The Northern District of Illinois recently issued a decision highlighting a class action defendant’s ability to transfer venues based on the parties’ convenience. The court transferred a putative class action from the location of the defendant’s principal place of business in Chicago, Illinois, to where the putative class members resided in San Antonio, Texas. In doing so, the court transferred the case to a less plaintiff-friendly venue, the Western District of Texas. This decision provides a useful addition to the toolbox of class action defendants that find themselves in unappealing venues.
In Sickman v. Asset Recovery Solutions, LLC, the named plaintiff filed a putative class action alleging that Asset Recovery Solutions, LLC (“ARS”) violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (the “FDCPA”). Even though the plaintiff was a resident of San Antonio, Texas, the action was filed in the Chicago Division of the Northern District of Illinois because that was the location of ARS’s principal place of business. The one-count complaint claimed ARS violated Section 1692f(8) of the FDCPA by sending envelopes to several Texas residents, the exterior of which displayed ARS’s name and the debtor’s account number.
Shortly after the complaint was filed, ARS moved the court to transfer the case to the Western District of Texas. Likely motivated by the desire to litigate in a less plaintiff-friendly venue, ARS argued the Western District of Texas would be more convenient because the putative class members and other evidence pertaining to the subject envelopes were located there. The plaintiff opposed ARS’s request, arguing that witnesses, documents, and records related to ARS’s creation of the allegedly unlawful envelopes were located at ARS’s principal place of business.
The court agreed with ARS. It began by observing that venue was proper in both Illinois and Texas—a fact the parties did not dispute. As such, the court stated, its analysis of whether to transfer the litigation would be based on the parties’ convenience and the interests of justice.
In addressing the parties’ convenience, the court commented that, while it typically gives significant weight to the plaintiff’s choice of venue, it does not do so when the venue is not where the plaintiff lives. Next, the court reasoned that Chicago had no “significant ties” to the action because, if anything, it is the receipt of the letter—not its creation—that would violate the FDCPA. Thus, the Western District of Texas would be a more convenient venue because all pertinent witnesses and documents would be located there.
The court also found the proposed transfer would best serve the interests of justice. Even though the court admitted Illinois has an interest in regulating the conduct of its businesses, it concluded the state in which the alleged harm took place has a greater interest.
One could argue the court’s decision should be read narrowly to be limited to the facts before the court. But the reasoning of this decision can be applied more broadly to suggest that class action defendants finding themselves in unfriendly venues are not necessarily doomed to litigate there. Significantly, the Sickmancourt gave little or no deference to the plaintiff’s choice of venue. Thus, class action defendants who find themselves in an unfriendly venue, but have a reasonable argument for why another venue would be more convenient, may find it advisable to follow ARS’s lead and request a transfer.