Miller v. Toyota Motor Corporation ( 2009 )


Menu:
  •                        UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
                           FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
    __________________________________________
                                               )
    COLLEEN MILLER,                            )
                                               )
                Plaintiff,                    )  Civil Action No. 08-1613 (ESH)
                                               )
                v.                             )
                                               )
    TOYOTA MOTOR CORPORATION, et al.           )
                                               )
                Defendants.                    )
    __________________________________________)
    
                                      MEMORANDUM OPINION
    
           Plaintiff Colleen Miller has sued Toyota Motor Corp. (“TMC”) and Thrifty Rent-A-Car
    
    Service, Inc. (“Thrifty”) for damages resulting from injuries she suffered during an accident that
    
    occurred in South Africa involving a vehicle rented from Thrifty’s licensee and made by TMC.
    
    Before the Court are defendants’ motions to dismiss. For the reasons set forth below, the Court
    
    will dismiss TMC for lack of personal jurisdiction and transfer plaintiff’s claims against Thrifty
    
    to the Middle District of Florida on the grounds of forum non conveniens.
    
                                             BACKGROUND
    
    I.     FACTS
    
           Plaintiff Colleen Miller is a citizen of Ohio. (Compl. ¶ 1.) On October 3, 2005, plaintiff
    
    was injured in an auto accident near Uniondale, South Africa when the brake on the vehicle in
    
    which she was traveling allegedly malfunctioned, causing the vehicle to swerve, spin
    
    uncontrollably, flip off the roadway, and ultimately, strike a pole (“the accident”). (Id. ¶¶ 8, 11-
    
    14.) Plaintiff was traveling in a Toyota Condor sport utility vehicle (“the SUV”) which had been
    
    rented from a vehicle rental facility operated by Safy Trust (“Safy”) per a licensing agreement
    
                                                     1
    with Thrifty Rent-A-Car Service, Inc. (“Thrifty”). (Id. ¶¶ 8, 10.) Also in the SUV at the time of
    
    the accident were plaintiff’s mother, Dorothy Thomson; plaintiff’s son, Jerame Miller, and his
    
    wife, Rita Miller; and Jerame’s daughters (and plaintiff’s granddaughters), Madison and Cori
    
    Miller (collectively, “the other SUV passengers”).
    
           Defendant Thrifty is an Oklahoma corporation with its principal place of business in
    
    Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Compl. ¶ 3.) Thrifty operates vehicle rental facilities in the District of
    
    Columbia. (Thrifty’s Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss [“Thrifty’s Mem.”] at 9.)
    
    On October 1, 2003, Thrifty entered a licensing agreement with Safy, a South African company.
    
    (See id., Ex. 1 (International Master License Agreement).) Per the licensing agreement, Safy
    
    operates a vehicle rental facility at the airport in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. (Id.; see also
    
    Thrifty’s Mem. at 1, 9.) Safy is not a defendant in this action. (Compl. ¶ 36.)
    
           Defendant Toyota Motor Corp. Worldwide (“TMC”) is a Japanese corporation with its
    
    principal place of business in Japan. (Compl. ¶ 2.) TMC “designs, manufactures, assembles and
    
    developmentally tests” various Toyota vehicles. (TMC’s Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Mot. to
    
    Dismiss [“TMC’s Mem.”], Ex. 1 (Kojiro Tanaka Aff., Feb. 27, 2009) [“Tanaka Aff.”] ¶ 3; see
    
    generally TMC’s Mem. at 1-2, 8, 11-12.) The Toyota Condor is not designed or manufactured
    
    for the United States market. (Tanaka Aff. ¶ 31.) TMC does not import Toyota vehicles into the
    
    United States, nor does it market or sell Toyota vehicles here. (Id. ¶¶ 5-6.) Toyota Motor Sales,
    
    U.S.A. (“TMS”), a subsidiary of TMC that is incorporated in California, performs these
    
    functions. (Id. ¶ 6.) TMS is the exclusive importer of Toyota vehicles in the United States, and
    
    a distributor of vehicles in the District of Columbia. (TMC’s Mem., Ex. 2 (Jerry Koyanagi Aff.,
    
    Feb. 18, 2009) [“Koyanagi Aff.”] ¶ 3.) Toyota Motor North America, Inc. (“TMA”) is the
    
    
                                                      2
    holding company for TMS. (TMC’s Mem., Ex. 3 (Jeffrey Roman Aff., Feb. 11, 2009) [“Roman
    
    Aff.”] ¶ 3.) TMA, also incorporated in California, directs corporate communications and
    
    advertising, investor and media relations, government and regulatory affairs, market research,
    
    and philanthropy. (Id. ¶ 4.)
    
