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Marschke v. Barry-Wehmiller Companies

October 16, 2009

CARL R. MARSCHKE AND GAY A. MARSCHKE, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
BARRY-WEHMILLER COMPANIES, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Barbara B. Crabb District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

In this action for monetary and declaratory relief, plaintiffs Carl R. Marschke and Gay A. Marschke seek an accounting of assets and monetary damages stemming from an alleged breach of contract on the part of defendant Barry-Wehmiller Companies, Inc. The parties dispute the amount due under an agreement for future payment of assets sold by plaintiffs to defendant. Jurisdiction is present under 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

Before the court are defendant's motions to transfer the case to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri under 28 U.S.C. 1404(a), dkt. #9, and to dismiss the case under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(7) for failure to join an indispensable party under Rule 19, dkt. #11. I conclude that the convenience of the parties and interests of justice require denial of defendant's motion to transfer. I conclude also that the non-joined parties are not necessary to this suit and will deny defendant's motion to dismiss.

For the purpose of ruling on the pending motions, I draw facts from the complaint and the declarations submitted by the parties. It is proper to examine evidence outside the pleadings on a motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(7). 5C Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1359. Also, when deciding whether the moving party has made the necessary showing for a transfer, a court may rely on the allegations of the complaint and may receive and weigh affidavits submitted by the parties. Heller Financial, Inc. v. Midwhey Powder Co., Inc., 883 F.2d 1286, 1293-94 (7th Cir. 1989).

FACTS

At the time they filed this suit, plaintiffs Carl and Gay Marschke were citizens of Wisconsin. Their son, Karl Marschke, daughter Lynda Ludwig and son-in-law Dan Ludwig reside in Wisconsin; their son Dean Marschke resides in Minnesota. Defendant BarryWehmiller Companies, Inc. is a Missouri corporation with its corporate offices in St. Louis, Missouri. The business records pertaining to the agreement at issue, the records of the calculations performed by defendant in order to fulfill the sale agreement and defendant's stock pricing records are located in Missouri.

Plaintiff Carl Marschke owned Marquip, Inc., a Wisconsin corporation, in which plaintiffs, Dean Marschke, Karl Marschke, Lynda Ludwig and Dan Ludwig each held promissory notes. In 2000, Marquip voluntarily filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In August 2000, defendant entered into an agreement to purchase certain assets from Marquip. A month later, defendant entered into a sale agreement for the purchase of a principal amount of Marquip notes. The sale agreement is governed by Missouri law. Greg Conrood, vice president and corporate controller for defendant; Ron Haglof, outside counsel; Tim Sullivan, an officer for defendant and the current president of MarquipWardUnited, Inc.; and Robert Chapman, chief executive officer and chairman of the board of directors for defendant negotiated the asset purchase and sale agreements on behalf of defendant. The following individuals have personal knowledge of Marquip's accounting methods, which are relevant to the determination of the amount owed under the future payment program: Gene Puckhaber of Somerset, Wisconsin; John Paprocki of Wausau, Wisconsin; Jenny Able and Mary Killinger of Phillips, Wisconsin; Jack Werner of Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin; and Mike Friedman of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Sam Mason of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has knowledge of information related to the negotiations and future payment program.

In exchange for the assignment of the Marquip notes, defendant arranged for payments to be made in the form of Barry-Wehmiller Group, Inc. stock and cash. These payments were to be calculated on the basis of a formula outlined in the agreement, referred to as the "future payment program." Only plaintiffs and their son Karl participated in the future payment program, resulting in a transfer of $2,000,000 in Marquip notes to defendant. Because Lynda Ludwig, Dan Ludwig and Dean Marschke did not elect to participate in the future payment program, their Marquip notes did not constitute part of the $2,000,000.

In 2004, plaintiffs and defendant had a disagreement about the amount due under the future payment program. On May 13, 2009, Karl Marschke assigned his claims under the program to plaintiffs. The assignment allows plaintiffs to "collect all sums that are due under the Sale Agreement dated September 14, 2000 between Sellers and Barry-Wehmiller Companies, Inc." Although the assignment included signature lines for all of the Marquip note holders, only Karl signed the document.

Plaintiffs' attorney filed suit in the Circuit Court for Price County, Wisconsin between 1:45 pm and 2:15 pm on May 14, 2009. Defendant removed that action to this court on June 11, 2008. At 5:22 pm on May 14, 2009, defendant filed a concurrent declaratory action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. The Missouri action names as defendants all those who possessed Marquip notes. After filing an answer to the complaint in that action, plaintiffs, the Marschkes and the Ludwigs filed a motion to dismiss or in the alternative to stay proceedings in the Missouri suit and transfer the case to this court.

OPINION

A. Motion to Transfer

Defendant contends that transfer to the Eastern District of Missouri is warranted because it is the more convenient forum and because the action filed in Missouri would allow for a full adjudication of the dispute, serving the interests of justice. Plaintiffs dispute both of defendant's contentions. They contend that this court is in fact the more convenient venue, emphasizing their Wisconsin connections. Plaintiffs also argue that because they were the first to file a suit and are the "natural plaintiffs," their choice of forum should be given deference. In the alternative, plaintiffs ask that this court stay the proceedings in this case until the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri renders a decision on nearly identical motions to transfer venue to this court and to dismiss the Missouri case. The parties do not contest that venue is appropriate in the Eastern District of Missouri.

28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) provides that "[f]or the convenience of the parties and witnesses, in the interests of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought." When weighing a motion to transfer venue under § 1404(a), a court must consider whether the transfer serves the convenience of the parties and witnesses and will promote the interests of justice. Coffey v. Van Dorn Iron Works, 796 F.2d 217, 219-20 (7th Cir. 1986). The movant has the burden of showing that the transferee forum is clearly more convenient. Id. at 220. The question to be resolved is whether plaintiff's interest in choosing the forum is outweighed by either the convenience concerns of the parties and witnesses or the interests of justice. Roberts & Schaefer Co. v. Merit Contracting, Inc., 99 F.3d 248, 254 (7th Cir. 1996).

The analysis of the convenience of the parties and witnesses involves an individualized, case-by-case consideration. Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 622 (1964). Evaluating the interests of justice typically involves factors that relate to the efficient administration of the federal court system and includes considerations such as insuring a speedy trial, tying related litigation together and having the trial before a judge who is familiar with the applicable law. Heller Financial, Inc., 883 F.2d at 1293.

1. Convenience to the Parties and Witnesses

On balance, it appears that neither forum is more convenient than the other for the parties. Neither side argues that travel to the other forum would impose an especially heavy burden; all parties have appeared and begun the process of litigation in both forums. Although many of the documents at issue are located in St. Louis, Missouri, documents can easily be transferred. Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp. v. Black & Decker (N.A.) Inc., 392 F. Supp. 2d 1062, 1064 (W.D. Wis. ...


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