Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Fifth Circuit Hears Case about whether Judge's Discretion Should Be Limited When Party Requests Venue Transfer

From the Texas Lawyer, May 22, 2008:

In a mandamus case that could significantly alter one of the hottest federal civil dockets in Texas, the full 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments on May 22 over whether a trial judge’s discretion should be limited when a party moves to transfer venue.

The stakes in In Re: Volkswagen are huge, because the case could end up stemming the tide of product liability suits filed in the Eastern District of Texas. Under 28 U.S.C. §1391(a)(1), plaintiffs can file product liability suits in “any district in which a defendant resides.” Plenty of plaintiffs have taken advantage of this law and filed in the Eastern District, where the judges are known for moving such disputes in an efficient manner and the juries have a reputation — rightly or wrongly — for being pro-plaintiff.

. . .

To move product liability cases out of the Eastern District, litigants must file a 28 U.S.C. §1404(a) motion asking a judge to weigh transferring the case to a more suitable jurisdiction for the sake of the convenience of witnesses.

It is the U.S. district judge’s discretion in weighing the §1404(a) transfer motion that is at the heart of the battle in In Re: Volkswagen, a mandamus receiving an unusual amount of interest from amici.

Danny Ashby, a lawyer for defendants Volkswagen of America and its parent company, argued to the 5th Circuit that U.S. District Judge T. John Ward abused his discretion by refusing to transfer the suit out of the Eastern District. Ashby argued that the suit has no relevant connection to the Eastern District. He also maintained that Ward gave too much weight to the plaintiffs’ choice of forum and that the witnesses in the case are located in Dallas.

In its brief to the 5th Circuit, the Volkswagen defendants also assert that federal judges in other districts in Texas routinely grant §1404(a) transfer motions in cases “covering distances substantially shorter than the 150 miles between Marshall and Dallas.”

“The parties and the witnesses have no connection to Marshall,” Ashby, a partner in the Dallas office of K&L Gates, told the 5th Circuit judges on May 22. “And the case has no connection to Marshall.”

But plaintiffs’ lawyer Martin Siegel argued that Ward gave proper weight to his clients’ choice of venue, that the witnesses located where the defendants want to try the case are not important to its resolution and that the defense has not proven that Ward’s venue ruling is an “extraordinary cause” that justifies mandamus.

“These are decisions best made by trial judges for docket-management reasons” as well as cost- and time-management reasons, argued Siegel, a Houston solo. “This case is the poster child for this. We’re now in our second year in this case.”


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