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Hassett v. Beam Suntory, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

December 18, 2019

HASSETT, Plaintiff,



         This matter is before the Court on a Motion to Transfer [Dkt. No. 6] and a Motion to Dismiss [Dkt. No. 7] filed by Defendant, Beam Suntory, Inc. (“Defendant” or the “Company”). The Court has considered the written submissions of the parties, as well as the arguments advanced at the hearing on November 21, 2019. For the reasons stated on the record that day, as well as those that follow, Defendant's Motion to Transfer [Dkt. No. 6] will be granted. Accordingly, the pending Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(b)(6) is not considered herein.

         I. Background

         This case arises out of the failure of an employer to award its employee bonus payments allegedly owed upon his departure from the company. Plaintiff, Timothy Hassett (“Plaintiff” or “Mr. Hassett”) entered into an employment agreement (“Letter Agreement”) with Defendant on or about June 25, 2014. (Compl. ¶ 9). Plaintiff was employed by Defendant as the Senior Vice President and President of Americas. (Id. at ¶¶ 7, 8). At the time Plaintiff was hired, he was residing in New Jersey with his family; Defendant is located in Chicago, Illinois, the location where Plaintiff worked from 2014 through 2017. (Id. at ¶ 4).

         According to the Complaint, “[p]ursuant to the Letter Agreement, as Senior Vice President and President of Americas, Mr. Hassett's compensation included but was not limited to the following: (i) a Base Salary in the amount of $500, 000, reviewable on an annual basis; (ii) participation in the company's Executive Incentive Plan (EIP) bonus program, also called the Annual Incentive Plan(AIP) program; and(iii) an annual Long Term Incentive award (LTI).” (Id. at ¶ 13). As Senior Vice President and President of Americas, Plaintiff reported directly to the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Matthew Shattock (“Mr. Shattock”). (Id. at ¶ 10). “On or about October 2017, Beam issued a Long-Term Incentive Plan (LTI) Award Statement to Mr. Hassett, informing him that his 2015-2017Award was $1, 250, 000.00. Upon information and belief, Mr. Hassett's 2017 AIP bonus was valued at approximately $600, 000.00).” (Id. at ¶¶ 14-15).

         Around the same time, Plaintiff was afforded a position with a different company, and his father became terminally ill. (Id. at ¶¶ 16-17). As a result, Plaintiff advised Mr. Shattock that he intended to leave the Company in early October. (Id. at ¶ 19). According to Plaintiff, “Mr. Shattock asked him to extend his departure date on multiple occasions in order to assist with the transition to Mr. Hassett's replacement and to accommodate Mr. Shattock's schedule.” (Id.). He and Mr. Shattock ultimately agreed that he would resign in mid-November and Plaintiff would assist in the transition. “In exchange, Mr. Shattock promised that Mr. Hassett would be entitled to either all or a portion of his LTI and 2017 AIP bonuses.” (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that Defendant's “practice was to pay Senior Executive employees both their LTI and AIP bonuses even though such employees were not employed by the Company at year-end.” (Id. at ¶ 30).

         “Based on” his agreement, Plaintiff decided to forgo his other available leave time under Company policies and the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). (Id. at ¶ 21). Before resigning, Plaintiff requested payment of his bonuses; but on the date of his departure, the Company “would not pay him any portion of his LTI and AIP bonuses, on the purported basis that Mr. Hassett was not employed as of December 31, 2017.” (Id. at ¶ 23). After his resignation, Plaintiff returned to his home in New Jersey but continued to conduct employee reviews for Defendant at its request. (Id. at ¶ 27).

         Plaintiff initiated this action against Defendant on March 11, 2019. [Dkt. No. 1]. Plaintiff's Complaint alleges claims for Breach of Contract (Count I), Good Faith and Fair Dealing (Count II), Unjust enrichment (Count III), and failure to pay wages under Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act (“IWPCA”) (Count IV). On May 15, 2019 Defendant filed a Motion to Transfer this action to the Northern District of Illinois [Dkt. No. 6] and a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim [Dkt No. 7] pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(b)(6). The motions have been fully briefed and the Court heard oral argument on both motions at a hearing held on November 21, 2019.

         II. Standard of Review

         Section 1404 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 . . . where it might have been brought.” 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Analysis under § 1404 is flexible and must be made on the unique facts of each case. Ricoh Co., Ltd. v. Honeywell, Inc., 817 F.Supp. 473, 479 (D.N.J. 1993). The moving party bears the burden of establishing that the transfer is appropriate and must establish that the alternate forum is more convenient than the present forum. Jumara v. State Farm Ins. Co., 55 F.3d 873, 879 (3d Cir. 1995). The Third Circuit has enumerated a number of private and public factors to be weighed when deciding a motion to transfer venue under § 1404(a).

         The private interest factors incorporate the preferences of the parties in the context of the litigation, and include (1) the choice of forum of the plaintiff; (2) the defendant's preference; (3) the ease of access to sources of proof; (4) the convenience of the witnesses-only to the extent that a witness may actually be unavailable for trial in one of the fora; and (4) where the claim arose. The second category analyzes the public interest including (1) practical considerations which could make the litigation easier and more expeditious, or inexpensive; (2) court congestion and administrative difficulties; (3) the local interest in resolving local controversies at home; and (4) the public policies of the fora. Mendoza v. U.S. Custom & Border Protection, No. 05-6017, 2007 WL 842011, at *3 (D.N.J. March 19, 2007) (citing Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879) (internal citations omitted).

         III. Analysis

         As an initial matter, this case could have been brought in the Northern District of Illinois. When jurisdiction is based on the diversity of the parties pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332, such as the present case, a civil action may be brought in:

(1) a judicial district where any defendant resides, if all defendants reside in the same State, (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) a judicial district in which any defendant is subject to personal jurisdiction at the time ...

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