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Yerramsetty v. Dunkin' Donuts Northeast, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maine

January 29, 2019

DUNKIN' DONUTS NORTHEAST, INC., et al., Defendants[1]


          D. Brock Hornby United States District Judge.

         The question here is whether I should grant the plaintiff's motion to transfer venue out of this forum after the defendants previously won a motion to transfer venue into this forum. I conclude that the answer is no.

         This case arises out of a 2010 highway accident on interstate I-95 near Saco, Maine. According to the Verified Complaint, a leased truck driven by an employee of the defendant Dunkin' Donuts Northeast Distribution Center, Inc.'s corporate predecessor (“Dunkin' Donuts”) rear-ended the plaintiff's car and caused her severe injuries. (ECF No. 32-2).

         The plaintiff, who lives in New Jersey, recently consulted (through her parents) her current New Jersey lawyer who also is licensed in New York. He says that New Jersey and New York have personal injury statutes of limitations of 2 years and 3 years respectively, and that he was pleasantly surprised to learn that Maine has a 6-year statute of limitations that can be extended in certain cases of disability. Verified Compl. ¶¶ 31-32; Certification of Robert A. Skoblar, Esq. ¶ 8, attached to Pl.'s Mot. (ECF No. 32-2).

         In 2017, the plaintiff filed this lawsuit in federal court in New Jersey against Dunkin' Donuts' corporate predecessor, asserting that it was a Delaware corporation with a principal place of business in Massachusetts; against the truck driver, Dennis L. Lillard, who lived in Maine; and against the corporate owner of the truck, Kris Way Truck Leasing, Inc., incorporated and headquartered in Maine. Verified Compl. ¶¶ 3-5. Dunkin' Donuts and Kris Way[2]moved to dismiss the case for lack of improper venue and lack of personal jurisdiction or, alternatively, to transfer venue to the District of Maine. Defs.' Br. at 3 (ECF No. 11-1)[3] The plaintiff opposed the motion and argued: “In the alternative, and for a host of reasons to be set forth, if venue is to be transferred it should be to a Federal District Court in New York and not Maine.” Pl.'s Br. in Opp'n to First Mot. to Dismiss at 1 (ECF No. 15) (emphasis added). The plaintiff also stated: “If the court transfers venue to New York, then the plaintiff would be willing to voluntarily dismiss her case against Kris Way and Mr. Lillard, given Dunkin' Donuts N.E.['s] concession that it had full control over the subject vehicle and that Mr. Lillard was its employee at the time of the accident.” Id. at 6. Nevertheless, the New Jersey federal court transferred the case to the District of Maine, not to any District in New York.

         But the plaintiff did not give up on her quest for a New York forum. Now in this District, she has dismissed the truck driver, moved to dismiss the Maine corporate defendant Kris Way, and moved to transfer venue for her remaining claim against Dunkin' Donuts to the Southern or Eastern District of New York (“SDNY” and “EDNY, ” respectively) under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Pl.'s Mot. at 1, 3. Although the remaining two defendants are agreeable to dismissal of the Maine corporate defendant, Kris Way, they oppose the motion to transfer. Defs.' Opp'n at 1-2. I Grant with prejudice the motion to dismiss the defendant Kris Way.

         Analysis of the Motion to Transfer

         The relevant venue transfer statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), provides:

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 or to any district or division to which all parties have consented.

         Before Congress amended the statute to add the last phrase regarding all parties' consent (not applicable here), the United States Supreme Court ruled that a court must assess personal jurisdiction and venue in the proposed transferee district (“where it might have been brought”) as of the time the suit was brought. Hoffman v. Blaski, 363 U.S. 335, 343 (1960). Since then, there has been some debate among lower courts whether that assessment must focus on all the defendants originally named, or only on those defendants remaining in the lawsuit when the motion to transfer is made.

         In this case, if I assess venue as of the time the suit was filed against all three defendants in the District of New Jersey, then transfer is inappropriate, because the SDNY and EDNY venues were improper as to the Maine driver and the Maine corporate truck owner when the plaintiff filed her federal lawsuit in 2017. But if I assess venue as of now, with the truck driver dismissed, and if I grant the motion to dismiss the corporate truck owner, then federal courts in New York are appropriate for the remaining claim against Dunkin' Donuts.[4] The parties have not cited any First Circuit cases on this issue. Both the Second and Third Circuits allow the assessment to ignore defendants who are no longer parties or who have been severed from the action being transferred. See, e.g., Wyndham Assoc. v. Bintliff, 398 F.2d 614, 619 (2d Cir. 1968); In re Fine Paper Antitrust Litig., 685 F.2d 810, 819 (3rd Cir. 1982).[5] I do not determine how the First Circuit would rule, because I conclude for other reasons that the requested transfer is inappropriate.

         On the other section 1404(a) factors, the plaintiff asserts that transfer is convenient to all her witnesses because they (damage witnesses) are in New Jersey, close to the two New York districts to which she seeks transfer. Pl.'s Mot. at 4. Dunkin' Donuts does not contest her assertion or assert that it has witnesses in or close to Maine.

         The plaintiff also asserts that the two New York districts are convenient to her as a party and her lawyer, because both she and her lawyer are located in New Jersey and because her lawyer is licensed to and accustomed to practicing in the New York districts. Pl.'s Reply at 2 (ECF No. 34). ...

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