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Parks v. Newmar Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Virginia.

October 18, 2019

PATRICK M. PARKS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
NEWMAR CORPORATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ROBERT E. PAYNE SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on DEFENDANT NEWMAR CORPORATION'S MOTION TO TRANSFER VENUE TO THE U.S. DISTRICT COURT FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA, SOUTH BEND DIVISION (ECF No. 3} . Having reviewed the motion, the supporting, opposing, and reply briefs, the Court will hold decision on the motion in abeyance and will hold an evidentiary hearing to determine whether there exist extraordinary circumstances of the sort that would warrant disregard of the forum selection clause at issue.

         BACKGROUND

         The Plaintiffs, Mr. and Mrs. Parks, purchased, in Hanover County, Virginia, a new 2018 Newmar Bays tar that was made by Newmar Corporation ("Newmar") and that, according to the Complaint, was defective in several ways. It is alleged that Newmar has been afforded an opportunity to repair the defects but has been unable to do so. As a result, the Plaintiffs filed, in the Circuit Court of Hanover County, Virginia, this action alleging claims for breach of express warranties and for breach of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.

         The purchase contract contained a forum selection clause, to wit:

Purchaser and dealer further agree that the courts (state and federal) located in the State of Indiana have exclusive jurisdiction to resolve any dispute based on any warranty.

         Newmar removed the case to this Court and filed DEFENDANT NEWMAR CORPORATION'S MOTION TO TRANSFER VENUE TO THE U.S. DISTRICT COURT FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA, SOUTH BEND DIVISION (ECF No. 3).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Transfer Motions Under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) And Forum-Selection Clauses

         Newmar's motion is brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). In the absence of a forum-selection clause, the analysis of such a motion is straightforward. The Court first asks whether the action might have been brought in the transferee forum, and then assesses the transfer in perspective of several factors, including the plaintiff's choice of forum, witness convenience, convenience to the parties, and the interest of justice. Seaman v. IAC/InterActiveCorp, Inc., 2019 WL 1474392, *3-4 (E.D. Va. Apr. 3, 2019); Trs. of the Plumbers & Pipefitters Nat. Pension Fund v. Plumbing Servs., Inc., 791 F.3d 436, 444 (4th Cir. 2015).

         However, in Atlantic Marine Const. Co. v. United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, et al., 134 S.Ct. 568 (2013), the Supreme Court held that, where there is a "contractually valid forum-selection clause," "[o]nly under extraordinary circumstances unrelated to the convenience of the parties should a § 1404(a) motion be denied." Atlantic Marine, 134 S.Ct. at 581 n.5 (2013) . Said another way, "a valid forum-selection clause [should be] given controlling weight in all but the most exceptional cases." Id. (citation omitted) (alteration in original).

         Thus, where there is a valid forum-selection clause, the typical Section 1404(a) calculus must change in that the Court no longer gives any weight to the plaintiff's choice of forum; the Court no longer considers arguments about the parties' private interests, and may only consider "public-interest factors," which will rarely support denying a transfer motion; and the choice-of-law rules of the contracted-for venue apply. See id. at 581-83. Additionally, although Atlantic Marine involved two sophisticated parties, the Supreme Court has previously enforced forum selection clauses found on the "form passage contracts" between a cruise line and its passengers. See Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc. v. Shute, 499 U.S. 585, 590-95 (1991); see also Garrett v. Gulf Stream Coach Inc., 2009 WL 936297, *2-5 (E.D. Va. Apr. 7, 2009) (granting motion to transfer venue to Indiana in similar factual scenario to this case).

         A. Is Forum Selection Clause "Valid?"

         The Plaintiffs raise two arguments to explain why, in their view, the forum selection clause here is invalid: (1) the forum-selection clause contravenes the public policy of Virginia;[1] and (2) the forum-selection clause is unfair and unreasonable. On the first argument, the Plaintiffs argue that, because Newmar does business in Virginia, it subjects itself to the jurisdiction of Virginia courts and the Commonwealth has an interest in allowing its citizens to litigate disputes here. ECF No. 5 at 2. On the second argument, the Plaintiffs state that enforcement of the forum-selection clause is unfair and ...


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