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U.S. District Court Examines Requirements to Transfer A Case Pursuant To 28 U.S.C. § 1631

Mark Edwards v. Leach International and DRI Relays, Inc.
No. 15-321-LPS (United States District Court for the District of Delaware, November 18, 2015)

by Richard J. Medoff, Law Clerk
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (www.semmes.com)

Available at: http://www.ded.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions/lps/2015
/november/15-321.pdf

Mark Edwards v. Leach International and DRI Relays, Inc. involves a motion to re-transfer a wrongful death case back to the Middle District of Florida after the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida transferred the case to the District of Delaware pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1631. The United States District Court for the District of Delaware concluded that there was no showing of “manifest error” or “unusual circumstances” sufficient to reverse the initial transfer of the case to the District of Delaware. Thus, Judge Leonard P. Stark denied the motion to re-transfer.

By way of factual background, on June 4, 2014, Plaintiff Mark Edwards ("Plaintiff'), as Personal Representative of six (6) deceased members of the Bramlage family, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Defendants Leach International ("LIC") and DRI Relays, Inc. ("DRI") (collectively, "Defendants"), as well as eight (8) other defendants, in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. The case arose from the June 7, 2012, crash of a 2006 Pilatus PC-12/4 7 aircraft in Lake Wales, Florida, allegedly caused by a defective condition of the aircraft's flight control systems.

After Defendants moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, Plaintiff moved to sever and transfer the actions to either the District of Delaware or the District of Colorado. On April 20, 2015, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida found that it lacked personal jurisdiction over Defendants and transferred Plaintiff’s claims against Defendants to the United States District Court for the District of Delaware pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1631. After the transfer, DRI filed a motion to re-transfer to the Middle District of Florida.

DRI's motion to re-transfer was premised on its view that the legislative history of § 1631 suggested that this statutory basis for transfer was available only when a transferor court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. In support of its view, DRI pointed to a circuit split and "conflicting District Court opinions within the Third Circuit" on the issue of whether § 1631 was also available as a basis for transfers from a court that originally lacked personal jurisdiction.

The Court began its analysis on this point by noting that it has held in the past that § 1631 is available as a basis for transfers from a transferor court that lacked personal jurisdiction. See Forest Labs Inc. v. Cobalt Labs Inc., 2009 WL 605745, at *12 (D. Del. Mar. 9, 2009) ("With respect to Section 1631, it is true… that former-District Court Judge Latchum wrote that this section 'appears from its legislative history to apply only to cases in which the transferor court lacks subject matter jurisdiction,’ … but this was dicta… More importantly…the judicial construction - including by the Third Circuit - since the time Judge Latchum wrote has been to apply Section 1631 more broadly.").

The Court further noted that the Third Circuit's cases support the conclusion that the trend regarding the judicial construction of § 1631 has been towards broader application. See D'Jamoos v. Pilatus Aircraft Ltd., 566 F .3d 94, 109 (3d Cir. 2009) (stating that transfer under § 1631 based on personal jurisdiction partially satisfied requirements of § 1631); see also Island lnsteel Sys., Inc. v. Waters, 296 F.3d 200, 218 (3d Cir. 2002); Renner v. Lannard Toys Ltd., 33 F.3d 277 (3d Cir. 1994); Mellon Bank PSFS NA. v. DiVeronica Bros., Inc., 983 F.2d 551 (3d Cir. 1993).

DRI next argued that transfer to the District of Delaware was not "in the interest of justice," which is also a requirement of § 1631. The Court, however, disagreed. The Court explained that “normally transfer will be in the interest of justice because dismissal of an action that could be brought elsewhere is time-consuming and justice-defeating." Lawman Armor Corp. v. Simon, 319 F. Supp. 2d 499, 507 (E.D. Pa. 2004) (quoting Goldlawr, Inc. v. Heiman, 369 U.S. 463, 467 (1962)).

The Court further explained that the presumption in favor of transfer can be rebutted if transfer would "unfairly benefit the proponent, impose an unwarranted hardship on an objector, or unduly burden the judicial system." D'Jamoos v. Pilatus Aircraft Ltd., 2009 WL 3152188, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 1, 2009). The Court found that none of those circumstances were present in this case, however, particularly considering that DRI, by its motion, requested re-transfer to a district in which it objected to personal jurisdiction.

Additionally, the Court found that Plaintiff had acted in good faith in filing in the Middle District of Florida, as that was where the crash giving rise to the lawsuit occurred, and thus, where considerable discovery and investigation would have to take place. See Forest Labs, 2009 WL 605745, at *13 (emphasizing good faith in the "interest of justice" analysis). Accordingly, the Court was persuaded that transfer of the action to the District of Delaware was in the interest of justice, as the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida lacked personal jurisdiction over Defendants.

Finally, the Court noted that “a transfer order from a coordinate court should only be reversed upon a showing of 'manifest error' or 'unusual circumstances.’” Holland v. Consol. Rail Corp., 1998 WL 414722, at *1 (E.D. Pa. July 22, 1998) (citing Hayman Cash Register Co. v. Sarokin, 669 F.2d 162 (3d Cir. 1982); In re Cragar Indus., Inc., 706 F.2d 503, 505 (5th Cir. 1998)). The Court explained that a coordinate court's transfer order is the law of the case, and that under the law of the case doctrine, once an issue is decided, it cannot be relitigated in the same case, absent unusual circumstances. See Holland, 1998 WL 414722, at * 1. The Court further explained that the law of the case doctrine applied “with even greater force to transfer decisions.” Id.

For the above reasons, the Court concluded that there was no showing of “manifest error” or “unusual circumstances” sufficient to reverse the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida’s transfer of the case to the District of Delaware. Accordingly, the Court denied DRI’s motion to re-transfer the case to the Middle District of Florida.


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