           TMC is not licensed to do business in the District of Columbia. (Tanaka Aff. ¶ 14.) It
    
    does not own or lease real estate in the District of Columbia and does not maintain a sales force
    
    or any other agents or representatives here. (Id. ¶¶ 8, 13.) It does not pay taxes to the District of
    
    Columbia. (Id. ¶ 15.) None of TMC’s designing or manufacturing takes place in the District of
    
    Columbia. (Id. ¶ 17.) TMC does not target marketing at District of Columbia residents. (See id.
    
    ¶¶ 6, 10, 11, 16.) It does not ship any vehicles for the purposes of sale directly into the District
    
    of Columbia. (Id. ¶ 9.)
    
    II.    PROCEDURAL HISTORY
    
           The October 3, 2005 accident has generated five lawsuits by plaintiff and the other SUV
    
    passengers. On October 9, 2006, plaintiff and the Estate of Dorothy Thomson (plaintiff’s
    
    mother, who died from complications relating to injuries she sustained in the accident) filed the
    
    first suit against TMC and Thrifty in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.
    
    Estate of Dorothy Thomson v. Toyota Motor Corp. Worldwide (hereinafter “Estate of Dorothy
    
    Thomson I”), No. 06-2431, 
    2007 WL 1795271
    , at *1 (N.D. Ohio June 19, 2007). On June 19,
    
    2007, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio granted TMC’s motion to dismiss
    
    for lack of personal jurisdiction and sua sponte dismissed the claims against Thrifty on the
    
    grounds of forum non conveniens. Id. at *2, *3. The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
    
    affirmed these dismissals. See 
    545 F.3d 357
    , 360 (6th Cir. 2008).
    
    
                                                      3
           On October 1, 2007, plaintiff’s son and daughter-in-law, Jerame and Rita Miller, and
    
    plaintiff’s granddaughter, Cori Miller, filed suit to recover damages for their own injuries and for
    
    the death of Madison Miller, plaintiff’s other granddaughter who died when the helicopter
    
    evacuating her from the scene of the accident crashed into a mountain. Estate of Madison Miller
    
    v. Toyota Motor Corp. (hereinafter “Estate of Madison Miller”), No. 07-1358, 
    2008 WL 516725
    ,
    
    at *2 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 22, 2008), amended by 
    2008 WL 4525058
     (M.D. Fla. Oct. 3, 2008). After
    
    granting limited jurisdictional discovery, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of
    
    Florida dismissed plaintiff’s claims against TMC for lack of personal jurisdiction. 
    2008 WL 516725
    , at *6. However, it denied Thrifty’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction
    
    and forum non conveniens. Estate of Madison Miller, No. 07-1358, 
    2007 WL 4482589
    , at *11
    
    (M.D. Fla. Dec. 18, 2007). The claims against Thrifty are scheduled for trial in August 2009.
    
    (Pl.’s Opp’n to Def. Thrifty-Rent-a-Car Service, Inc.’s Mot. to Dismiss [“Pl.’s Opp’n to
    
    Thrifty’s Mot.”] at 2.)
    
           On October 2, 2007, plaintiff’s husband, Michael Miller, filed suit in Ohio state court,
    
    and TMC and Thrifty subsequently removed the case to the U.S. District Court for the Northern
    
    District of Ohio and filed motions to dismiss. Miller v. Toyota Motor Corp. (hereinafter
    
    “Michael Miller”), 
    593 F. Supp. 2d 1254
    , 1256 (M.D. Fla. 2008). Rather than dismiss Michael
    
    Miller’s claims, the Northern District of Ohio transferred his case to the U.S. District Court for
    
    the Middle District of Florida. Id. On October 10, 2008, Michael Miller and TMC stipulated to
    
    the dismissal of all his claims against TMC. (TMC’s Mem. at 4.) His claims against Thrifty
    
    have been consolidated for trial with Estate of Madison Miller. (Pl.’s Opp’n to Thrifty’s Mot. at
    
    2.)
    
