NOEL L. HILMAN, District Judge.
Plaintiffs are retired National Football League players who filed a class action complaint in this Court alleging that they, and others similarly situated, should be compensated each time the defendants show their images in NFL films. Defendants have moved to have this case transferred to the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota. For the reasons explained below, defendants' motion will be granted.
The Court exercises subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question), as plaintiffs have raised claims pursuant to the federal Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125.
According to the allegations in plaintiffs' complaint, plaintiffs are all former National Football League ("NFL") players. Defendant NFL Productions LLC d/b/a NFL Films ("NFL Films") is a Delaware limited liability company with its principal place of business located in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey. Defendant NFL is a tax-exempt association under 26 U.S.C. § 501(c)(6)
The plaintiffs in this case opted-out of a settlement reached in the class action case of
In addition to this case, there are three other pending opt-out cases that raise similar claims. One of those cases, the
Defendants now seek to transfer this case to Minnesota as well.
The statute governing transfers of venue, 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), provides: "For 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." Section 1391(b) provides guidelines as to when venue is proper, which is "(1) a judicial district in which any defendant resides, if all defendants are residents of the State in which the district is located; (2) a judicial district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred, or a substantial part of property that is the subject of the action is situated; or (3) if there is no district in which an action may otherwise be brought as provided in this section, any judicial district in which any defendant is subject to the court's personal jurisdiction with respect to such action." 28 U.S.C. § 1391(a). If venue is appropriate, then the Court has discretion as to whether to transfer an action based on a balancing of certain private and public factors.
The private factors are: "(1) plaintiff's forum preference as manifested in the original choice; (2) the defendant's preference; (3) whether the claim arose elsewhere; (4) the convenience of the parties as indicated by their relative physical and financial condition; (5) the convenience of the witnesses — but only to the extent that the witnesses may actually be unavailable for trial in one of the fora; and (6) the location of books and records (similarly limited to the extent that the files could not be produced in the alternative forum)."
The public factors are: "(1) the enforceability of the judgment; (2) practical considerations that could make the trial easy, expeditious, or inexpensive; (3) the relative administrative difficulty in the two fora resulting from court congestion; (4) the local interest in deciding local controversies at home; (5) the public policies of the fora; and (6) the familiarity of the trial judge with the applicable state law in diversity cases."
It is the movant's burden to show a need for transfer.
The parties do not dispute that this case could have been brought in the District of Minnesota. There is no dispute that defendants regularly transact business in Minnesota, at least one named plaintiff resides in Minnesota, certain putative class action members likely reside or played in NFL games there, and at least a portion of the claims in this case arise from NFL footage shown or produced in Minnesota.
Therefore, it must be determined whether transfer would serve "the convenience of parties and witnesses" and "the interest of justice."
B. Related Ongoing Litigation
Defendants argue that the existence of similar litigation currently pending in the District of Minnesota automatically warrants transfer of this case. More specifically, defendants argue that the
Certain plaintiffs, however, opted out of the
Although the original
However, the authority to transfer "... is not a mandate directing wooden application of the rule without regard to rare or extraordinary circumstances, inequitable conduct, bad faith, or forum shopping."
In addition, the other two opt-out cases,
Therefore, the existence of the first opt-out
C. Private Factors
1. Plaintiffs' Forum Preference
The general rule is that a plaintiff's choice of forum is given preference.
Here, one of the plaintiffs, Philip James Villapiano, is a resident of New Jersey. The other nine named plaintiffs reside in other states across the country (i.e., Texas, Maryland, California, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, and Florida). There is no allegation that the other similarly situated plaintiffs primarily reside in New Jersey.
Also, there is no allegation that the central facts of the case occurred in New Jersey. Although plaintiffs allege facts that show that the production of NFL Films occurs primarily in New Jersey, their claim centers on the airing of their images which occurs nationally and even worldwide on the internet. Therefore, the central facts of this lawsuit do not occur primarily within the forum state.
Accordingly, deference to plaintiff's choice of forum will not be applied. However, the absence of deference does not mean that the factor cannot still weigh in favor of plaintiff. Although the Court will not defer to the plaintiffs' choice of forum, there is a least one named plaintiff who resides in this District and presumably some of the NFL footage at issue aired in New Jersey. Therefore, this factor weighs in favor of plaintiffs, although it will not be considered a significant factor.
2. Defendants' Preference
"When analyzing a defendant's forum preference, the court examines whether the defendant can articulate rational, legitimate reasons to support that preference."
Currently, there are three opt-out cases pending in the District of Minnesota. Having all four cases heard in a single district is a rational, legitimate reason and this factor weighs in favor of transfer.
3. Whether Claim Arose Elsewhere
NFL films is located in New Jersey. Plaintiffs have noted that in 2002, NFL Films opened a new 200,000 square foot, stateof-the-art film and television studio complex in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey. They allege that the editing and production of the films is done in New Jersey. However, plaintiffs' claims concern the airing of their images which is not limited to New Jersey. Therefore, the Court finds that this factor neither weighs in favor of transfer or against it; it is neutral.
4. Convenience of the Parties
Only one named plaintiff is a New Jersey resident. The other plaintiffs and putative class members live across the country. NFL Films is located in New Jersey. Given that the plaintiffs are all willing to have their claims heard in this district, and the locally situated defendant, NFL Films, wishes to have the case transferred, the Court considers this factor to be neutral.
