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Davida Widenhouse Courtney v. Ikea Holding US, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

June 6, 2017

DAVIDA WIDENHOUSE COURTNEY, Plaintiff,
v.
IKEA HOLDING US, INC., IKEA U.S. EAST, LLC, IKEA U.S. WEST, Inc., and IKEA PROPERTY, INC., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          OSTEEN, JR., District Judge.

         This 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.

         Defendants' 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 attorneys' fees.

         Also 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff 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.

         The 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.)

         On 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).)

         Defendants 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).

         II. DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

         Rather 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).

         Invoking 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).

         This 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 appeal. Id.

         In the 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. ...


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