The Ninth Circuit recently denied relief on a petition for a writ of mandamus regarding an alleged erroneous transfer of a class action, despite agreeing with the petitioner that transfer was improper. In the action, a putative class plaintiff brought misrepresentation and fraud claims against defendants responsible for the production, distribution, and marketing of a weight loss supplement. The action was originally filed in the Southern District of California before transfer to the Eastern District. The defendants sought the transfer in an effort to consolidate with another class action already pending in the Eastern District, both involving similar state law claims against overlapping defendants.
The Court of Appeals reasoned that under the transfer statute, the district court had the discretion to transfer an action only to another district or division where the claim could have been brought originally, i.e., where the venue was proper because a “substantial part of the events took place.” The defendants alleged that the claim could have been originally filed in the Eastern District because some of the putative class members purchased the supplement there. The Ninth Circuit, however, said that for venue purposes, the inquiry concerned only the named plaintiffs, not the unnamed putative class members. In this action, none of the named plaintiffs lived in the Eastern District of California and nothing in the complaint suggested that a substantial part of the allegations took place in the Eastern District.
The Ninth Circuit also disagreed with the district court’s transfer based on the first-to-file rule, a judge-made doctrine that allows the district court to transfer an action filed later-in-time to another case in another district involving substantially similar issues and parties. The Court of Appeals found that the judge-made doctrine of first-to-file could not subvert the requirements of the transfer statute.
Regardless of the above arguments, the Ninth Circuit left the petitioning plaintiff empty-handed. The appellate court declined the petition for a writ of mandamus on the basis that it was a “drastic and extraordinary remedy” and granting relief would have no practical impact on the case. Although petitioner was left with a hollow victory, future plaintiffs may rely on the Ninth Circuit’s opinion to bar conditional transfer to a venue that has no relation to the named plaintiffs’ claims.
In re Bozic, No. 17-70614 (9th Apr. 25, 2018)