    
                                                     4
             On September 19, 2008, Dorothy Thomson’s estate filed suit in the U.S. District Court
    
    for the District of Maryland. Estate of Dorothy Thomson v. Toyota Motor Corp. Worldwide
    
    (hereinafter “Estate of Dorothy Thomson II”), No. 08-2467 (D. Md. filed Sep. 19, 2008). TMC
    
    and Thrifty have filed motions to dismiss which are currently pending before that court.
    
             On September 18, 2008, plaintiff brought suit in this jurisdiction, alleging that TMC
    
    negligently failed to use reasonable care in designing and constructing a safe vehicle and brake
    
    system. (Compl. ¶¶ 14, 17, 18.) Plaintiff also alleges that Thrifty negligently failed to use
    
    reasonable care in selecting and providing safe vehicles for its customers. (Id. ¶¶ 21, 22.)
    
    Plaintiff further alleges strict liability and breach of both express and implied warranties as to
    
    both defendants. (Id. ¶¶ 24-35.) Plaintiff requests damages for her injuries, physical and mental
    
    pain and suffering, medical expenses, and loss of earnings. (Id. ¶ 36.)
    
             TMC has moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction, claiming that
    
    it has insufficient contacts with the District of Columbia. (TMC’s Mem. at 6-10; see generally
    
    Tanaka Aff.) TMC further claims that neither TMS nor TMA is an alter ego of TMC, so those
    
    corporations’ activities in the District of Columbia cannot subject TMC to suit here. (TMC’s
    
    Mem. at 12-16; see generally Tanaka Aff., Koyanagi Aff., & Roman Aff.) TMC has also moved
    
    to dismiss the complaint for improper venue and insufficient service of process. (TMC’s Mem.
    
    at 1.)
    
             Thrifty has moved to dismiss the complaint for inconvenient venue. (Thrifty’s Mem. at
    
    3.) Specifically, Thrifty claims that South Africa is the proper venue for this suit. (Id. at 8.)
    
    Thrifty also has moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can
    
    be granted (id. at 1), claiming that the decision by the Northern District of Ohio to dismiss Estate
    
    
                                                      5
    of Dorothy Thomson I based on forum non conveniens, 
    2007 WL 1795271
    , at *2-*3, aff’d, 545
    
    F.3d at 360, bars the current action based on the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel.
    
    (Thrifty’s Mem. at 1, 5.) Finally, Thrifty has also moved to dismiss for lack of personal
    
    jurisdiction. (Id. at 1.)
    
            For the following reasons, this Court will grant TMC’s motion to dismiss for lack of
    
    personal jurisdiction and will transfer plaintiff’s claims against Thrifty to the Middle District of
    
    Florida.
    
                                                ANALYSIS
    
    I.      TMC
    
            A foreign corporate defendant may be subject to personal jurisdiction pursuant to either
    
    the District of Columbia’s long-arm statute, D.C. Code § 13-423(a), or its provision for service
    
    of foreign corporations, D.C. Code § 13-334(a). Sunlite, Inc. v. BfG Bank AG, 
    849 F. Supp. 74
    ,
    
    75-76 (D.D.C. 1994). Plaintiff has acknowledged that the facts of her case do not give rise to
    
    specific jurisdiction over TMC, provided for in § 13-423(a)(1) (Pl.’s Opp’n to TMC’s Mot. at 3),
    
    so this Court only considers whether TMC is subject to general personal jurisdiction, provided
    
    for in § 13-334(a). (See also TMC’s Mem. at 5-6.) That section provides in relevant part:
    
            In an action against a foreign corporation doing business in the District, process
            may be served on the agent of the corporation or person conducting its business,
            or, when he is absent and can not be found, by leaving a copy at the principal
            place of business in the District, or where there is no such place of business, by
            leaving a copy at the place of business or residence of the agent in the District,
            and that service is effectual to bring the corporation before the court.
    
    D.C. Code § 13-334(a).
    
