Monday, June 26, 2017

Capitol PaymentSystems, Inc. v. Salvatore Di Donato (Maryland U.S.D.C.)

Filed: May 23, 2017

Opinion by: Ellen L. Hollander

Holding:  Transfer of venue is appropriate if the convenience of the witnesses, convenience of the parties, and interest of justice outweigh the plaintiff’s choice of venue.

Facts:  Plaintiff is a Maryland corporation with the principle place of business in Maryland that operated payment transaction processing services to a wide array of businesses. Defendant is a New Jersey company with a principle place of business in New Jersey, that operated as an agent in the electronic payment processing industry. Plaintiff and Defendant entered into a contractual agreement in which the defendant would provide independent marketing services.

Plaintiff alleged that Defendant entered into outside business agreements with third parties in breach of the agreement. Plaintiff and Defendant attempted to renegotiate the terms of the agreement, but failed to reach an understanding.

Plaintiff filed suit seeking injunctive relief in the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court on February 1, 2016. Defendant filed a counter suit in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey on February 25, 2016 before being served for the Maryland case. After withdrawing the case for an injunction from the Circuit Court, the Plaintiff removed the case to the United States District Court of Maryland on March 23, 2016 and the Defendant moved to transfer venue to New Jersey.

Defendant argued that New Jersey was a more convenient forum because it is where the dispute arose, the potential witnesses reside, and the majority of the evidence is located. Plaintiff contended Maryland is the appropriate venue since it is a Maryland corporation, the agreement is governed by Maryland law, the signed agreement was returned to Maryland, and the first-to-file rule requires adjudication of the case in Maryland.

Analysis:  The Court began its analysis by upholding the validity of both the Maryland suit as well as the New Jersey action. In adjudicating a motion to transfer the Court examines several case-specific factors. The factors pertinent to this case include: 1) the weight accorded to the plaintiff’s choice of venue; 2) witness convenience and access; 3) convenience of the parties; and 4) the interest of justice. (Citing Plumbers and Pipefitters Nat. Pension Fund v. Plumbing Serv., Inc.)

The Court began its analysis by reviewing the Plaintiff’s choice of venue. Since the conduct underlying the claim occurred entirely in New Jersey the Plaintiffs’ choice of venue is diminished. The Court sided with the Defendant that the convenience of the witnesses favored New Jersey because all the third parties citied in the complaint, which the merchant Defendant allegedly interfered with, are located in New Jersey or New York. The convenience of the parties would not be more burdensome in New Jersey or Maryland, so the Court did not weight this factor heavily in the final determination. Likewise, transfer would not negatively impact the interest of justice since New Jersey Courts have ample history of ruling on cases controlled by Maryland law.

Finally, the Court declined to adhere to the first-to-file rule since the convenience of the factors supported transfer to New Jersey. Examining this rule under the interests of justice, the fact that the Plaintiff filed first in Maryland Court did not control because of the specifics of the matter. Defendants filed in Federal Court before the Plaintiff, weeks before being served notice of the Maryland case and the Maryland case was moved to Federal Court.

Motion to transfer Granted.

The full opinion is available in PDF.

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