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U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland Transfers Class-Action to the Middle District of Pennsylvania
Alex Kukich, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, v. Electrolux Home Products, Inc.
Available at: http://www.mdd.uscourts.gov/recent-opinions
Plaintiff brought a class-action product liability suit in the District of Maryland, seeking to establish both a class of plaintiff’s nationally and a class distinct to the State of Maryland. Plaintiff alleges that the defendant, Electrolux, distributes the Fridgidaire Gallery Over-the-Range Microwave Oven, which plaintiff purchased in an “HHGREGG” store in Catonsville, Maryland. Plaintiff alleged that the handle held a temperature of over 168 degrees Fahrenheit, after the stove range had been used, and therefore, the product designs, as well as the recommended installation procedure, were defective.
Electrolux sought to transfer this action to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) where a similar case (Rice v. Electrolux Home Products, Inc., hereinafter “Rice”) is pending. Plaintiff opposed the motion; yet without holding a hearing, the District Court of Maryland granted the motion.
The Court noted that there are two (2) primary issues in determining whether a transfer would be valid: (1) whether the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania would have jurisdiction over the Defendant, and (2) if the court has such jurisdiction, whether an analysis of six (6) case-specific factors, held in binding authority, favors transfer. The first four (4) factors, listed in Tr. Of the Plumbers and Pipefitters Nat. Pension Fund v. Plumbing Servs., Inc., 791 F.3d 436, 444 (4th Cir. 2015), are the weight accorded to plaintiff’s choice of venue, the witness’s convenience and access to the venues, the convenience of the parties regarding both venues, and the general interest of justice. The last two (2) factors, coming from Stratagene v. Parsons Behle & Latimer, 315 F. Supp. 2d 765, 771 (D. Md. 2004), are the “local interest in having localized controversies settled at home”, and “the appropriateness in having a trial of a diversity case in a forum that is at home with the state law that must govern the action.”
As a general rule, the plaintiff’s choice of forum is given substantial weight, Plumbing Servs., Inc., 791 F.3d at 444, but in class action suits, courts have consistently given less weight to the plaintiff’s choice. Byerson v. Equifax Information Services, LLC, 467 F. Supp. 2d 267, 633. In Kukich’s case, his intention to seek certification of a national class weighed against his favor, and because he could not establish any other identified plaintiff’s or key witnesses that resided in Maryland, the court found this first factor only granted Kukich “some weight.”
Second, the court noted that courts will not transfer venue solely to shift convenience from one party to another. See Pinpoint IT Services, L.L.C. v. Atlas IT Export Corp., 812 F. Supp 2d 710, 721 (E.D. Va. 2011). Although significant discovery had already taken place in Rice, and the lawyers in Rice were the same as those representing Kukich, the court did not find these facts to provide significant weight. Therefore, because the convenience would simply shift from one party to the other, this factor came out neutral.
Kukich could not establish the existence of any important witnesses in Maryland. Conversely, Electrolux argued that it would be difficult for their expert witnesses to travel to two jurisdictions to give testimony. While it seemed inconvenient for expert witnesses to travel to two substantially similar cases, that did not mean that Pennsylvania would outweigh Maryland, so the court also found that the third factor weighed in neither parties’ favor.
The court discussed the last three factors in tandem, suggesting that they all dealt with the pursuance of justice. Kukich offered three (3) arguments in his favor, stating first that Maryland courts held substantial interest in determining claims under Maryland law, for a Maryland plaintiff, that the District Court in Pennsylvania would not be able to decide the claims specifically related to Maryland law, and that because he was seeking a class specific to the State of Maryland, that the litigation must proceed in Maryland Courts. The court did not find these arguments persuasive. First, the court found that it was in the interest of justice, to combine the cases, simply because it would relieve the courts of deciding substantially the same issue twice, and because it would ensure consistency in the rulings. Furthermore, the court discussed that they had full confidence in the Pennsylvania District Court’s ability to apply and find on issues of Maryland law. Lastly, the court determined that by seeking to certify a national class, Kukich had already covered any potential Marylanders who would be affected by the ruling, essentially stating that the need to establish a distinct class for Maryland was redundant.
In determining that justice would be most easily served by transferring the case, and that no other factors weighed strongly in Kukish’s favor, the Court granted the motion.
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