Hoffman v. Blaski Sullivan v. Behimer

Decision Date13 June 1960
Docket NumberNos. 25,26,s. 25
Citation363 U.S. 335,4 L.Ed.2d 1254,80 S.Ct. 1084
PartiesHonorable Julius J. HOFFMAN, Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, Petitioner, v. John F. BLASKI et al. Honorable Philip L. SULLIVAN, Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Petitioner, v. Otto BEHIMER and John A. Roberts
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. Charles J. Merriam, Chicago, Ill., for petitioner Julius J. hoffman.

Mr. John C. Butler, Chicago, Ill., for petitioner Philip L. Sullivan.

Mr. Daniel V. O'Keeffe, Chicago, Ill., for respondents Blaski and others.

Mr. Warren E. King, Chicago, Ill., for respondents Behimer and Roberts.

Mr. Justice WHITTAKER delivered the opinion of the Court.

To relieve against what was apparently thought to be the harshness of dismissal, under the doctrine of forum non conveniens, of an action brought in an inconvenient one of two or more legally available forums, Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501, 67 S.Ct. 839, 91 L.Ed. 1055, and concerned by the reach of Baltimore & Ohio R. Co. v. Kepner, 314 U.S. 44, 62 S.Ct. 6, 86 L.Ed. 28, 1 Congress, in 1948, enacted 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), 28 U.S.C.A. § 1404(a), which provides:

's 1404. Change of venue.

'(a) 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.'

The instant cases present the question whether a District Court, in which a civil action has been properly brought, is empowered by § 1404(a) to transfer the action, on the motion of the defendant, to a district in which the plaintiff did not have a right to bring it.

No. 25, Blaski.—Respondents, Blaski and others, residents of Illinois, brought this patent infringement action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas against one Howell and a Texas corporation controlled by him, alleging that the defendants are residents of, and maintain their only place of business in, the City of Dallas, in the Northern District of Texas, where they are infringing respondents' patents. After being served with process and filing their answer, the defendants moved, under § 1404(a), to transfer the action to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.2 Respondents objected to the transfer on the ground that, inasmuch as the defendants did not reside, maintain a place of business, or infringe the patents in, and could not have been served with process in, the Illinois district, the courts of that district lacked venue over the action3 and ability to command jurisdiction over the defendants;4 that therefore that district was not a forum in which the respondents had a right to bring the action, and, hence, the court was without power to transfer it to that district. Without mentioning that objection or the question it raised, the District Court found that 'the motion should be granted for the convenience of the parties and witnesses in the interest of justice,' and ordered the case transferred to the Illinois district. Thereupon, respondents moved in the Fifth Circuit for leave to file a petition for a writ of mandamus directing the vacation of that order. That court, holding that '(t)he purposes for which § 1404(a) was enacted would be unduly circumscribed if a transfer could not be made 'in the interest of justice' to a district where the defendants not only waive venue but to which they seek the transfer,' denied the motion. Ex parte Blaski, 245 F.2d 737, 738.

Upon receipt of a certified copy of the pleadings and record, the Illinois District Court assigned the action to Judge Hoffman's calendar. Respondents promptly moved for an order remanding the action on the ground that the Texas District Court did not have power to make the transfer order and, hence, the Illinois District Court was not thereby vested with jurisdiction of the action. After expressing his view that the 'weight of reason and logic' favored 'retransfer of this case to Texas,' Judge Hoffman, with misgivings, denied the motion. Respondents then filed in the Seventh Circuit a petition for a writ of mandamus directing Judge Hoffman to reverse his order. After hearing and rehearing, the Seventh Circuit, holding that '(w)hen Congress provided (in § 1404(a)) for transfer (of a civil action) to a district 'where it might have been brought,' it is hardly open to doubt but that it referred to a district where the plaintiff * * * had a right to bring the case,' and that respondents did not have a right to bring this action in the Illinois district, granted the writ, one judge dissenting. 260 F.2d 317, 320.