            “Although section 13-334(a) expressly addresses service of process, the D.C. Court of
    
    Appeals has held that section 13-334(a) also grants general personal jurisdiction over ‘a foreign
    
    
                                                      6
    corporation which carries on a consistent pattern of regular business activity’ within the
    
    District.” FC Inv. Group LC v. IFX Markets Ltd., 
    529 F.3d 1087
    , 1092 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (quoting
    
    AMAF Int’l Corp. v. Ralston Purina Co., 
    428 A.2d 849
    , 850 (D.C. 1981)). “D.C. Code § 13-
    
    334(a) ‘permits courts to exercise general jurisdiction over a foreign corporation as to claims not
    
    arising from the corporation’s conduct in the District of Columbia if the corporation is “doing
    
    business” in the District.’” Id. at 1091 (quoting Gorman v. Ameritrade Holding Corp., 
    293 F.3d 506
    , 509 (D.C. Cir. 2002) (internal quotation omitted)). “‘The reach of “doing business”
    
    jurisdiction under § 13-334(a) is co-extensive with the reach of constitutional due process.’” Id.
    
    at 1092 (quoting Gorman, 293 F.3d at 510). The Due Process Clause makes “general
    
    jurisdiction . . . permissible if the defendant’s business contacts with the forum are ‘continuous
    
    and systematic.’” Id. (quoting Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 
    466 U.S. 408
    ,
    
    415 (1984)).
    
           TMC’s pleadings and affidavits assert that it does little, if any, business in the District of
    
    Columbia (TMC’s Mem. at 8, 11-12; see generally Tanaka Aff.), and certainly none that could
    
    be described as “continuous and systematic.” Plaintiff claims that TMS and TMA are closely
    
    related to and seemingly controlled by TMC, and that their activities in the District of Columbia
    
    are sufficient to hale TMC into this Court. (Pl.’s Opp’n to Def. Toyota Motor Corp.’s Mot. to
    
    Dismiss [“Pl.’s Opp’n to TMC’s Mot.”] at 2-6.) Plaintiff also claims that TMC’s activity in the
    
    United States, generally, and its global presence should subject it to personal jurisdiction in the
    
    District of Columbia. (Id. at 1-4, 6.) Courts in both the Ohio and Florida actions filed by
    
    plaintiff and the other SUV passengers have already considered and rejected these very
    
    arguments, see Estate of Dorothy Thomson I, 
    2007 WL 1795271
    , at *1-*2, even when they were
    
    
    
                                                      7
    supported by the same exhibits that plaintiff has submitted here. See Estate of Madison Miller,
    
    
    2008 WL 516725
    , at *4-*6.1 Because Ohio and Florida’s requirements for general personal
    
    jurisdiction are analogous to those imposed by D.C. Code § 13-334(a), the Court finds the
    
    courts’ reasoning in those cases to be both instructive and persuasive.
    
           Considering factual claims and jurisdictional theories substantially similar, if not
    
    identical, to those made by plaintiff in this case, the district court held in Estate of Madison
    
    Miller that TMC was not subject to jurisdiction in Florida. 
    2008 WL 516725
    , at *6. The court
    
    concluded that plaintiffs’ claims that TMC was authorized to do business in the State of Florida
    
    and that TMC derived one percent of its profits from Florida did not show a “general course of
    
    business activity” in Florida. Id. at *5. The press releases, offered by plaintiffs as evidence of
    
    TMC’s national presence and relationships with subsidiaries,2 were also unavailing because they
    
    did not demonstrate any breakdown according to geographical area. Id. Furthermore, the court
    
    found that any national Toyota brand presence is facilitated not by TMC, but by other domestic
    
    
           1
              The court in Estate of Dorothy Thomson I considered the very arguments that plaintiff
    has made in this case, but did not have the press releases and other corporate documents she now
    submits as exhibits in support of her opposition to TMC’s motion. Compare Pls.’ Opp’n to Def.
    Toyota’s Mot. to Dismiss and Forum Non Conveniens [“Ohio Pls.’ Opp’n to TMC’s Mot.”],
    Exs. 1-16, Estate of Dorothy Thomson I, No. 06-2431 (N.D. Ohio filed May 14, 2007). The
    court in Estate of Madison Miller, however, considered the same arguments and exhibits that
    plaintiff has presented here. See Pls.’ Opp’n to Toyota’s Mot. To Dismiss Pursuant to F.R.C.P.
    12(b)(2) and/or 12(b)(3), and for Forum Non Conveniens [“Fla. Pls.’ Opp’n to TMC’s Mot.”],
    Exs. 1-3, 7, 8, Estate of Madison Miller, No. 07-1358 (M.D. Fla. filed Dec. 26, 2007). After
    limited jurisdictional discovery, plaintiffs in Estate of Madison Miller presented additional
    evidence of TMC’s activities in Florida and parent-subsidiary relationships, see Pls.’ Suppl. Mot.
    to Correct the R. and Assert Personal Jurisdiction over Toyota Motor Corp., Estate of Madison
    Miller, No. 07-1358 (M.D. Fla. filed June 17, 2008), but even this additional evidence did not
    alter the Florida court’s conclusion that it lacked personal jurisdiction over TMC.
           2
              Plaintiff in this case has offered these same press releases to show TMC’s business
    activities in the District of Columbia. Compare Pl.’s Opp’n to TMC’s Mot., Exs. 1 & 4 with Fla.
    Pls.’ Opp’n to TMC’s Mot., Exs. 2 & 3.
    
