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Haynes v. World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

June 25, 2015

WILLIAM ALBERT HAYNES III, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
WORLD WRESTLING ENTERTAINMENT, INC., Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

JANICE M. STEWART, Magistrate Judge.

INTRODUCTION

On October 23, 2014, plaintiff, William Albert Haynes III ("Haynes"), a former professional wrestler, filed this action on behalf of himself and all other United States residents who currently or formerly wrestled for defendant, World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.[1] ("WWE"), [2] or a predecessor company.[3] He alleges that WWE is in the "business of selling violence" and has profited at the expense of its wrestlers' health by subjecting them to extreme physical brutality that it knew, or should have known, caused irreversible bodily damage, including brain damage, without providing adequate medical care. First Amended Class Action Complaint ("FAC"), ¶ 1. Additionally, Haynes alleges that WWE engaged in a "campaign of misinformation and deception to prevent its wrestlers from understanding the true nature and consequences of the injuries they have sustained." Id. As a result of WWE's "representations, actions, and inactions, " WWE wrestlers have suffered "long-term debilitating injuries, lost profits, premature retirement, medical expenses, and other losses." Id. In particular, WWE wrestlers have suffered repeated head injuries which have altered wrestlers' brains and resulted in an "array of side effects, including depression, cognitive deterioration, and suicide." Id, ¶ 3. WWE has both failed to protect its wrestlers by concealing and denying the medical research and evidence concerning traumatic brain injuries and deliberately heightened the violence of its matches in order to increase its own profits. Id, ¶¶ 1, 4.

Based on these allegations, Haynes alleges the following seven claims against WWE: (1) Fraudulent Concealment and Failure to Disclose or Warn ("First Claim"); (2) Negligent Misrepresentation ("Second Claim"); (3) Declaratory and Injunctive Relief ("Third Claim"); (4) Negligence ("Fourth Claim"); (5) Medical Negligence ("Fifth Claim"); (6) Medical Monitoring ("Sixth Claim"); and (7) Strict Liability for Abnormally Dangerous Activities ("Seventh Claim").

Haynes is a citizen of Oregon.[4] The matter in controversy exceeds $5 million, exclusive of interest and costs. Id, ¶ 14. WWE is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Stamford, Connecticut. Id, ¶ 17. Accordingly, this court has subject matter jurisdiction over this case under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, 28 USC § 1332(d)(2).

WWE has now filed a Motion to Dismiss (docket #44) and a Motion to Transfer Venue (docket #47) seeking either dismissal of all seven claims or, if any claims remain, transfer of this action to the District of Connecticut. For the reasons that follow, the Motion to Transfer Venue is GRANTED and this action is transferred to the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut for resolution of the Motion to Dismiss.

DISCUSSION

WWE asks this court to rule on its Motion to Dismiss before ruling on the Motion to Transfer Venue. However, among other things, the parties dispute whether this court has personal jurisdiction over the WWE. Where "personal jurisdiction is difficult to determine, and forum non conveniens considerations weigh heavily in favor of dismissal, " the United States Supreme Court expressly authorizes trial courts to take "the less burdensome course" and decide the forum non conveniens issue before any merits-based issues.[5] Sinochem Int'l Ltd. v. Malaysia Int'l Shipping Corp., 549 U.S. 422, 436 (2007).

I. Legal Standard

"A motion to transfer venue is a non-dispositive matter falling within the province of a United States Magistrate Judge." Penguin Grp. (USA) Inc. v. Am. Buddha, No. 3:13-cv-00497-HU, 2013 WL 6385916, at *1 n1 (D Or Dec. 6, 2013) (citations omitted); see also Pavao v. Unifund CCR Partners, 934 F.Supp.2d 1238, 1241 n1 (SD Cal 2013) (citing cases).

"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 USC § 1404(a). A motion under 28 USC § 1404(a) requires a district court to engage in a two-step inquiry. The threshold issue is whether the case could have been brought in the forum to which transfer is sought. Hatch v. Reliance Ins. Co., 758 F.2d 409, 414 (9th Cir 1985). The court considers whether the proposed forum "would have had subject matter jurisdiction at the time the action was filed; [whether] defendants would have been subject to personal jurisdiction; and [whether] venue would have been proper." E. & J. Gallo Winery v. F. & P. S.p.A., 899 F.Supp. 465, 466 (ED Cal 1994) (citations omitted).

If the action could have been brought in the forum where transfer is sought, the court then considers "whether the convenience of the parties, the convenience of the witnesses, and the interest of justice weigh in favor of transferring venue to that forum. This step of the inquiry requires an individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness.'" Jones v. GNC Franchising, Inc., 211 F.3d 495, 498 (9th Cir 2000), quoting Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988). Relevant factors include:

(1) the location where the relevant agreements were negotiated and executed, (2) the state that is most familiar with the governing law, (3) the plaintiffs choice of forum, (4) the respective parties' contacts with the forum, (5) the contracts relating to the plaintiff's cause of action in the chosen forum, (6) the differences in the costs of litigation in the two forums, (7) the availability of compulsory ...

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