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Hudson Marine Mgmt. Servs., Inc. v. Thomas Miller Inc.

July 13, 2006

RE: HUDSON MARINE MGMT. SERVS., INC.
v.
THOMAS MILLER (MIAMI) INC., ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William J. Martini Judge

Dear Counsel:

Presently before the Court is plaintiff Hudson Marine Management Services Inc. ("Hudson Marine") and defendant Sea Byte, Inc.'s ("Sea Byte") request to transfer this matter to the Southern District of Florida. Defendants Thomas Miller (Miami) Inc. and Thomas Miller P&L Ltd. (together "Thomas Miller") oppose their request. For the following reasons, the Court will transfer this matter to the Southern District of Florida. However, the Court shall also take this opportunity to correct certain errors contained in its previous opinion in this matter.

BACKGROUND

On March 26, 2004, a Greek vessel named the M/V Eastwind grounded on a reef of the shore of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Thomas Miller, the companies that managed the vessel's insurer, hired Hudson Marine, a New Jersey corporation, to restore the reef (the "Project"). Hudson Marine then subcontracted the diving work on the Project to Sea Byte, a Florida corporation. A dispute later arose between Hudson Marine and Thomas Miller over amounts owed. As a result, Hudson Marine sued Thomas Miller in this Court, and Thomas Miller filed a counterclaim. In the same action, Hudson Marine sued Sea Byte for declaratory relief, asking the Court to determine the amount it owes to Sea Byte should the Court find Thomas Miller not liable to Hudson Marine.

Sea Byte previously moved to dismiss Hudson Marine's declaratory action for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue. In addition, Sea Byte moved in the alternative to transfer this matter to the Southern District of Florida. In an opinion dated April 20, 2006, the Court dismissed Hudson Marine's complaint against Sea Byte for lack of personal jurisdiction. Hudson Marine Mgmt. Servs. Inc. v. Thomas Miller (Miami) Inc., No. 05-5197, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21623 (D.N.J. Apr. 20, 2006). Specifically, the Court held that Sea Byte lacked the minimum contacts with New Jersey necessary for personal jurisdiction. Id.The Court, though, did not reach the issues of improper venue or transfer. Id. at *11.

Hudson Marine then moved for reconsideration of the Court's opinion or, alternatively, to transfer this matter to the Southern District of Florida. Before the Court issued a ruling on this motion, however, Hudson Marine withdrew it. Sea Byte then agreed to set aside our previous dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction, and consented to the transferring of this matter to the Southern District of Florida. Thomas Miller, though, opposes this transfer.

Hudson Marine and Sea Byte's request to transfer this case to the Southern District of Florida is now before the Court. As mentioned earlier, the Court will grant this request but will also take this opportunity to correct an error in its previous opinion.

DISCUSSION

I. Hudson Marine and Sea Byte's Request to Transfer this Matter to the Southern District of Florida is Granted.

28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) provides: "For the convenience of the 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." Transfers pursuant to § 1404(a) may not be made simply by stipulation; rather, the Court must engage in the requisite independent balancing of the § 1404(a) factors. White v. Abco Eng'g Corp., 199 F.3d 140, 142 (3d Cir. 1999). Therefore, the Court must consider all relevant factors to determine whether, on balance, the litigation would more conveniently proceed and the interests of justice would be better served by transfer to a different forum. Jumara v. State Farm Ins. Co., 55 F.3d 873, 879 (3d Cir. 1995).

In this regard, the Court examines both the private interests of the litigants and factors of public interest. Id. at 879. Relevant private interests include the ease of access to sources of proof, availability of compulsory process over unwilling witnesses, the cost of attendance of willing witnesses, the possibility of a jury view of the premises, the location of books and records to the extent they may be unavailable in one forum, and whether the claim arose elsewhere. See Gulf Oil v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501, 508 (1946); Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879. The public interests may include enforceability of the judgment, practical considerations that could make the trial easy, expeditious or inexpensive, relative administration difficulty in the two fora resulting from court congestion, local interest in deciding local controversies at home, public policies of the fora, and familiarity of the trial judge with the applicable state law. Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879-80. The Court has broad discretion in determining whether transfer is appropriate. See Plum Tree, Inc. v. Stockment, 488 F.2d 754, 756 (3d Cir. 1973).

Here, the public and private interests clearly favor transfer. The location of the claims, the convenience of the witnesses and parties, various practical considerations, and the public interest all weigh in favor of transferring this matter to Florida.

A. Location of the Claims

In this matter, Hudson Marine is suing Thomas Miller for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and quantum meruit. (Compl. ¶¶ 34-40). These claims all arise out of Thomas Miller's alleged failure to pay Hudson Marine for work it performed on the Project. (See id. ¶¶ 29-30). Furthermore, Thomas Miller is counter-suing Hudson Marine for breach of contract stemming from Hudson Marine's purported overcharging for work performed on the Project, its failure to obtain government licenses relating to the Project, and its delay in performing work on the Project. (See id. ¶¶ 54-62). Therefore, putting aside Hudson ...


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