                                                      8
    corporations not named as defendants in the litigation. Id. at *2. In sum, the evidence failed to
    
    show the “substantial and not isolated” activity required by Florida law to establish general
    
    jurisdiction. Id. at *2-*3 (quoting Stubbs v. Wyndham Nassau Resort & Crystal Palace Casino,
    
    
    447 F.3d 1357
    , 1361 (11th Cir. 2002)).
    
           When assessing plaintiffs’ alter ego theory, the court in Estate of Madison Miller applied
    
    Florida law requiring it to aggregate the “direct and subsidiary-related contacts of a non-resident
    
    corporation.” Id. at *4 (citing Stubbs, 447 F.3d at 1361-63). The press releases that plaintiffs
    
    offered as evidence of TMC’s close connection to TMS appeared to have been prepared for
    
    investors and lacked any nuance as to corporate structure. Id. at *5. The court was unpersuaded
    
    by plaintiffs’ claim that TMC and TMS were “essentially the same company because they share
    
    some of the same officers” and that sharing of officers demonstrates that TMC controls its
    
    subsidiaries, id. at *4 (internal quotations omitted), because “[m]ere intermingling of officers
    
    and directors does not imply that one corporation acts as the puppet of the other.” Id. at *5.
    
    Accordingly, the court held that TMC’s subsidiaries “are sufficiently independent to preclude
    
    imputing their contacts to TMC.” Id. at *6.
    
           For similar reasons, the Ohio district court in Estate of Dorothy Thomson I concluded
    
    that it lacked personal jurisdiction over TMC because the company “[did] not have any contacts
    
    in Ohio” at all, and TMS was not its alter ego. 
    2007 WL 1795271
    , at *1-*2. In assessing
    
    whether TMS was TMC’s alter ego, the court, in accordance with Ohio law, looked to, inter alia,
    
    financial dependency, nonobservance of corporate formalities, and location of corporate records.
    
    Id. (citing Microsys Computing, Inc. v. Dynamic Data Sys, LLC, No. 05-CV-2205, 
    2006 WL 2225821
    , at *6 (N.D. Ohio Aug. 2, 2006)). The court found that plaintiff’s repeated reference to
    
    
    
                                                     9
    “Toyota” – exemplified in plaintiff’s insistence that “‘Toyota’ is ‘omnipresent in the United
    
    States and Ohio’” – “intentionally blur[red] the line between TMC and TMS.” Id. (internal
    
    citations omitted). The court held that TMS’s contacts with Ohio were “irrelevant” to Ohio’s
    
    jurisdiction over TMC, in part because TMC maintains its own workforce and corporate books,
    
    does not own TMS stock, and gives no instructions to TMS regarding distribution of vehicles.
    
    Id. On appeal, the Sixth Circuit agreed that “TMS and TMC are not alter egos,” even after
    
    considering additional factors that might suggest an alter ego relationship, including having the
    
    same address and phone lines, using the same assets, completing the same jobs, and exerting
    
    control over another’s daily affairs. 545 F.3d at 362-63.
    
           This Court is convinced by the reasoning of these cases. In particular, the Court notes
    
    that like Ohio law, District of Columbia law evaluates alter ego liability by looking to
    
    “similarities between the two enterprises in their ownership, management, business purpose,
    
    operations, equipment, and customers.” Flynn v. R.C. Tile, 
    353 F.3d 953
    , 958 (D.C. Cir. 2004)
    
    (citing Mass. Carpenters Cent. Collection Agency v. Belmont Concrete Corp., 
    139 F.3d 304
    , 308
    
    (1st Cir. 1998)). Therefore, this Court concludes that it lacks personal jurisdiction over TMC.
    
