Mut. Prot. and Indem. Ass'n, Inc. v. Lafarge North Am., Inc., 474 F.Supp.2d 474, 480 (S.D.N.Y. 2007) (“‘There is no rigid formula for balancing these factors and no single one of them is determinative' in what is ‘essentially an equitable task left to the Court's discretion.'”). The party moving for a change of venue bears the burden to clearly establish that transfer is appropriate. Longo v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 79 F.Supp.2d 169, 170 (E.D.N.Y. 1999).

         However, when more than one court has concurrent jurisdiction over an action involving the same parties and issues, a threshold inquiry will be made under the “first-filed rule.” Blechman, 668 F.Supp.2d at 404 (outlining first-filed rule). The first-filed rule is a “well-settled legal doctrine, instructing that ‘where there are two [or more] competing lawsuits, the first suit should have priority, absent the showing of balance of convenience or special circumstances giving priority to the second.'” Wyler-Wittenberg., 899 F.Supp.2d at 243 (quoting First City Nat. Bank and Trust Co. v. Simmons, 878 F.2d 76, 79 (2d Cir. 1989). This approach “enables courts to prevent ‘duplicative litigation by adhering to the inherently fair concept that the party who commenced the first suit should generally be the party to attain its choice of venue.'” Id. (quoting Ontel Prods., Inc. v. Project Strategies Corp., 899 F.Supp. 1144, 1150 (S.D.N.Y. 1995)). The burden of showing such special circumstances or balance of convenience is on the party seeking to proceed with the second action. Quality King Distribs., Inc. v. KMS Research, Inc., 946 F.Supp. 233, 237 (E.D.N.Y. 1996).

         II. Analysis

         a. The First Filed ...


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