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R.T.B. v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

December 3, 2019

R.T.B., a minor, by and through his parents and next friends Richard D. Breault and Maya M. Breault, RICHARD D. BREAULT, individually, and MAYA M. BREAULT, individually, Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          James D. Peterson District Judge.

         Plaintiffs Richard Dylan Breault (who goes by Dylan) and Maya Breault went to a military hospital in California, Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton (NHCP), for the birth of their child, R.T.B. Plaintiffs say that the doctors at NHCP were negligent in R.T.B.'s delivery and in resuscitating R.T.B. after the birth. They allege that R.T.B. suffers from cerebral palsy and will never live independently, and they assert claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act and California state law.

         The Breaults moved to Somerset, Wisconsin, after R.T.B.'s birth. They filed their case here in the Western District of Wisconsin, where they now live. Venue here is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1402(b), because plaintiffs reside in this district. But venue would also be proper in the Southern District of California, where the relevant events occurred. The government has moved to transfer the case to the Southern District of California, asserting that both convenience to parties and witnesses and the interests of justice favor litigating the case in California. The court agrees.

         ANALYSIS

         The federal venue statute provides that:

For 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). Section 1404(a) calls for a case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness, committed to the discretion of the district court. Research Automation, Inc. v. Schrader-Bridgeport Int'l, Inc., 626 F.3d 973, 978 (7th Cir. 2010). If the balance of convenience is close, merely shifting inconvenience from one party to another does not justify transfer. Id. at 978- 79. The burden is on the government, as the party seeking transfer, to show that transfer is warranted. Coffey v. Van Dorn Iron Works, 796 F.2d 217, 219-20 (7th Cir. 1986).

         Following the statutory language, the court will begin with the convenience to parties and witnesses, and then turn to the interests of justice.

         A. Convenience of parties and witnesses

         In assessing the relative convenience of one venue over another, courts typically consider the availability of and access to witnesses, each party's access to and distance from resources in each forum, the location of material events, and the relative ease of access to sources of proof. Research Automation, 626 F.3d at 978. Although plaintiffs' choice to file in their home forum is generally entitled to deference, see Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 255-56 (1981), that deference is reduced when the events at issue in the case did not occur in that forum. See Williams v. Humphrey, No. 09-cv-202-bbc, 2009 WL 2424329, at *2 (W.D. Wis. Aug. 5, 2009) (quoting Chi., R. I. & P. R. Co. v. Igoe, 220 F.2d 299, 304 (7th Cir. 1955)). Here, although the convenience of the named parties weighs slightly against transferring the case to California, the convenience of the witnesses weighs substantially in favor of transfer.

         1. The parties

         Plaintiffs contend that transfer would be inconvenient for them because traveling to and from California could harm R.T.B.'s health. They also say that they have limited financial means and could not afford to bring the equipment or support they would need to care for R.T.B in California, nor could they afford to hire someone to care for R.T.B. at home while Dylan and Maya litigate in California.

         Courts have considered plaintiffs' special medical difficulties in deciding motions for transfer. See, e.g., Vassallo v. Niedermeyer, 495 F.Supp. 757, 760 (S.D.N.Y. 1980); see also Mummert v. United States, No. 1:18-cv-00856-SHR, 2019 WL 144925, at *7 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 9, 2019) (“. . . a paraplegic needing constant care because of his inability to attend to his own needs, would presumably have less physical impediments and expend fewer resources litigating his claim closer to home.”). But defendants are right that given R.T.B.'s medical vulnerability, and particularly his very young age, it is unlikely that he would appear at trial, regardless of where it is held.

         The court is sympathetic to the challenges that Dylan and Maya face in attending legal proceedings while ensuring the health and well-being of their son. As defendants point out, traveling with R.T.B. will be challenging for plaintiffs in either forum. But it's clear that litigating the case in Wisconsin would be more convenient ...


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