MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
ROBERT W. GETTLEMAN, District Judge.
Plaintiff Robert Sickman filed a one-count first amended putative class action complaint against defendant Asset Recovery Solutions, LLC ("Asset"), alleging a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1692
Plaintiff is an individual who resides in San Antonio, Texas. Defendant is a debt collector as defined by the FDCPA, with its principal place of business in Des Plaines, Illinois. Plaintiff alleges that on or about February 7, 2014, defendant mailed him a letter, seeking to collect an alleged debt incurred for personal, family, or household purposes. According to plaintiff, in violation of section 1692f(8) of the FDCPA, the envelope containing the letter displayed through a transparent window the account number assigned to plaintiff and defendant's name. Plaintiff alleges that defendant sent similar letters and envelopes to a class of approximately 40 other individuals residing in Texas.
A. Legal Standard
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 or division where it might have been brought." The court may transfer a case to another jurisdiction when:
(1) venue is proper in both the transferor and the transferee courts; (2) transfer is for the convenience of the parties and witnesses; and (3) transfer is in the interest of justice.
Because the parties do not dispute that venue is proper in both this court and the Western District of Texas, the court has discretion to transfer the case if doing so is for the convenience of the parties and witnesses and in the interest of justice. "In determining whether a forum is more convenient, the court must consider the private interests of the parties as well as the public interest of the court."
Plaintiff argues that defendant has failed to establish that the Western District of Texas is more convenient than this venue. Generally, the plaintiff's choice of forum is given great weight.
Not only is this district not home to plaintiff or any potential class members, it does not have significant ties to the cause of action. The only connection the Northern District of Illinois has with the instant cause of action is that defendant is located here and presumably sent the allegedly offending letter from here. However, as defendant contends, receipt of the letter, not the actual production of the letter, is the focus of this case.
Defendant argues that because plaintiff and all of the potential class members received the offending letters in Texas, Texas is the situs of material events. In response, plaintiff argues that the creation of the envelope and the mailing of the letter are the material events of this lawsuit, not receipt of the letter. In support of this position, plaintiff relies on
Section 1692f(8) prohibits the use of "any language or symbol, other than the debt collector's address, on any envelop when communicating with a consumer by use of the mails or by telegram." It is unclear to this court how a debt collector can communicate with a debtor by letter or telegram, as provided by the statute, without the debtor receiving the actual letter. Accordingly, the court concludes that the situs of material events in this action was Texas, not Illinois, and therefore the second private interest factor also weighs in favor of transfer.
In regard to the third and fifth elements — the relative ease of access to sources of proof and the convenience of the witnesses — plaintiff argues that "logic dictates that substantial documentary evidence and witnesses is [sic] located in [sic] right here in Illinois." Plaintiff, however, does not identify what documents or non-party witnesses may actually be in Illinois. This is likely because there are not any. Plaintiff's contention that discovery will focus on Asset's "practices in collecting debts" is without merit, because the only contested issue in this case is whether the visibility of defendant's name and plaintiff's account number on the envelopes plaintiff and putative class members received violated section 1692f(8). Defendant does not dispute that it is a debt collector or that it sent the letter to plaintiff. In fact, plaintiff himself admits that "[t]he only relevant document relevant to Plaintiff's FDCPA claim" is the collection letter, which, of course, plaintiff and the putative class members already have in their possession, in Texas. Consequently, because the relevant evidence — the letters and envelopes plaintiff and putative class members received — are in Texas, the third element of the court's analysis weighs in favor of transfer. The fifth element is neutral because neither party has identified any non-party witnesses.
The remaining private interest factor — the convenience of the parties — also favors transfer. Despite residing in Texas, plaintiff argues that Texas is the "most inconvenient place" for him to litigate this action. In support of this contention, plaintiff contends that "[i]f Asset ultimately prevails on the merits and thereafter seeks and award of attorneys' fees and costs, such fees and costs will be astronomically higher for Plaintiff than if the matter remained in this District given the sheer number of witnesses, documents, and other evidence that are likely physically located in Illinois." As discussed above, however, it is unlikely that any non-party witnesses, documents, or other evidence are located in Illinois. Moreover, there is no fee shifting provision in the FDCPA for a successful defendant, and in any event, section 1404(a)'s analysis is concerned with the convenience of litigating the case, not the remote possibility of a post-judgment award of attorney's fees. It appears that the real inconvenience plaintiff is concerned with is that some of his attorneys
In considering the convenience of the parties, the court is most concerned with the convenience of the putative class members whom plaintiff seeks to represent. Absent any who may have moved out of state within the last year, these 40 potential class members reside in Texas. While plaintiff has altruistically "declared [that] he is willing" to travel from San Antonio to Chicago, potential class members have not. If plaintiff's proposed class is certified, class members desiring to take part in this action will be forced to travel a much greater distance than if the case was heard in San Antonio.
Having found that the majority of the private interest factors weigh in favor of transfer, the court must also consider the public interest factors, which include: (1) the relation of the community to the occurrence at issue in the litigation and the desirability of resolving the controversies in their locale; (2) the court's familiarity with the applicable law; and (3) the congestion of respective court dockets and the prospect for earlier trial.
Because this case concerns federal law, the second factor is neutral.
Finally, the court must consider the dockets of the two districts in question.
Because the majority of both private and public interest factors weigh in favor of transfer, the court finds that the Western District of Texas is a more convenient venue than the Northern District of Illinois, and that transfer is in the interest of justice.
For the forgoing reasons, defendant's motion to transfer venue to the Western District of Texas is granted.