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Starks v. American Airlines, Inc.

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

March 27, 2019

CHRISTOPHER A. STARKS; and TINA W. STARKS, as the Personal Representatives for the Estate of Brittany Jasmine Oswell, Plaintiffs,
v.
AMERICAN AIRLINES, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO TRANSFER VENUE AND RENDERING MOOT DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS AND PLAINTIFFS'CONTINGENT MOTION FOR TRANSFER OF VENUE

          MARY GEIGER LEWIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This is a wrongful death case. The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Pending before the Court are Defendant American Airlines, Inc.'s (American) motion to dismiss and alternative motion to transfer venue and Plaintiffs Christopher A. Starks (Mr. Starks) and Tina W. Starks's (Ms. Starks; collectively with Mr. Starks, Plaintiffs) contingent motion for transfer of venue. Having carefully considered the motions, the responses, the replies, the record, the arguments at motions hearing, and the applicable law, it is the judgment of the Court American's motion to transfer venue will be granted. Consequently, American's motion to dismiss and Plaintiffs' contingent motion for transfer of venue will be rendered moot.

         II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         This case arises out of the death of Brittany Jasmine Oswell (Ms. Oswell). Ms. Oswell and her husband, Cory Kadeem Oswell (Mr. Oswell), were scheduled to travel on American flights from Honolulu, Hawaii to Columbia, South Carolina on April 14 and 15, 2016. ECF No. 30-1 at 3. On the evening of April 14, 2016, Mr. and Ms. Oswell boarded American flight 102 (flight 102) in Honolulu. ECF No. 13 ¶ 7, ECF No. 23 ¶ 7. Flight 102 was due to arrive at Dallas-Fort Worth airport (DFW) the following morning. Id. Following a layover of approximately three hours, Mr. and Ms. Oswell were scheduled to board American flight 5631 from DFW to Columbia. ECF No. 30-1 at 3.

         During flight 102, Ms. Oswell became ill. ECF No. 13 ¶¶ 8-21, ECF No. 23 ¶¶ 8-21. By the time flight 102 landed at DFW, Ms. Oswell was unconscious. ECF No. 13 ¶ 21, ECF No. 23 ¶ 21. Emergency medical personnel met flight 102 upon its arrival at DFW, id., and Ms. Oswell was transferred to Baylor Medical Center, where she was subsequently admitted, id. ¶¶ 22-23. Three days later, Ms. Oswell died at Baylor Medical Center. Id. ¶¶ 24, 26. The cause of death was acute massive pulmonary embolism and cardiogenic shock. Id. ¶ 26.

         On April 18, 2018, Mr. and Ms. Starks, as personal representatives of the Estate of Ms. Oswell, together with Mr. Oswell, filed the instant action against American in this Court. ECF No. 1. The complaint alleged causes of action for: 1) negligence or gross negligence resulting in wrongful death; 2) survivorship; and 3) loss of consortium. Id. On June 1, 2018, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint that removed Mr. Oswell as a plaintiff and eliminated the claim for loss of consortium. ECF No. 13.

         On August 14, 2018, American filed its motion to dismiss and alternative motion to transfer venue. ECF No. 27. In its motion to dismiss, American sought to have the Court dismiss the action for lack of personal jurisdiction. Id. In the alternative, American asked the Court to transfer the action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas (Northern District of Texas), Fort Worth Division. Id. Plaintiffs responded on September 11, 2018, ECF No. 30, and American replied on September 25, 2018, ECF No. 35.

         On September 11, 2018, Plaintiffs filed a contingent motion for transfer of venue. ECF No. 31. In their motion, Plaintiffs noted they sought such a transfer only if the Court determined, pursuant to American's motion to dismiss, it did not have personal jurisdiction over American. Id. If the Court held it lacked personal jurisdiction over American, Plaintiffs sought a transfer of the instant action to the Northern District of Texas pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406 or 28 U.S.C. § 1631. Id. American responded on September 25, 2018. ECF No. 36.

         On November 26, 2018, the Court entered an Order directing the parties to conduct limited discovery on the issue of personal jurisdiction. ECF No. 38. Following a sixty-day period for such discovery, the parties were to file additional briefing, if necessary, regarding the issue of personal jurisdiction. Id. The Court also informed the parties it intended to hold an evidentiary hearing following the close of jurisdictional discovery and the filing of any additional briefing. Id.

         On February 26, 2019, American filed a supplemental brief in support of its motion to dismiss and alternative motion to transfer venue. ECF No. 48. Plaintiffs filed a response on March 14, 2019, ECF Nos. 52, 53, and American replied on March 18, 2019, ECF No. 54.

         On March 19, 2019, the Court held an evidentiary hearing on the pending motions. ECF Nos. 47, 55. Counsel for the parties presented arguments at the hearing. On March 22, 2019, Plaintiffs filed a supplemental memorandum in opposition to American's motion to dismiss and American's alternative motion to transfer venue. ECF. No. 56. American replied on March 25, 2019. ECF No. 57. Having been fully briefed on the issues, the Court is now prepared to render a decision on the merits.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Section 1404(a) of Title 28 of the United States Code provides: “[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.” 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). District courts have wide discretion to transfer an action under 1404(a) “to prevent the waste ‘of time, energy and money' and ‘to protect litigants, witnesses and the public against unnecessary ...


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