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US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Hirschbach Motor Lines Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maine

November 26, 2018

US EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Plaintiff,
v.
HIRSCHBACH MOTOR LINES INC, Defendant.

          ORDER ON MOTION TO TRANSFER VENUE

          GEORGE Z. SINGAL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Transfer Venue (ECF No. 12), which seeks to transfer this case to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa. Having reviewed the Motion as well as the related memoranda filed by both parties (ECF Nos. 17 & 18), the Court DENIES the Motion for the reasons explained below.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), a district court may “[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice … transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought.” This statute “is intended to place discretion in the district court to adjudicate motions for transfer according to an ‘individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness.'” Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988) (quoting Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 622 (1964)). In the exercise of that discretion, courts in the First Circuit consider not only “the convenience of parties and witnesses, ” but also “the availability of documents; the possibility of consolidation; and the order in which the district court obtained jurisdiction.” Coady v. Ashcraft & Gerel, 223 F.3d 1, 11 (1st Cir. 2000) (citing Cianbro Corp. v. Curran-Lavoie, Inc., 814 F.2d 7, 11 (1st Cir. 1987)); see Ahmed v. Mohammad, No. 08-257-P-H, 2008 WL 4457866, at *3 (D. Me. Oct. 1, 2008) (discussing other factors relevant to the interest of justice). No. single factor is determinative in the transfer analysis. Ashmore v. Northeast Petroleum Div. of Cargill, Inc., 925 F.Supp. 36, 38 (D. Me. 1996).

         “As the First Circuit has explained, ‘[t]he burden of proof rests with the party seeking transfer.'” Multibene Ingredients Oy Ltd. v. Sturm Foods, Inc., 658 F.Supp.2d 250, 252 (D. Me. 2009) (alteration in original) (quoting Coady, 223 F.3d at 11). Ordinarily, there is “a strong presumption in favor of the plaintiff's choice of forum, which may be overcome only when the private and public interest factors clearly point towards trial in the alternative forum.” Johnson v. VCG Holding Corp., 767 F.Supp.2d 208, 212 (D. Me. 2011) (quoting Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 255 (1981)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Although a plaintiff's choice of forum is entitled to less deference where, as here, the plaintiff is a government agency, the presumption is not eliminated. E.E.O.C. v. Texas Roadhouse, Inc., No. 1:11-cv-11732-DJC, 2012 WL 5894910, at *1 (D. Mass. Nov. 9, 2012); cf. Ashmore, 925 F.Supp. at 39 (noting that the First Circuit “has not established the rule … that when plaintiffs sue in a forum that is not their residence, their choice of venue is entitled to only minimal consideration”).

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Defendant Hirschbach Motor Lines, Inc. (“Hirschbach”) is a trucking company incorporated in Iowa with its principle place of business in Dubuque, Iowa. Hirschbach currently employs 264 office workers in Dubuque and 415 truck drivers who reside throughout the United States. Of those truck drivers, forty-nine reside in Iowa and one resides in Maine.

         In 2013, a former Hirschbach truck driver who resided in Maine, Michael Cote (“Cote”), filed a charge of discrimination against Hirschbach with the Maine Human Rights Commission (“MHRC”). Among other allegations, Cote claimed that Hirschbach failed to provide him with a reasonable accommodation for his disability. The MHRC investigated and issued Cote a right-to-sue letter in March 2015, which prompted the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) to launch an investigation into Hirschbach through its Boston office. In May 2015, Cote filed suit in Maine Superior Court, but ultimately settled his case in July 2016. In April 2017, the EEOC completed its investigation and issued a determination that Hirschbach had engaged in systemic disability discrimination through its pre-employment examination practices. Following the release of its determination, the EEOC filed the instant suit alleging-pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1981a-that Hirschbach had engaged in discriminatory practices against disabled individuals (“Aggrieved Individuals”).[1]

         As part of this case, Hirschbach expects to call at least six witnesses. Those witnesses include three employees, all based in Iowa, and three outside medical professionals, of whom two are based in Iowa and one is based in Springfield, Massachusetts. According to Hirschbach, all three outside medical professionals have performed pre-employment medical examinations for the company and can testify as to what those examinations involve. The EEOC likewise suggests that it plans to call at least six witnesses. It represents that two of those potential witnesses, Michael Cote and “Aggrieved Individual” Aldon Dixon, reside in Maine. It also notes that, of the four remaining witnesses-some of whom are presumably other “Aggrieved Individuals”-two reside in Michigan, one resides in New Jersey, and one resides in Georgia.[2]

         III. DISCUSSION

         Hirschbach argues that a transfer to the Northern District of Iowa is warranted by the convenience of the parties and witnesses and would serve the interest of justice for various reasons. However, the Court concludes that Hirschbach has failed to sustain its burden of proving that the relevant factors “clearly” militate in favor of trial in Iowa. Johnson, 767 F.Supp.2d at 212.

         A. Potential Jurisdiction in Transferee District

         “A preliminary question” in resolving a motion to transfer venue “is whether the lawsuit could have been brought in the proposed transferee district.” Canales v. Univ. of Phoenix, Inc., No. 2:11-cv-00181-JAW, 2012 WL 2499019, at *3 (D. Me. June 27, 2012). Here, the Court agrees with the parties that the EEOC could have originally filed the case in the Northern District of Iowa under the applicable venue provision of the ADA. See 42 U.S.C. § 12117(a) (incorporating by reference the procedures of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5); see also 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3) (stating that for purposes of motions to transfer venue “the judicial district in which the respondent has his principal office shall in all cases be considered a district in which the action might have been brought”). Thus, the jurisdictional pre-requisite to transfer is satisfied.

         B. Convenience ...


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