    II.    THRIFTY
    
           Thrifty has moved to dismiss on the grounds of res judicata, collateral estoppel, forum
    
    non conveniens, and lack of personal jurisdiction. (Thrifty’s Mem. at 2.) The Court “can
    
    immediately take up the question of forum non conveniens and need not first consider whether it
    
    has subject-matter or personal jurisdiction.” Kazenercom Too v. Turan Petroleum, Inc., 590 F.
    
    Supp. 2d 153, 157 (D.D.C. 2008) (citing Sinochem Int’l Co. Ltd. v. Malaysia Int’l Shipping
    
    Corp., 
    549 U.S. 422
    , 424-25 (2007)). Accordingly, the Court first considers forum non
    
    
    
                                                    10
    conveniens and finds that transfer under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) is warranted to promote judicial
    
    economy and to avoid inconsistent judgments and significant inconvenience to parties and
    
    witnesses.
    
           Congress has codified the doctrine of forum non conveniens at 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a),
    
    “provid[ing] for transfer, rather than dismissal, when a sister federal court is the more convenient
    
    place for trial of the action.” Sinochem, 549 U.S. at 430. Although Thrifty’s motion to dismiss
    
    for forum non conveniens does not seek transfer (Thrifty’s Mot. at 1),3 courts may transfer cases
    
    sua sponte under § 1404(a). 4 See, e.g., In re Scott, 
    709 F.2d 717
    , 721 (D.C. Cir. 1983) (citing
    
    Skil Corp. v. Millers Falls Co., 
    541 F.2d 554
    , 556 (6th Cir. 1976) (permitting sua sponte transfer
    
    where transfer would result in consolidation of plaintiff’s claim with related claims in another
    
    venue)); Galindo v. Gonzales, 
    550 F. Supp. 2d 115
    , 116 (D.D.C. 2008); Paley v. Estate of Ogus,
    
    
    20 F. Supp. 2d 83
    , 92-93 (D.D.C. 1998).
    
    
           3
              Thrifty claims that the court’s dismissal for forum non conveniens in Estate of Dorothy
    Thomson I operates as res judicata or collateral estoppel (Thrifty’s Mem. at 4-6). The Court does
    not find this persuasive. Although Judge Urbina of this Court previously held in Amore v.
    Accor, S.A., 
    484 F. Supp. 2d 124
     (D.D.C. 2007), that forum non conveniens could operate as res
    judicata or collateral estoppel, Amore is distinguishable based on the availability of the proposed
    alternate forum. In Amore, the court held that the previous forum non conveniens dismissal of
    plaintiffs’ identical action in Reers v. Deutsche Bahn AG, 
    320 F. Supp. 2d 140
     (S.D.N.Y. 2004),
    operated as res judicata. Notably, the Reers court was relying on the fact that France was
    available as an alternate forum and defendant was amenable to suit there. See 320 F. Supp. 2d at
    159. In contrast, here there is a substantial question as to whether South Africa is an available
    forum for suit against Thrifty. See Estate of Madison Miller, 
    2007 WL 4482589
    , at *4-*6;
    Michael Miller, 593 F. Supp. 2d at 1259.
           4
              Courts may also transfer cases under 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a), which states, in relevant part,
    that “[t]he district court of a district in which is filed a case laying venue in the wrong division or
    district shall dismiss, or if it be in the interest of justice, transfer such case to any district or
    division in which it could have been brought.” Therefore, even assuming arguendo that venue in
    the District of Columbia is improper, this Court could still transfer the plaintiff’s claims against
    Thrifty, since its determination that the “interests of justice” warrant transfer under § 1404(a)
    would also support transfer under § 1406(a).
    
                                                      11
            Section 1404(a) provides that “[f]or 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.” While § 1404(a) requires that the forum to which a case is
    
    transferred be one in which the case originally might have been brought, Paley, 20 F. Supp. 2d at
    
    92 (citing Hoffman v. Blaski, 
    363 U.S. 335
    , 343-44 (1960)), courts have broad discretion to
    
    “adjudicate motions to transfer according to individualized, case-by-case consideration of
    
    convenience and fairness.” Reiffin v. Microsoft Corp., 
    104 F. Supp. 2d 48
    , 50 (D.D.C. 2000)
    
    (quoting Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 
    487 U.S. 22
    , 29 (1988)).
    
            In exercising its discretion, the Court considers several private and public interest factors.
    
