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Snellgrove v. Common Bond Title, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division

March 29, 2018

JAMES SNELLGROVE, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMON BOND TITLE, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          W. KEITH WATKINS, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the court is an Order and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge recommending that the case be transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. (Doc. # 24.) The Magistrate Judge has summarized well the pending motions, facts, and procedural posture of the case, and that summary is incorporated by reference. The Recommendation addresses only the motion for change of venue (Doc. # 8) filed by Defendants Common Bond Title, LLC, and Preferred Title Agents, Inc., although the Magistrate Judge granted Defendants' motion to strike the third paragraph of Plaintiff James Snellgrove's declaration (Doc. # 18) in the same filing as the Recommendation (the “Order” in “Order and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge”). Because the Magistrate Judge found that the case should be transferred to another district, the two motions to dismiss were not addressed in the Recommendation. That was proper in view of the ultimate recommendation, and this opinion addresses only the motions addressed in the Recommendation.

         In recommending a transfer of venue, the Magistrate Judge reasoned that jurisdiction of the federal cause of action lies, arguably, in both the Middle and Northern Districts of Alabama, and the convenience of the parties and witnesses counsels transfer from the former to the latter. Although there is no objection to the Recommendation - Plaintiff “respectfully defers to the Court regarding this issue” (Doc. # 16, at 3) - it is due to be rejected for the reasons following.

         I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

         This court has subject-matter jurisdiction over this action under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and § 1367. The parties do not contest personal jurisdiction. Venue is discussed below.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Each Defendant contractually undertook to examine title and provide title insurance and other real estate closing services for Plaintiff and his lender on real estate in Dothan, Houston County (which is in the Middle District of Alabama), 200 miles from the Defendants' offices in Mountain Brook, Jefferson County (which is in the Northern District of Alabama). Preferred Title Agency, Inc., did so in 2010 when Plaintiff bought the real estate. Common Bond Title, LLC - a successor entity to Preferred Title Agency, Inc. - did so in 2012 when Plaintiff refinanced the real estate.

         After the first closing for the purchase of the subject property by Plaintiff, performed entirely in Houston County, a defendant inexplicably failed to file the deed transferring the property to Plaintiff, and the mortgage he just signed to pay for it, for eighteen days from the date of closing, that is, from February 26, 2010, until March 16, 2010. During that eighteen days, on March 8, a judgment against the seller of the property was recorded by Compass Bank for $84, 072.85 in the Houston County Courthouse. This lien took priority over Plaintiff's deed and mortgage, which had not yet been recorded. No. defendant discovered this judgment or disclosed it to Plaintiff or his mortgagee before the refinance closing in 2012. Plaintiff did not discover the judgment until 2016. It was a valid prior lien on Plaintiff's property.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendants wish now to compel Plaintiff, his lawyers, and the Houston County witnesses to litigate the dispute in the Northern District of Alabama in Jefferson County. Having twice found it convenient to conduct a closing 200 miles away in Houston County, Defendants all of a sudden (by modern litigation time frames) find Houston County and the Middle District of Alabama to be inconvenient to resolve a contractual and other disputes over title to real estate located in Houston County and a closing in Houston County involving Houston County title records and witnesses. It is a brassy move, one that Defendants should have a really compelling reason to make. They do not. Their Motion to Transfer Venue (Doc. # 8) is therefore due to be denied.

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), a district court may transfer a civil action to any other district in which it might have been brought “[f]or the convenience of the parties and witnesses, ” and “in the interest of justice.” Id. Because federal courts usually accord deference to a plaintiff's choice of forum, the burden is on the movant to show that the suggested forum is more convenient or that litigation there would be in the interest of justice. In re Ricoh Corp., 870 F.2d 570, 573 (11th Cir. 1989). Some lower courts have found, however, that the deference afforded to a plaintiff's choice of forum is somewhat diminished in a removal case. See, e.g., First Fin. Bank v. CS Assets, LLC, No. 08-0731-WS-M, 2009 WL 1211360, at *6 (S.D. Ala. May 4, 2009). But “[a] [plaintiff's geographic] choice does not lose all relevance solely because [plaintiff] initially brought the case in state court and [defendant] chose to remove it to the federal court encompassing that county.” Id. (second, third, and fourth alterations in original) (quoting Superior Precast, Inc. v. Safeco Ins. Co. of Am., 71 F.Supp.2d 438, 446 (E.D. Pa. 1999)).

         Ultimately, a district court has “broad discretion in weighing the conflicting arguments as to venue, ” England v. ITT Thompson Indus., Inc., 856 F.2d 1518, 1520 (11th Cir. 1988), and must engage in an “individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness, ” Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988) (quoting Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 622 (1964)).

         Section 1404(a) mandates a two-step analysis. First, the court must determine whether the case originally could have been brought in the proposed transferee district. § 1404(a); C.M.B. Foods, Inc. v. Corral of Middle Ga., 396 F.Supp.2d 1283, 1286 (M.D. Ala. 2005). Second, the court must analyze whether, “[f]or the convenience of the parties and witnesses” and “in the interest of justice, ” the action should be transferred. § 1404(a); Corral of Middle Ga., 396 F.Supp.2d at 1286.

         A. Where This Action ...


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