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CLARK v. BURGER KING CORPORATION

April 4, 2003

ROBERT CLARK, AN INDIVIDUAL, AND A.D.A. ACCESS TODAY, A NON-PROFIT PENNSYLVANIA CORPORATION, ON BEHALF OF THEMSELVES AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
BURGER KING CORPORATION AND DIME-MOR II, INC., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irenas, Senior District Judge.

OPINION

Presently before this Court are the motions of Defendant, Burger King Corporation ("BKC"),*fn1 to (1) transfer venue in this dual class action, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), to the Southern District of Florida, and to (2) dismiss Plaintiffs' amended complaint, pursuant to Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. On February 27, 2003, the Court heard oral argument on the instant motions. Since we find that (1) Defendant has not met its burden of showing that the District of New Jersey is an inconvenient forum; (2) Plaintiff, Clark, only has standing to assert his ADA claims as to restaurants he visited prior to filing the underlying action; (3) Plaintiff, ADAAT, lacks standing to sue in its own right; and (4) ADAAT does not have standing to assert ADA violations on behalf of its members, other than Clark, and it may be that ADAAT can cure this deficiency by amending the complaint, we will deny BKC's Motion to Transfer Venue and subsequently grant in part and deny in part BKC's Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint.

I.

On January 22, 2002, Plaintiffs, Robert Clark ("Clark") and A.D.A. Access Today ("ADAAT"), brought the underlying putative national class action against BKC, all of BKC's franchises in the United States,*fn2 and Burger King franchisee, Dime-Mor II, Inc. ("Dime-Mor"),*fn3 alleging failure to provide sufficient access to persons with disabilities under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA")*fn4 and various state disability statutes.

Plaintiffs claim that all Burger King restaurants in the United States deny disabled persons full accessibility as required by the ADA and various state laws. Plaintiffs seek to certify a plaintiff class consisting of all disabled persons residing throughout the United States and a subclass consisting of disabled persons residing in New Jersey,*fn5 California, Vermont, Arizona, Wisconsin, Illinois, Idaho, Ohio, Nevada, and Michigan. Plaintiffs also seek to certify a defendant class consisting of all owners/operators of Burger King restaurants throughout the United States, and a subclass consisting of all owners/operators of Burger King restaurants located in ten (10) states.*fn6 Plaintiffs claim that Defendants have discriminated against them by failing to remove certain architectural barriers or by otherwise denying Plaintiffs full and equal access to Defendants' goods, services, and programs at Defendants' facilities.

Defendant, BKC, requests that the Court (1) transfer this case to the Southern District of Florida pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) and (2) dismiss Plaintiffs' amended complaint for lack of standing.

As to Defendant's transfer request, Defendant raises three main reasons as to why this case should be transferred. First, Defendant asserts that officers and employees of BKC, who have personal knowledge of BKC's activities, work and reside in Miami, Florida. Next, Defendant maintains that access to BKC's voluminous corporate documents and records, "if they exist," is clearly more convenient in Florida than in New Jersey. Finally, Defendant contends that more class members will reside in Florida, because Florida has significantly more Burger King restaurants than New Jersey.

As to Defendant's request that the Court dismiss Plaintiffs' amended complaint, Defendant asserts that because the amended complaint fails to cure the deficiencies of the initial complaint, the amended complaint must be dismissed because Plaintiffs lack standing, fail to state a valid claim, and make impermissible class allegations.

II.

The Court will first turn its attention to Defendant's motion to transfer venue. "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." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Section 1404(a) vests "discretion in the district court to adjudicate motions to transfer according to an individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness." Stewart Organization, Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 23, 108 S.Ct. 2239, 2240, 101 L.Ed.2d 22 (1988) (quoting Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 622, 84 S.Ct. 805, 812, 11 L.Ed.2d 945 (1964)). The purpose of this section is "to prevent the waste of time, energy and money and to protect litigants, witnesses and the public against unnecessary inconvenience and expense." Van Dusen, 376 U.S. at 616, 84 S.Ct. at 809 (quoting Continental Grain Co. v. Barge FBL-585, 364 U.S. 19, 26-27, 80 S.Ct. 1470, 1474-1475, 4 L.Ed.2d 1540 (1960)).

In deciding motions to transfer venue, "courts have not limited their consideration to the three enumerated factors in § 1404(a) (convenience of parties, convenience of witnesses, or interests of justice)." Jumara v. State Farm Ins. Co., 55 F.3d 873, 879 (3d Cir. 1995). Rather, courts have considered "all relevant factors to determine whether on balance the litigation would more conveniently proceed and the interests of justice be better served by transfer to a different forum." Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879 (quoting 15 Charles A. Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Edward H. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure § 3847 (2d ed. 1986)).

The first step in a court's analysis of a transfer motion is to determine whether venue would be proper in the transferee district. If the first prong of the inquiry is satisfied, the court then should determine whether a transfer would be in the interests of justice. Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879. This Court notes that the party moving to transfer a case on grounds of inconvenience has the burden of showing that the existing forum is inconvenient. Britamco Underwriters v. Raymond E. Wallace Productions, Inc., 56 F. Supp.2d 542, 545 (E.D.Pa. 1999).

III.

Thus, the threshold question under § 1404(a) is whether this action might have been brought in Florida. Van Dusen, 376 U.S. at 613, 84 S.Ct. at 808. Any civil action wherein jurisdiction is not found solely on the diversity of citizenship may be brought in a district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred. 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2); Ayling v. Travelers Property Casualty Corp., No. 99-3243, 1999 WL 994403, at *2 (E.D.Pa. Oct. 28, 1999). Similarly, as Plaintiffs assert, Defendant allegedly failed to provide sufficient access to a nationwide class of persons with disabilities under Title III of the ADA. Therefore, Plaintiffs could probably have brought this suit in almost any state in which BKC does business. Since, BKC does business in Florida, and the alleged violations occurred at BKC owned restaurants nationwide, the action could have been brought in the Southern District of Florida.

IV.

Next, this Court must determine whether a transfer is in the interests of justice. According to the Third Circuit, in deciding a motion under ยง 1404(a), the Court must consider both the private and public interests affected by the transfer. Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879. The private interest factors to be considered in determining whether to transfer venue include: (1) the convenience and preference of the parties, including the plaintiff's choice of forum; (2) the convenience of witnesses; and (3) access to books and records. Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879. In addition, the public interest factors that the Court should consider include: (1) practical considerations that would make the trial easy, expeditious, or inexpensive; (2) court congestion in each forum; (3) the location where the events at issue took place and the interest of the respective courts in deciding local controversies; (4) ...


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