    Onyeneho v. Allstate Ins. Co., 
    466 F. Supp. 2d 1
    , 3 (D.D.C. 2000) (citing Reiffin, 104 F.Supp.2d
    
    at 51-52). “Private interest factors include, but are not limited to: (1) plaintiffs’ privilege of
    
    choosing the forum; (2) defendant’s preferred forum; (3) location where the claim arose; (4)
    
    convenience of the parties; (5) convenience of witnesses, but only to the extent that witnesses
    
    may be unavailable for trial in one of the fora; and (6) ease of access to sources of proof. Public
    
    interest considerations include: (1) the transferee’s familiarity with the governing law; (2) the
    
    relative congestion of the courts of the transferor and potential transferee; and (3) the local
    
    interest in deciding local controversies at home.” Id. at 3 (citing Airport Working Group of
    
    Orange County, Inc. v. U.S. Dep’t of Def., 
    226 F. Supp. 2d 227
    , 229 (D.D.C. 2002)).
    
            While plaintiff’s choice of forum generally merits deference, Great Socialist People’s
    
    Libyan Arab Jamahiriya v. Miski, 
    496 F. Supp. 2d 137
    , 144-45 (D.D.C. 2007), “the strong
    
    presumption against disturbing plaintiff[’s] initial forum of choice . . . is weakened . . . when the
    
    forum is not plaintiff’s home forum and most of the relevant events occurred elsewhere.”
    
    
    
                                                       12
    Demery v. Montgomery County, MD, 
    602 F. Supp. 2d 206
    , 210 (D.D.C. 2009)(quoting Hunter v.
    
    Johanns, 
    571 F. Supp. 2d 340
    , 344 (D.D.C. 2007)).
    
            In Estate of Madison Miller, the Florida district court denied Thrifty’s motion to dismiss
    
    for forum non conveniens and lack of personal jurisdiction, making clear that the instant suit
    
    against Thrifty could have been brought in the Middle District of Florida. See 
    2007 WL 4482589
     at *11.5 Therefore, plaintiff’s case satisfies § 1404(a)’s first requirement, such that
    
    transfer depends only upon this Court’s discretionary finding that the “convenience of the parties
    
    and witnesses” and the “interests of justice” warrant transfer. 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). These
    
    factors weigh heavily in favor of transfer to the Middle District of Florida.
    
            First, plaintiff has chosen a forum that is neither her home forum nor one in which any
    
    relevant events occurred. Plaintiff resides in Ohio and the vehicle rental and accident occurred
    
    in South Africa. Accordingly, plaintiff’s choice of forum is entitled to little, if any, deference.
    
    See Demery, 602 F. Supp. 2d at 210 (quoting Hunter, 571 F. Supp. 2d at 344). Second, the costs
    
    to plaintiff of litigating in the District of Columbia are likely to be similar to, if not higher than,
    
    those of litigating in the Middle District of Florida, where her family members’ and husband’s
    
    claims are already scheduled for trial. (Pl.’s Opp’n to Thrifty’s Mot. at 2.) Third, transfer to the
    
    Middle District of Florida will conserve judicial resources by avoiding duplicative litigation.
    
    The evidence and witnesses that are material to plaintiff’s liability claims in this case will
    
    undoubtedly be the same as in Estate of Madison Miller. (Pl.’s Mot. to Stay the Proceedings, at
    
    1-2.) Moreover, plaintiff’s husband’s case will also relate to plaintiff’s injuries. The existence
    
    
    
            5
            The Middle District of Florida similarly refused to dismiss Thrifty for forum non
    conveniens in Michael Miller. See 593 F. Supp. 2d at 1259.
    
    
                                                       13
    of companion cases in other venues often warrants transfer for precisely these reasons. See, e.g.,
    
    Islamic Republic of Iran v. Boeing, Inc., 
    477 F. Supp. 142
    , 144 (D.D.C. 1979) (“[L]itigation in
    
    this Court of liability issues closely similar to issues pending for over two years in another
    
    federal court would be a grossly inefficient use of judicial resources.”); Byerson v. Equifax, 
    467 F. Supp. 2d 627
     (E.D. Va. 2006) (noting that judicial economy and avoidance of inconsistent
    
    judgments are the most significant factors relevant to the interests of justice); Columbia Pictures
    
    Indus. v. Fung, 
    447 F. Supp. 2d 306
     (S.D.N.Y. 2006) (quoting Wyndham Assoc. v. Bintiff, 
    398 F.2d 614
    , 619 (2nd Cir. 1968)) (“There is a strong policy favoring the litigation of related claims
    
    in the same tribunal . . . .”).
    
