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Abdul-Ghafoor v. Professional Transportation, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana

February 4, 2019

YUWSUF ABDUL-GHAFOOR, individually and on behalf of similarly situated persons, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
PROFESSIONAL TRANSPORTATION, INC. and RONALD D. ROMAIN, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          STACI M. YANDLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Now pending before the Court is Defendants' “Motion to Dismiss for Improper Venue or to Transfer Venue to the Southern District of Indiana” (Doc. 35). For the reasons set forth below, the motion is GRANTED in part and the Clerk of Court is DIRECTED to transfer this matter to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.

         Background

          The 1, 464 Plaintiffs are current or former employees of Professional Transportation, Inc. (“PTI”) who worked as over-the-road drivers. PTI is in the business of providing interstate and intrastate ground transportation for railroad crews in 30 states plus the District of Columbia. Plaintiffs filed this collective action pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq., alleging that they are owed minimum wage and overtime pay for various work-related activities (Doc. 1). In particular, they claim the manner in which Defendants calculated driving times, beginning around August 23, 2013, did not capture or compensate them for the full amount of work related driving time for any given trip or set of trips. Instead, PTI deducted a standard amount of “commute time” so that Plaintiffs were not fully compensated for the actual amount of time worked. Plaintiffs further claim that these calculations are based on company-wide policies that have the effect of denying them a minimum wage and overtime pay.

         Plaintiffs assert that this Court has federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and that venue is proper in this District because Defendants conduct business here and “a substantial part of the events and omissions giving rise to [P]laintiffs' claim occurred in this judicial district.” (Doc. 1, p. 16). Plaintiffs are residents of various states. PTI is an Indiana Corporation and three of its branch offices are located in Dupo, Collinsville, and East St. Louis, Illinois.[1] The individual defendant, Ronald D. Romain, who is the President and Secretary of PTI, resides in Indiana. Only 32 of the named plaintiffs conducted work related activities in the Southern District of Illinois.

         Each of the Plaintiffs were “opt-in” parties to a collective action filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana entitled Crawford v. Professional Transportation, Inc., 2017 WL 1077660 (N.D. Ind. 2017). In that case, the named plaintiff alleged that he and others were not being paid in a manner consistent with the FLSA. The case was conditionally certified with a class defined as “those former or current OTR [over the road] drivers employed from February 22, 2011 to the present with outstanding claims for wages.” Id. at * 6. During the course of the litigation, the plaintiff narrowed the scope of his claims to “'two areas, (i) minimum wage/overtime compensation for OTR driving and (ii) required pre-trip van inspections.'” Id. In decertifying the class, the Court focused on the plaintiff's theory that they were not being paid for pre-trip van inspections. In an Order on reconsideration, the Court clarified that while more general wage and overtime claims were made by the named plaintiff, he did not present any evidence of the same. Crawford v. Professional Transportation, Inc., 2017 WL 3535134, * 2 (S.D. Ind. 2017).

         Defendants filed their Answer in this case on December 27, 2017 (Doc. 27), generally denying Plaintiffs' venue allegation. Almost three months later, after a trial date was assigned to this case, Defendants filed the Motion presently before the Court. They seek dismissal of Defendant Romain pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a), which permits the Court to dismiss or transfer a case for improper venue. They further seek to transfer this matter as to both defendants pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) on the basis of convenience. In particular, Defendants argue that Romain is not a resident of this District and that the Southern District of Indiana would be a more convenient forum because it is familiar with the issues in this case, Defendants' records and witnesses are located there, Plaintiffs and witnesses are dispersed throughout the United States, and a majority of Plaintiffs have no connection to this District. Plaintiffs respond, in part, that this case is not an extension of Crawford, that the location of evidence/witnesses will not make discovery any more burdensome in this District, and that no other forum would be more convenient.[2]

         Discussion

          The venue statute provides, in relevant part:

(b) Venue in general.
--A civil action may be brought in-
(1) a judicial district in which any defendant resides, if all defendants are residents of the State in which the district is located;
(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) if there is no district in which an action may otherwise be brought as provided in this section, any judicial district in which any defendant is subject to the court's personal ...

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