UNITED STATES OF AMERICA EX REL. BRIAN D. HOLBROOK, Plaintiff,
THE BRINKS COMPANY, ET AL., Defendants.
SUSAN D. WIGENTON, District Judge.
This matter comes before this Court upon the Motions to Dismiss or Transfer this case filed by Defendants The Brink's Company, Brink's, Incorporated, Jackson Metals LLC, and Walter Luhrman (hereinafter collectively the "Defendants"). (Doc. Nos. 26 and 27). Relator Brian D. Holbrook (hereinafter "Holbrook") opposes the Defendants' present Motions, which the Court has considered without oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. (Doc. No. 35). For the reasons that follow, this Court will grant the Defendants' Motions and transfer this case to the Southern District of Ohio.
Holbrook filed the Complaint that gives rise to this qui tam False Claims Act case under seal on August 16, 2011. (Compl.; Doc. No. 1). In the Complaint, Holbrook asserts that he is a resident of Parma Heights, Ohio, and names the following four Defendants, along with their alleged domiciles: (1) The Brinks Company, a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Richmond, VA; (2) Brink's, Incorporated, a Delaware corporation with its headquarters located in Coppell, TX (collectively "Brink's"); Jackson Metals LLC, an Ohio Limited Liability Company with its principal place of business in Jackson, OH; and Walter Luhrman, president of Jackson Metals LLC, a resident of Jackson, OH (collectively "Jackson Metals"). (Id. at ¶¶ 14-23).
The Complaint alleges that the Defendants conspired to defraud "the United States Government, including the Federal Reserve Banks, the United States Mint, and the United States Treasury" by swapping certain pennies minted in 1992 or before, which contain 95% copper, with pennies minted thereafter, which contain only 2.5% copper. (Id. at ¶¶ 1, 3). Holbrook asserts that the Defendants exploited the terms of a "Coin Terminal Agreement" (the "Agreement") between Brink's and the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. (Id. at ¶¶ 2-7). Instead of merely transporting and storing pennies as contemplated by the Agreement, Holbrook claims that Brink's and Jackson Metals conspired to periodically cull older, copper-rich pennies from the coins in Brink's possession, and replace them with newer zinc-based pennies. (Id.) Holbrook alleges that Jackson Metals would pay Brink's an inflated fee for each bag of pennies exchanged. (Id. at ¶¶ 56-57). As a result of the Defendants' alleged scheme, Holbrook asserts that the United States Government was damaged in a variety of ways, most notably including Defendants' illicit hoarding of the valuable copper contained in the older pennies. (Id. at ¶¶ 84-92).
Notably, Holbrook's Complaint is devoid of any substantive factual allegations with a nexus to the District of New Jersey. Indeed, Holbrook expressly alleges the Defendants' scheme was perpetrated primarily in Ohio, with certain limited conduct perpetrated Maryland. The only articulated links to the District of New Jersey contained within Holbrook's 23-page, 98-paragraph Complaint are the assertions that Brink's has "branch offices throughout the country, including in Newark, New Jersey and Cleveland, Ohio", and that "the Defendants transact business in this District." (Id. at ¶¶ 10, 19). Critically, on September 6, 2012, the United States Attorney's Office for the District of New Jersey filed a letter that notified this Court of the United States of America's "decision not to intervene in this action" pursuant to the terms of 31 U.S.C. § 3730. (Doc. No. 7).
Defendants filed their present Motions on March 25, 2013, and in support thereof, argue that this case should either be dismissed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), or transferred to the Southern District of Ohio. (Doc. Nos. 26, 27). With regard to the latter argument, the Defendants note that this case appears to have absolutely no substantive connection to the District of New Jersey. Instead, the allegations in Holbrook's Complaint demonstrate extensive factual connections to Ohio, including the location of nearly all relevant events alleged in the Complaint. On June 6, 2013, Holbrook filed his consolidated opposition to the present Motions, and the Defendants filed reply briefs on June 24, 2013. (Doc. Nos. 35-37).
A. Legal Standard
Under Title 28, § 1404(a) of the United States Code, district courts may transfer civil actions to any other district where venue would have been proper "for the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) (2006). The purpose of § 1404(a) is twofold: first, to avoid wasting "time, energy and money[, ]" and second, to "protect litigants, witnesses and the public against unnecessary inconvenience and expense." Cont'l Grain Co. v. Barge FBL - 585 , 364 U.S. 19, 26-27, 80 S.Ct. 1470, 4 L.Ed.2d 1540 (1960).
A decision to transfer venue is based on "all relevant factors to determine whether on balance the litigation would more conveniently proceed and the interests of justice be better served by a transfer to a different forum." Jumara v. State Farm Ins. , 55 F.3d 873, 879 (3d Cir. 1995). The party seeking transfer bears the burden of establishing that transfer is necessary. See id. The moving party must "show the proposed alternative forum is not only adequate, but also more appropriate than the present forum." Hoffer v. InfoSpace.com, Inc. , 102 F.Supp.2d 556, 572 (D.N.J. 2000).
The decision of whether to transfer a case is committed to the trial court's sound discretion. See Steward Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp. , 487 U.S. 22, 29, 108 S.Ct. 2239, 101 L.Ed.2d 22 (1988) (discussing the trial court's discretion under § 1404(a) to adjudicate motions to transfer venue according to an "individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness") (quoting Van Dusen v. Barrack , 376 U.S. 612, 622, 84 S.Ct. 805, 11 L.Ed.2d 945 (1964); Cadapult Graphic Sys. v. Tektronix, Inc. , 98 F.Supp.2d 560, 564 (D.N.J. 2000). In determining whether to grant a motion to transfer pursuant to § 1404(a), a reviewing court must first make a threshold determination as to whether the action could have been properly brought in the transferee district. See id. At 570; Shutte v. Armsco Steel Corp. , 431 F.2d 22, 25 (3d Cir. 1970). The movant must demonstrate "the propriety of venue in the transferee district and jurisdiction over all of the defendants." LG Elec., Inc. v. First Int'l Computer, Inc. , 102 F.Supp.2d 574, 586 (D.N.J. 2001). After the court determines that the jurisdiction and venue would be proper in the transferee district, the court must evaluate two broad categories of factors identified by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Jumara , 55 F.3d at 879-80.
The first category includes considerations relevant to the private interests of the litigants. See id. at 879. These interests are: (1) "plaintiff's forum preference;" (2) "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 the books and records (similarly limited to the extent that the files could not be produced in the alternative forum)." Id . (internal citations omitted).
The second broad category includes the public's interests in a fair and efficient administration of justice. See id. At 879-80. Considerations here include: (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 form 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." Id . (internal citations omitted). Neither list of public nor private factors is exhaustive; ...