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Hayes v. Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P.

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

December 18, 2017

HARTZELL HAYES PLAINTIFF
v.
WAL-MART STORES EAST, L.P., A SUBSIDIARY OF WAL-MART STORES, INC., D/B/A WAL-MART DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          TIMOTHY L. BROOKS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Now pending before the Court are the Motion to Transfer (Doc. 12) and Brief in Support (Doc. 13) filed by Defendant Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P., a Subsidiary of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., d/b/a Wal-Mart's ("Walmart"); Plaintiff Hartzell Hayes's Response in Opposition (Doc. 15)-which was filed six days out of time but was nonetheless considered; and Walmart's Reply (Doc. 18). On December 18, 2017, the Court held a hearing on the Motion, and counsel for the parties presented oral argument. The Court granted the Motion from the bench. In the following Order, the reasons for the Court's decision are explained in greater detail. To the extent anything in this Order conflicts with statements made from the bench, this Order will control.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of an incident that occurred on July 2, 2014, at a Walmart store located in Moultrie, Georgia. Mr. Hayes, a customer of Walmart, was riding in an electric shopping cart, attempting to navigate through an area of the store that was under construction. His electric cart struck a rotisserie "hot case" that he contends was "negligently placed, " see Doc. 1, p. 2, and he suffered an injury to his knee. The Complaint claims that Walmart had knowledge of the dangerous condition of the hot case, yet did nothing to ameliorate the potential danger to customers shopping in the area. Mr. Hayes seeks $95, 000 from Walmart to compensate him for his medical bills, loss of earnings, and pain and suffering.

         When Mr. Hayes filed the Complaint in this Court, he asserted as the basis for federal jurisdiction the fact that the parties are completely diverse and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. Mr. Hayes maintains that he is a citizen of Georgia, and that Walmart is a citizen of Arkansas, headquartered in Bentonville. On November 10, 2017, Walmart filed a Motion to Transfer the case to the Middle District of Georgia, citing the transfer statute at 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), and arguing that the convenience of the parties and witnesses and the interest of justice all weigh in favor of transfer. Mr. Hayes opposes transfer, though he concedes that all the incidents set forth in his Complaint took place in Georgia, and that he, his medical providers, and all relevant witnesses reside in Georgia. Although he claims that he is willing to travel to Arkansas to litigate this case whenever his physical presence here is necessary, he points out that he thinks Walmart, a large and successful company, will be capable of shouldering all costs involved with transporting witnesses to this jurisdiction. Furthermore, he believes that these witnesses will not be required to travel to Arkansas in the end, as their deposition testimony may simply be read into the record-or, if recorded, played for the jury.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         The change of venue statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), 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 where it might have been brought." Although the statute provides three general categories of factors that courts must consider when evaluating a motion to transfer, Terra Int'l v. Miss. Chem. Corp., 119 F.3d 688, 691 (8th Cir. 1997), the Eighth Circuit has declined to offer an exhaustive list, In re Apple, Inc., 602 F.3d 909, 912 (8th Cir. 2010). Rather, district courts possess the discretion under section 1404(a) "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). Moreover, because "federal courts give considerable deference to a plaintiff's choice of forum ... the party seeking a transfer under section 1404(a) typically bears the burden of proving that a transfer is warranted." Terra Int'l, 119 F.3d at 695.

         As a threshold matter, the Court, must satisfy itself that the Middle District of Georgia, the requested transferee venue, is a district where this action originally could have been brought. 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Under the general venue statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2), venue is proper in, among other places, "a judicial district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred." Since the injury in question took place in a Walmart store located in the Middle District of Georgia, venue is proper there.

         Now that this threshold inquiry has been satisfied, the Court must next determine whether transfer is warranted "for the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). The Court will separate its analysis into a "convenience" section and an "interest of justice" section.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Convenience Factors

         Courts consider several relevant factors that directly bear upon the convenience of litigating in a particular court. These factors include: 1) the convenience of the parties, 2) the convenience of the witnesses-including the willingness of witnesses to appear, the ability to subpoena witnesses, and the adequacy of deposition testimony, 3) the accessibility to records and documents, 4) the location where the conduct complained of occurred, and 5) the applicability of each forum state's substantive law. Terra Int'l, 119 F.3d at 696. Of the convenience factors, many courts consider the convenience of witnesses to be the most important. See 15 Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller, & Edward H. Cooper, Fed. Practice and Procedure § 3851 n!l (4th ed. 2017) (listing cases). The Court will consider each factor in turn.

         1. Convenience of the Parties

         Here, the convenience of the parties is neutral with respect to transfer. Walmart is headquartered in Arkansas, yet it advocates in favor of transfer to Georgia because it argues that, on balance, it would suffer greater inconvenience if it were denied the opportunity to subpoena witnesses located in Georgia who are outside the subpoena power of the Court. Mr. Hayes states that he is willing to travel to Arkansas, despite the fact that he lives in Georgia. The Court doubts it is ...


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