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Lunn v. Flower

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Aiken Division

September 20, 2016

Martin Lunn, Plaintiff,
v.
Mike Flower, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         Plaintiff Martin Lunn (“Plaintiff”) filed the instant action against Defendant Mike Flower (“Defendant”) to recover allegedly unpaid wages pursuant to the South Carolina Payment of Wages Act (“SCPWA”), SC Code Ann. §§ 41-10-10 to -110 (2016). (ECF No. 1-1.)

         This matter is before the court pursuant to Defendant's Motion to Transfer Venue to the United States District Court for the Central District of California pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). (ECF No. 4 at 1.) In the alternative, Defendant moves for dismissal of the matter pursuant to the doctrine of forum non conveniens. (Id.) Plaintiff opposes Defendant's Motions in their entirety. (ECF No. 9.) For the reasons set forth below, the court GRANTS Defendant's Motion to Transfer Venue and DENIES Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.

         I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND TO PENDING MOTIONS

         Plaintiff alleges that he was an employee of MDM Services Corporation (“MDM”) in which Defendant was the owner and Chief Executive Officer. (ECF No. 1-1 at 4 ¶¶ 2, 5.) Plaintiff alleges that his wages were based on commissions received for contracts that he procured on behalf of MDM. (Id. at ¶ 6.) Despite making numerous demands for unpaid commissions, Plaintiff alleges that MDM in concert with Defendant failed to pay Plaintiff the wages that were due him. (Id. at 4 ¶ 6-5 ¶ 13.)

         On September 2, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against Defendant seeking unpaid commissions pursuant to the SCPWA in the Aiken County (South Carolina) Court of Common Pleas. (ECF No. 1-1.) On November 2, 2015, Defendant removed the matter to this court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 on the basis that “Plaintiff is a citizen of South Carolina, and Defendant is not a citizen of South Carolina” and “[t]he matter in controversy exceeds the sum of $75, 000.00, exclusive of interest and costs.” (ECF No. 1 at 2 ¶¶ 5-7.) In response to Plaintiff's Complaint, Defendant filed an Answer and Counterclaims (ECF No. 5) and the instant Motions to Transfer Venue and to Dismiss (ECF No. 4) on November 9, 2015. Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss/Change Venue on December 3, 2015, to which Defendant filed a Reply in Support of Motion to Transfer Venue or Dismiss on December 14, 2015. (ECF Nos. 9, 11.) Additionally, Plaintiff filed a Sur-Response on January 5, 2016, and Defendant filed a Sur-Reply on January 22, 2016. (ECF Nos. 13, 14.)

         II. JURISDICTION

         The court has subject matter jurisdiction over this action, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332, because the parties are citizens of different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.00. Plaintiff “is a citizen and resident of Aiken County, South Carolina.” (ECF No. 1-1 at 4 ¶ 1.) Defendant “resides in the State of California.” (Id. at ¶ 2.) The court is satisfied that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.00. (ECF Nos. 1 at 2 ¶ 7 & 1-1 at 5 ¶ 10.)

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Motions to Transfer Venue under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) in the Context of a Forum Selection Clause.

         28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) provides that “[f]or 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 or to any district or division to which all parties have consented.” Id. “The appropriate venue of an action is a procedural matter that is governed by federal rule and statutes.” Albemarle Corp. v. AstraZeneca UK Ltd., 628 F.3d 643, 651 (4th Cir. 2010) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(3); 28 U.S.C. § 1391; 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a)). “Whether a case should be transferred to an alternative venue rests within the sound discretion of the district court.” Sw. Equip., Inc. v. Stoner & Co., Inc., C/A No. 6:10-1765-HMH, 2010 WL 4484012, at *2 (D.S.C. Nov. 1, 2010) (citing In re Ralston Purina Co., 726 F.2d 1002, 1005 (4th Cir. 1984)).

         “In the typical case not involving a forum-selection clause, a district court considering a § 1404(a) motion (or a forum non conveniens motion) must evaluate both the convenience of the parties and various public-interest considerations.”[1] Atl. Marine Constr. Co. v. U.S. Dist. Ct. W.D. Tex., 134 S.Ct. 568, 581 (2013). However, “[w]hen the parties have agreed to a valid forum-selection clause, a district court should ordinarily transfer the case to the forum specified in that clause.” Id. “[A] valid forum-selection clause, which ‘represents the parties' agreement as to the most proper forum[, ]'” should be “‘given controlling weight in all but the most exceptional cases.'” Id. (quoting Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 31 & 33 (1988)).

         A court conducts a two-part analysis in deciding whether to enforce a forum selection clause. First, the court determines whether the forum-selection clause is valid and enforceable. Atl. Marine, 134 S.Ct. at 581. A forum-selection clause is “prima facie valid and should be enforced unless enforcement is shown by the resisting party to be ‘unreasonable' under the circumstances.” M/S Bremen v. Zapata Off-Shore Co., 407 U.S. 1, 10 (1972). A forum-selection clause may be considered unreasonable if “(1) [its] formation was induced by fraud or over-reaching; (2) the complaining party “will for all practical purposes be deprived of his day in court” because of the grave inconvenience or unfairness of the selected forum; (3) the fundamental unfairness of the chosen law may deprive the plaintiff of a remedy; or (4)[its] enforcement would contravene a strong public policy of the forum state.” Albemarle Corp., 628 F.3d at 651 (quoting Allen v. Lloyd's of London, 94 F.3d 923, 928 (4th Cir. 1996)).

         Second, the court must consider whether “extraordinary circumstances” would hinder the enforcement of the forum-selection clause. Atl. Marine, 134 S.Ct. at 581. In considering whether extraordinary circumstances are present to avoid enforcement of a valid forum selection clause, a court may consider “arguments about public-interest factors only.”[2] Id. at 581-82.

         B. Dismissal for ...


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