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Com-Serv, LLC v. ICE Industries, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

July 23, 2018




         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Transfer pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) (DN 9). For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This action involves a dispute concerning various purchase order agreements between Com-Serv, LLC, (“Plaintiff”) and ICE Industries, Inc. (“ICE Industries”), Grenada Stamping and Assembly, Inc. d/b/a ICE Industries Grenada (“ICE Grenada”), Deerfield Manufacturing, Inc. d/b/a ICE Industries Deerfield (“ICE Deerfield”), Ronfeldt Manufacturing, LLC d/b/a ICE Industries Ronfeldt (“ICE Ronfeldt”), and ICE Industries Mexico, LLC (“ICE Mexico”) (collectively, “Defendants”). (Notice Removal Ex. A, ¶¶ 10-16, DN 1-2 [hereinafter Compl.]). Plaintiff is a Kentucky citizen. (Notice Removal ¶ 7, DN 1). ICE Industries and ICE Deerfield are Ohio corporations with principal offices in the state of Ohio. (Notice Removal ¶¶ 9; 11). ICE Grenada is an Ohio corporation with its principal offices in the state of Mississippi. (Notice Removal ¶ 10). ICE Ronfeldt and ICE Mexico are both limited liability companies with ICE Industries being their sole member. (Notice Removal ¶¶ 13-14).

         Plaintiff is in the business of selling automotive parts, which it purchases wholesale from manufacturers in China and Taiwan. (Compl. ¶ 1). It is Plaintiff's belief that Defendants are each involved in supplying automotive and other parts to end-users. (Compl. ¶ 10). Between 2015 and 2017, Defendants submitted purchase orders to Plaintiff requesting various automotive parts. (Compl. ¶¶ 10-13). Defendants subsequently canceled certain purchase orders and refused to take receipt of and/or pay for certain requested parts. (Compl. ¶¶ 10, 13). Additionally, Plaintiff claims that Defendants attempted to use Plaintiff's name and reputation to bypass them and conduct business directly with their manufactures, which resulted in Defendants unlawfully taking advantage of its relationship with Plaintiff. (Compl. ¶¶ 14-16).

         All of the disputed purchase orders submitted to Plaintiff by Defendants essentially contain identical language referencing Defendants' terms and conditions. (Defs.' Mot. Transfer Venue 3, DN 9 [hereinafter Defs.' Mot.]). The language within the purchase orders provides a web address to access Defendants' terms and conditions and states that a copy of the terms and conditions will be provided upon request. (Defs.' Mot. 3). Defendants', however, updated their website with a new navigation structure in March 2016 resulting in a slight change in the web address provided for subsequent purchase orders. (Defs.' Mot. 3). Other than the change in the web address provided within the purchase orders, the language referencing Defendants' terms and agreements remained the same. (Heller Decl. ¶¶ 5-7, DN 12-1). The contested term and condition is the purchase order's forum-selection clause which provides:

Applicable law. This Agreement shall be construed and enforced in accordance with the laws of the State of Ohio without regard to its principles of conflicts of law. Each party hereto irrevocably and unconditionally consents to the exclusive venue in any state or federal court located in the city of Toledo, Ohio (the “Ohio Courts”) for any litigation arising out of relating to this Agreement and the transactions contemplated hereby, and each party hereby waives any objection to the laying of venue of any such litigation in the Ohio courts and agrees not to plead any claim in any Ohio Court that such litigation brought therein has been brought in an inconvenient forum.

(Williams Decl. Ex. C, at 3, DN 9-1 (emphasis added)).

         Plaintiff filed this action on January 9, 2018, in Jefferson Circuit Court. In the Complaint, Plaintiff asserted seven claims against the Defendants including: (1) breach of contract; (2) intentional interference with a contractual relationship and/or prospective business advantage; (3) unfair competition/trade practices; (4) conversion; (5) unjust enrichment; (6) intentional misrepresentation; and (7) negligent misrepresentation. (Compl. ¶¶ 17-36). Defendants timely removed the action to this Court on February 28, 2018. (Notice Removal).

         Defendants seek to transfer the case to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio at Toledo pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Defendants contend the case should be transferred pursuant to the forum-selection clause provided in the terms and conditions referenced in the disputed purchase orders. (Defs.' Mot. 5-7).


         A motion to transfer pursuant to a contractual forum-selection clause is properly viewed as a motion to transfer venue under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Atl. Marine Constr. Co. v. U.S. Dist. Ct. for the W. Dist. of Tex., 571 U.S. 49, 52 (2013). Section 1404(a) provides that “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 . . . .” 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). The district court must first determine if the forum-selection clause is valid and enforceable by considering: “(1) whether the clause was obtained by fraud, duress, or other unconscionable means; (2) whether the designated forum would ineffectively or unfairly handle the suit; and (3) whether the designated forum would be so seriously inconvenient such that requiring the plaintiff to bring suit there would be unjust.” Wong v. PartyGaming Ltd., 589 F.3d 821, 828 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Sec. Watch, Inc. v. Sentinel Sys., Inc., 176 F.3d 369, 375 (6th Cir. 1999)). “The party opposing the forum selection clause bears the burden of showing that the clause should not be enforced.” Id. (citing Shell v. R.W. Sturge, Ltd., 55 F.3d 1227, 1229 (6th Cir. 1995)). If the clause is found to be enforceable, it is the duty of the court to transfer the case unless “extraordinary circumstances unrelated to the convenience of the parties clearly disfavor a transfer.” Atl. Marine, 571 U.S. at 52.


         A. Transfer of the Action to the Northern ...

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