            Furthermore, the District of Columbia has no interest in this case and its citizens should
    
    not be burdened with jury service. The Middle District of Florida, on the other hand, has a
    
    significant interest in providing redress for injuries sustained in the accident, since three of the
    
    plaintiffs in Estate of Madison Miller are now Florida residents. Estate of Madison Miller
    
    includes four of the six passengers who were riding in the vehicle at the time of the accident, as
    
    well as plaintiff’s husband. (Order of Consolidation, No. 07-1358 (M.D. Fla. Oct. 29, 2008).)
    
    The only passengers not in the Florida suit are plaintiff and her mother, whose estate has filed
    
    suit in the District of Maryland for reasons unknown to this Court.
    
            The Court therefore concludes that the convenience of parties and witnesses and the
    
    interests of justice weigh heavily in favor of transferring plaintiff’s claims against Thrifty to the
    
    Middle District of Florida.
    
    
    
    
                                                      14
                                             CONCLUSION
    
            For the foregoing reasons, the Court will grant defendant TMC’s motion to dismiss for
    
    lack of personal jurisdiction and will deny defendant’s Thrifty’s motion to dismiss. Pursuant to
    
    28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), the Court transfers plaintiff’s claims against Thrifty to the U.S. District
    
    Court for the Middle District of Florida on the grounds of forum non conveniens, to be
    
    consolidated with Estate of Madison Miller, No. 07-1358 (M.D. Fla. filed Aug. 24, 2007). A
    
    separate order accompanies this Memorandum Opinion.
    
    
    
                                                                     /s/
                                                          ELLEN SEGAL HUVELLE
                                                          United States District Judge
    DATE:     June 2, 2009
    
    
    
    
                                                     15
    

Document Info

DocketNumber: Civil Action No. 2008-1613

Judges: Judge Ellen S. Huvelle

Filed Date: 6/2/2009

Precedential Status: Precedential

Modified Date: 10/30/2014

Authorities (25)

Hoffman v. Blaski , 363 U.S. 335 ( 1960 )

Helicopteros Nacionales De Colombia, SA v. Hall , 466 U.S. 408 ( 1984 )

Stewart Organization, Inc. v. Ricoh Corp. , 487 U.S. 22 ( 1988 )

Sinochem Intern. v. Malaysia Intern. Shipping , 549 U.S. 422 ( 2007 )

Gorman, David J. v. AmeriTrade Hold Corp , 293 F.3d 506 ( 2002 )

Flynn, John v. Flores, Priscilla , 353 F.3d 953 ( 2004 )

FC INV. GROUP LC v. IFX Markets, Ltd. , 529 F.3d 1087 ( 2008 )

wyndham-associates-v-david-c-bintliff-a-g-mcneese-jr-l-b-tybor , 398 F.2d 614 ( 1968 )

Skil Corporation v. Millers Falls Company , 541 F.2d 554 ( 1976 )

In Re Alan Neal Scott , 709 F.2d 717 ( 1983 )

21-employee-benefits-cas-2935-pens-plan-guide-cch-p-23942c , 139 F.3d 304 ( 1998 )

ESTATE OF THOMSON EX REL. RAKESTRAW v. Toyota Motor Corp. , 545 F.3d 357 ( 2008 )

Islamic Republic of Iran v. Boeing Co. , 477 F. Supp. 142 ( 1979 )

Galindo v. Gonzales , 550 F. Supp. 2d 115 ( 2008 )

Demery v. Montgomery County, Md. , 602 F. Supp. 2d 206 ( 2009 )

Sunlite, Inc. v. BfG Bank AG , 849 F. Supp. 74 ( 1994 )

Miller v. Toyota Motor Corp. , 593 F. Supp. 2d 1254 ( 2008 )

AIRPORT WORKING GROUP v. US Dept. of Defense , 226 F. Supp. 2d 227 ( 2002 )

GREAT SO. PEOPLE'S LIBYAN ARAB JAMAHIRIYA v. Miski , 496 F. Supp. 2d 137 ( 2007 )

Byerson v. Equifax Information Services, LLC , 467 F. Supp. 2d 627 ( 2006 )

View All Authorities »