United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
OSTEEN, JR., District Judge.
matter is before the court on a Motion to Dismiss filed by
IKEA Holding US, Inc., IKEA U.S. East, LLC, IKEA U.S. West,
Inc., and IKEA Property, Inc. (collectively
“Defendants”). (Doc. 10.) Plaintiff Davida
Widenhouse Courtney (“Plaintiff”) has responded,
(Doc. 12), and Defendants have replied. (Doc. 14.) For the
reasons stated herein, this court will grant Defendants'
Motion to Dismiss without prejudice.
Motion to Dismiss includes a request for costs and
attorneys' fees. (Doc. 10.) Plaintiff has responded to
that request. (Doc. 12.) For the reasons stated herein, this
court will deny Defendants' request for costs and
before the court is Plaintiff's Motion to Transfer Venue,
(Doc. 12), to which Defendants have responded. (Doc. 14.) For
the reasons stated herein, this court will deny
Plaintiff's Motion to Transfer Venue as moot.
alleges she fell in an IKEA Charlotte restaurant store and is
suing Defendants for negligence. (See Complaint
(“Compl.”) (Doc. 7).) Two different attorneys
have filed complaints containing identical claims in two
different courts on behalf of Plaintiff. (Defs.' Mem. in
Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss (“Defs.' Mem.”)
(Doc. 11)); (see also Pl.'s Opp'n to Defs.' Mot.
to Dismiss and Pl.'s Mot. to Transfer Venue
(“Pl.'s Opp'n & Mot. to Transfer”)
(Doc. 12).) Defendants' Motion to Dismiss seeks dismissal
of the second-filed complaint as duplicative.
differences between the two cases are the attorneys
representing Plaintiff and that the case filed in the Western
District of North Carolina (hereinafter “Courtney
I”) has begun the process of discovery (Civil Action
No. 3:16-CV-00569). (See Defs.' Mem. (Doc. 11) at 1.)
Plaintiff's counsel in Courtney I filed the complaint on
June 22, 2016, in the Superior Court Division for Mecklenburg
County. (Id. at 2.) On July 22, 2016, Defendants
removed the case to the United States District Court for the
Western District of North Carolina based on diversity
jurisdiction. (Id. at 2, 4.) Defendants filed their
answer on July 29, 2016, and the parties filed a Proposed
Discovery Plan with the court in the Western District of
North Carolina on August 15, 2016. (Id. at 2.) The
parties have since exchanged discovery requests.
(Id. at 3.)
August 10, 2016, Defendants learned from Plaintiff's
counsel that another attorney had filed a complaint on behalf
of Plaintiff for the same claim in this district, but that
the dueling claims would be sorted out and the second suit
would not proceed. (Id.) However, in mid-September
of 2016, Plaintiff served Defendants with a complaint that
had been filed on June 23, 2016, in the Superior Court
Division of Cabarrus County by the same Plaintiff, pursuing
the same claim (hereinafter “Courtney II”). (See
id.) Defendants removed the claim to this court on October 7,
2016. (Id. at 4; see also (Doc. 1).)
move to dismiss Courtney II. (Defs.' Mem. (Doc. 11).)
Plaintiff opposes the Motion to Dismiss and has moved to
transfer venue of Courtney II, arguing that Plaintiff would
later ask a court in the Western District of North Carolina
to consolidate Courtney I and Courtney II into a single case.
(Pl.'s Opp'n & Mot. to Transfer (Doc. 12).)
Defendants also request costs and attorneys' fees
representing their time and effort in litigating this
duplicative case. (Defs.' Mem. (Doc. 11) at 6).
DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS
than a case of abatement, as argued by Defendants, this court
finds this case is one to which the first-filed doctrine
applies. The Fourth Circuit has described the first-filed
doctrine as being “of sound judicial
administration.” See Ellicott Mach. Corp. v. Modern
Welding Co., 502 F.2d 178, 181 (4th Cir. 1974). Courts apply
the doctrine “when multiple suits are filed in
different Federal courts upon the same factual issues.”
Allied-General Nuclear Servs. v. Commonwealth Edison Co., 675
F.2d 610, 611 n.1 (4th Cir. 1982) (citing Carbide &
Carbon Chems. Corp. v. U.S. Indus. Chems., Inc., 140 F.2d 47,
49 (4th Cir. 1944)). Under these circumstances, “the
first or prior action is permitted to proceed to the
exclusion of another subsequently filed.” Id.;
see also Pacesetter Sys., Inc. v. Medtronic, Inc., 678 F.2d
93, 94-95 (9th Cir. 1982); Great N. Ry. Co. v. Nat'l R.R.
Adjustment Bd., First Div., 422 F.2d 1187, 1193 (7th Cir.
1970); cf. Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501, 508
(1947) (stating that plaintiff's first choice of forum
should generally be honored, and that there are difficulties
that arise if cases are not handled by their origin court).
the first-filed doctrine is “an equitable determination
that is made on a case-by-case, discretionary basis.”
Nutrition & Fitness, Inc. v. Blue Stuff, Inc., 264
F.Supp.2d 357, 360 (W.D. N.C. 2003) (citing Plating Res.,
Inc. v. UTI Corp., 47 F.Supp.2d 899, 903 (N.D. Ohio 1999);
Guthy-Renker Fitness, L.L.C. v. Icon Health & Fitness,
Inc., 179 F.R.D. 264, 269 (C.D. Cal 1998)). Courts have broad
discretion in determining when to apply the first-filed
doctrine. Id. at 361 (citing Plating Res., 47
F.Supp.2d at 903; Guthy-Renker, 179 F.R.D. at 270)). If the
first-filed doctrine applies, the district court has the
discretion to dismiss, stay, transfer, or enjoin the
second-filed case. See Conboy v. Robert W. Baird & Co.,
No. 90-3035, 1990 WL 135682 (4th Cir. Sept. 20, 1990);
Nutrition & Fitness, 264 F.Supp.2d at 360. There are
three factors that a court within the Western District of
North Carolina and a court within this district have
considered when determining whether to apply the first-filed
rule: “(1) the chronology of the filings, (2) the
similarity of the parties involved, and (3) the similarity of
the issues at stake.” E.g., Remington Arms Co. v.
Alliant Techsystems, Inc., No. 1:03CV1051, 2004 WL 444574, at
*2 (M.D. N.C. Feb. 25, 2004) (citing Nutrition & Fitness,
264 F.Supp.2d at 360).
court finds the Fourth Circuit's logic in Conboy, 1990 WL
135682, at *1, to be most instructive. In Conboy, a case was
filed in the Southern District of Texas and had proceeded
into discovery with an established trial date. Id.
The same plaintiff then filed an identical claim in the
District Court of Maryland. Id. The District Court
of Maryland dismissed the case “in the interests of
comity and the orderly administration of justice.”
Id. The Fourth Circuit affirmed this dismissal upon
case before this court, the three first-filed factors are
satisfied. First, Plaintiff's counsel in Courtney I filed
the complaint in a state court in the Western District of
North Carolina one day before Courtney II was filed, and the
case was removed several months before Courtney II was served
on Defendants. (See Defs.' Mem. (Doc. 11) at 2-3.)
Second, the parties in both Courtney I and Courtney II are
identical; only Plaintiff's counsel is different in the
two cases. (See Id. at 3.) Third, as in Conboy, 1990
WL 135682, at *1, the issues in the case before this court
are identical to Courtney I. ...