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Weimer v. General Motors LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

August 11, 2017

KENNETH WEIMER,, Plaintiffs,
v.
GENERAL MOTORS LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          AUDREY G. FLEISSIG T UNITED STATES DISTRICYJUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the motion (ECF No. 33) of Defendant General Motors LLC (“GM LLC”) to dismiss this case pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3) for improper venue, or alternatively, to transfer this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) to the Northern District of Texas. For the following reasons, the Court will deny the motion to dismiss, and will deny the alternative motion to transfer without prejudice to renewing if, by affidavits or other admissible evidence, it can supply additional facts to demonstrate transfer is warranted.

         BACKGROUND

         Kenneth Weimer; Christopher Daily, individually, and as representative of the Estate of Stacey Daily, deceased, and as next friend to C.B.D., a minor child; Alice Haupt, as next friend to B.F., a minor child; Irma Barrett, as next friend to P.W., a minor child; Devin Wright and Traci Wright, as next friends to T.W., a minor child; Kelli Mellema; Thomas Mellema (Weimer, Stacey Daily, Kelli Mellema, Thomas Mellema, and the minor children referred to herein as “Plaintiffs”) initiated this action in the Eastern District of Missouri on December 19, 2016. Plaintiffs, as well as their representatives and next friends, are residents of Graham, Texas, which is in the Northern District of Texas. They assert a state-law tort claim against GM LLC, a limited liability company headquartered in Michigan, [1] arising out of an automobile accident in Palo Pinto County, Texas, which is also in the Northern District of Texas.[2]

         In their Third Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs allege that on March 6, 2015, Weimer was driving, and the other Plaintiffs were passengers in, a 1999 Chevrolet Express, and while traveling southbound on State Highway 337, a vehicle traveling in the opposite direction crossed lanes, struck Plaintiffs' vehicle, and caused Weimer to lose control of the vehicle and ultimately strike a tree. Plaintiffs allege that this accident killed Stacey Daily and seriously injured each of the other Plaintiffs, notwithstanding that all Plaintiffs were properly seated and properly wearing the available seatbelts at the time of the accident.

         Plaintiffs' complaint includes a single count, labeled “Cause(s) of Action as to Defendant [GM] LLC, ” in which Plaintiffs allege that GM LLC “either alone or in conjunction with some other individual(s) and/or entity(ies), designed, manufactured, marketed, assembled, and/or tested the vehicle in question.” Plaintiffs allege that the injuries complained of occurred because the vehicle was” unreasonably dangerous and defective” and because GM LLC was “negligent in the design, manufacture, assembly, marketing and/or testing” of the vehicle. ECF No. 28 at 13-15.

         Plaintiff's complaint contains a “non-exhaustive list” of ways in which the vehicle was defective, including, among other things, an insufficient number of “welds, ” which Plaintiffs state may be either a design or manufacturing defect; inadequate roof strength; improper seatbelt webbing and geometry; and improper testing in a number of specified respects, such as crash testing, rollover testing, and handling, stability, and control testing. Id. at 14-15, 17.

         Plaintiffs plead in their complaint that venue is proper in the Eastern District of Missouri because the “subject vehicle was manufactured and assembled at the Wentzville, Missouri plant which is owned by Defendant[.]” Id. at 9. In its answer to Plaintiffs' complaint, GM LLC pleads a variety of affirmative defenses, including improper venue; lack of a “jurisdictional nexus” with this Court; that Plaintiffs' complaint is barred by the terms of the “General Motors Bankruptcy Sale Order, see In re General Motors Corp., 407 B.R. 463 (Bankr. S.D.N.Y. 2009)”; that Plaintiffs' recovery, if any, should be reduced or barred as a result of the comparative fault of Plaintiffs; and that third parties over whom GM LLC has no control may have caused or contributed to Plaintiffs' injuries. ECF No. 31 at 14-17.

         GM LLC also filed the motion to dismiss or transfer now under consideration. It argues that venue is improper in the Eastern District of Missouri because GM LLC does not reside here and there are insufficient facts to connect Plaintiffs' claims to this forum. GM LLC contends that General Motors Corporation (referred to as “Old GM”), rather than GM LLC, actually designed, manufactured in part, and assembled the subject vehicle, and that Old GM filed a petition for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on June 1, 2009, and sold substantially all of its assets to GM LLC's predecessor, free and clear of encumbrances except certain contractually defined liabilities. GM LLC argues that Plaintiff's complaint “identifies no assembly defect for which [GM LLC] could be liable contractually.” ECF No. 34 at 7. In any event, GM LLC argues that Old GM did not design the subject vehicle in the Eastern District of Missouri, but “merely assembled the van into its final form” here, and that Plaintiffs complaint “contains no factual assertions making it plausible to conclude the rollover crash occurred because of how Old GM assembled the van.” Id.

         Alternatively, GM LLC seeks to transfer this action to the Northern District of Texas under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), for the convenience of the parties and witnesses, and in the interest of justice. GM LLC argues that venue is proper in the Northern District of Texas because the accident occurred there and Plaintiffs reside there.

         The certified Texas Peace Officer's Crash Report[3] attached to GM LLC's motion contains details regarding the persons and vehicles involved in the accident, as well as a narrative description of the accident by an investigator with the Texas Department of Public Safety. The report indicates that both vehicles involved were owned by persons with addresses in Graham, Texas; that the victims were transported by emergency responders to John Peter Smith Hospital, Harris Methodist Hospital, Cooke's Children's Hospital, and Palo Pinto General Hospital; and that the vehicles were towed to a location in Mineral Wells, Texas. ECF No. 34-2.

         GM LLC argues that a transfer will serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses because Plaintiffs reside in the Northern District of Texas, as do “witnesses to this crash and its aftermath, including investigating officers, first responders, [and] medical providers.” ECF No. 34 at 9. GM LLC contends that a transfer will also serve the interest of justice because of the advantage of having a Texas federal court apply Texas law, which GM LLC argues should govern here as the crash occurred in Texas.

         In response, Plaintiffs argue that their allegation that the subject vehicle was manufactured and assembled in Wentzville Missouri, in combination with their allegation that their injuries were caused in part by manufacturing and assembly defects, is adequate to establish that venue is proper in the Eastern District of Missouri. Plaintiffs contend that their allegation as to the location of manufacturing and assembly must be taken as true at this stage, particularly because GM LLC has not attached any affidavits or other evidence to contradict that allegation.

         Plaintiffs also argue that transfer to the Northern District of Texas is not warranted because Plaintiffs' choice of forum should be respected. According to Plaintiffs, GM LLC has not established its burden to demonstrate transfer is warranted because GM LLC has not submitted affidavits or other evidence identifying the potential witnesses who may reside in the Northern District of Texas, or their anticipated testimony and availability. Moreover, Plaintiffs argue that witnesses such as the “police and fire emergency personnel” alluded to by GM LLC will only be relevant to proving “Plaintiffs' medical condition and ...


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