5. Convenience of the Witnesses
This factor considers the convenience of the witnesses — but only to the extent that the witnesses may actually be unavailable for trial in one of the fora.
In reply, defendants state that the NFL agrees to make available in Minnesota the NFL and NFL Films employees that the trial court determines are reasonably necessary to plaintiffs' case and who would have fallen within the geographical limits of this Court's subpoena power. They also argue that class actions rarely go to trial and that plaintiffs may utilize the common practice of videotaped depositions for third party witnesses who are outside the jurisdiction of this court.
Plaintiffs' arguments on this point have merit. This Court has on many occasions noted that, in general, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Rules of Evidence favor live testimony and that video depositions may impede a jury's ability to make credibility determinations. Moreover, third party discovery may be important here as it relates to both liability and damages. Nonetheless, we find this factor to be neutral. First, defendants are correct in pointing out that while they have the burden to justify transfer, plaintiffs have failed to adequately explain why New York-based media are likely to possess unique information relevant in this case not discoverable from defendants. Nor is it clear, given the Plaintiffs' apparent focus on internet commerce, that if such relevant information does exist with third parties it is more likely to be found in New York than it would be in California, for example. Nor is it argued here that the on-going litigation in Minnesota has been hindered or impaired by Rule 45 or any other rule or procedure. In sum, Plaintiffs' concerns, while potentially meaningful, appear speculative at this point.
Moreover, what makes this factor ultimately a neutral one, with one caveat, is defendants' agreement to make their employees who would have fallen within this Court's subpoena power available in Minnesota for trial. Our concern centers on the defendants' use of the phrase "employees that the
More importantly, it is not the same condition imposed by the courts relied upon by defendants to urge transfer in this matter based on the moving party's pledge not to invoke Rule 45(c). In both those cases, the trial court conditioned transfer based on the defendant's pledge to make available all those employees that
6. Location of Books and Records
In our electronic age, this factor seems to carry less consideration than in years past. Books and records, for the most part, are already in electronic format or can be saved electronically, and easily transported. Plaintiffs state that the location of NFL Films' "SABER" computer system is in New Jersey and that it will be central to the litigation. Plaintiffs do not, however, explain why its capabilities can only be understood in New Jersey. There is no allegation that the "SABER" computer which allows "hyper-advanced identification" of the putative class members' images can only be shown in a New Jersey courtroom, but not a Minnesota one. The possibilities that this case advances to trial, and that the Court "potentially" finds it desirable for jurors to visit the NFL studio are too remote to warrant keeping the case in this District. Thus, this factor is neutral.
D. Public Factors
Enforceability of the Judgment
The parties agree that there is no difference between a judgment entered in Minnesota and one entered here. Therefore, this factor is neutral.
The single most overriding practical consideration is that there are three substantially similar cases pending in the District of Minnesota. To the extent that having all four cases heard in one district would save time and expense of everyone involved, this factor weighs in favor of transfer.
According to the statistics published by the U.S. Federal Judiciary as of March 31, 2013, Minnesota had over 4,000 civil cases pending, 7 active
Local Interest in Deciding Local Controversies
There is a local interest in deciding this controversy in New Jersey given the location of defendant NFL Films. That interest, however, is not enough to weigh against transfer. First, only one named plaintiff is a New Jersey resident. Thus, New Jersey has little interest in the claims of the other named plaintiffs. Second, the distribution of the films in which plaintiffs claim defendants use their images is national, and even international, in scope. There is no distinct New Jersey controversy.
Plaintiffs argue that New Jersey jurors are the appropriate ones to hear this case because Minnesota jurors should not be burden with vindicating the publicity rights of non-residents, or plaintiffs who did not play for a Minnesota team. This argument could, however, be made for New Jersey jurors as well. New Jersey jurors would be burdened with vindicating the publicity rights of many plaintiffs who have no ties with New Jersey.
Weighing the location of NFL Films in this District which gives rise to some local concern over the outcome of this case against the national scope of the claims presented by plaintiffs, the Court finds them in equipoise and, therefore, this factor is neutral.
Public Policies of the Fora
The parties have not identified any public policy that would weigh in favor of or against transfer. Therefore, this factor is neutral.
Familiarity of the Trial Judge With the Applicable State Law
As indicated by plaintiffs' claims in their complaint, many states' laws are potentially applicable to this litigation. Any district court is capable of interpreting state law. Therefore, the issue is whether the District Court in Minnesota is already familiar with application of the pertinent state laws in this case. Defendants argue that Judge Magnuson in Minnesota has already familiarized himself with those laws in connection with the
Weighing all the public and private factors, the Court finds that there are four factors that weigh in favor of transfer, one factor that weighs against it, and the remaining factors are neutral. Adding the existence of a previously filed similar litigation, which carries significant weight, the balance clearly tips in favor of transferring this case to the District of Minnesota.
The defendants have met their burden in providing facts in support of transferring this matter to the District of Minnesota. It is within the Court's discretion whether to transfer a case and, contingent upon the parties entering a joint stipulation regarding the availability of defendants' witnesses as outlined above, the Court will issue an Order transferring this matter to the District of Minnesota.