Chief Judge Sleet grants motions to transfer venue to Eastern District of Michigan

Chief Judge Gregory M. Sleet recently granted defendants’ motions to transfer thirty-eight related patent infringement actions to the Eastern District of Michigan. E.g., Beacon Navigation GmbH v. Crysler Group L.L.C., C.A. No. 11-cv-921-GMS (D. Del. Mar. 20, 2013). The actions involve GPS technology. Id. at 8. Plaintiff, a Swiss company, “filed suit against every major automaker that sells automobiles in the United States.” Id. at 3, 23. Of the fifty-six defendants involved, forty-six filed motions to transfer venue to Michigan. Id. at 1 n.3.

In analyzing the Jumara factors, the Court concluded that only plaintiff’s forum preference weighed against transfer. Id. at 25. Because plaintiff was not a Delaware corporation, this factor was not of paramount consideration, but was accorded “some degree of heightened deference.” Id. at 13. The remaining factors were either neutral or favored transfer, although where the claim arose, defendants’ forum preference, the location of books and records, and the relative administrative difficulties in the two fora only slightly favored transfer. Id. at 14, 18-21, 23. The inconvenience of the fourteen defendants incorporated in Delaware was neutral in the Jumara analysis because these defendants had “submitted to suit in this district,” but as to the defendants not incorporated in Delaware, this factor weighed in favor of transfer. Id. at 17-18.

Many of defendants’ arguments for transfer focused on their locations in Michigan; “by and large, the defendants are headquartered, operate facilities, manufacture, and/or sell products in that district.” Id. at 14; see also id. at 10 n.13 (listing defendants’ activities in Michigan). Plaintiff, on the other hand, argued that “defendants’ interest in transferring to the Eastern District of Michigan is purely tactical, obviously based on their belief that they are likely to be favored in the traditional center of the American automotive industry.” Id. at 13 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). The Court did not accept this argument, at one point noting that “federal courts provide a neutrality that negates [plaintiff’s concerns], particularly in cases such as these, which involve a national controversy.” Id. at 25.

Even though ten defendants had not filed motions to transfer, the Court sua sponte transferred all fifty-six actions to Michigan “because these actions present the court with such extraordinary circumstances.” Id. at 2 & n.4. “[T]he court transfers [the actions of the non-moving defendants] because it is left with no alternative but to do so in its effort to avoid an untenable result with respect to the forty-six defendants that have moved to transfer these actions. . . . It is easy to imagine the spectre of any number of inconsistent rulings and outcomes raising their heads [should the actions of the non-moving parties remain in Delaware].” Id. at 2 n.4. Two actions were administratively closed due to bankruptcy proceedings, but the Court also transferred these actions to Michigan for the same reasons. Id.

Beacon Navigation GmbH v. Crysler Group L.L.C., C.A. No. 11-cv-921-GMS (D. Del. Mar. 20, 2013)

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