No. 26, Behimer.—Diversity of citizenship then existing, respondents, Behimer and Roberts, residents of Illinois and New York, respectively, brought this stockholders' derivative action, as minority stockholders of Utah Oil Refining Corporation, a Utah corporation, on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois against Standard Oil Company and Standard Oil Foundation, Inc., Indiana corporations but licensed to do and doing business in the Northern District of Illinois, for damages claimed to have been sustained through the alleged illegal acquisition by defendants of the assets of the Utah corporation at an inadequate price.

After being served with process and filing their answer, the defendants moved, under § 1404(a), to transfer the action to the United States District Court for the District of Utah.5 Respondents objected to the transfer on the ground that, inasmuch as the defendants were not incorporated in or licensed to do or doing business in, and could not be served with process in, the district of Utah, the courts of that district lacked venue over the action6 and ability to command jurisdiction over the defendants;7 that therefore that district was not a forum in which the respondents had a right to bring the action, and, hence, the court was without power to transfer it to that district. Without mentioning the question raised by that objection, the court found that the proposed transfer would be 'for the convenience of the parties and witnesses, and in the interest of justice,' and ordered the case transferred to the district of Utah.

Respondents then filed in the Seventh Circuit a petition for a writ of mandamus directing the District Court to reverse its order. After hearing, the Seventh Circuit, following its decision in Blaski v. Hoffman, supra, granted the writ. 261 F.2d 467.

To settle the conflict that has arisen among the circuits respecting the proper interpretation and application of § 1404(a),8 we granted certiorari. 359 U.S. 904, 79 S.Ct. 583, 3 L.Ed.2d 570; 361 U.S. 809, 80 S.Ct. 50.

Without sacrifice or slight of any tenable position, the parties have in this Court commendably narrowed their contentions to the scope of the only relevant inquiry. The points of contention may be sharpened by first observing what is not in contest. Discretion of the district judges concerned is not involved. Propriety of the remedy of mandamus is not assailed. No claim is made here that the order of the Fifth Circuit denying the motion of respondents in the Blaski case for leave to file a petition for writ of mandamus, 245 F.2d 737, precluded Judge Hoffman or the Seventh Circuit from remanding that case.9 Petitioners concede that these actions were properly brought in the respective transferor forums; that statutory venue did not exist over either of these actions in the respective transferee districts,10 and that the respective defendants were not within the reach of the process of the respective transferee courts.11 They concede, too that § 1404(a), being 'not unlimited,' 'may be utilized only to direct an action to any other district or division 'where it might have been brought," and that, like the superseded doctrine of forum non conveniens, Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501, 507, 67 S.Ct. 839, 91 L.Ed. 1055, the statute requires 'an alternative forum in which plaintiff might proceed.'

Petitioners' 'thesis' and sole claim is that § 1404(a), being remedial, Ex parte Collett, 337 U.S. 55, 71, 69 S.Ct. 944, 946, 93 L.Ed. 1207, should be broadly construed, and, when so construed, the phrase 'where it might have been brought' should be held to relate not only to the time of the bringing of the action, but also to the time of the transfer; and that 'if at such time the transferee forum has the power to adjudicate the issues of the action, it is a forum in which the action might then have been brought.'12 (Emphasis added.) They argue that in the interim between the bringing of the action and the filing of a motion to transfer it, the defendants may move their residence to, or, if corporations, may begin the transaction of business in, some other district, and, if such is done, the phrase 'where it might have been brought' should be construed to empower the District Court to transfer the action, on motion of the defendants, to such other district; and that, similarly, if, as here, the defendants move to transfer the action to some other district and consent to submit to the jurisdiction of such other district, the latter district should be held one 'in which the action might then have been brought.' (Emphasis added.)

We do not agree. We do not think the § 1404(a) phrase 'where it might have been brought' can be interpreted to mean, as petitioners' theory would required 'where it may now be rebrought, with defendants' consent.' This Court has said, in a different context, that § 1404(a) is 'unambiguous, direct (and) clear,' Ex parte Collett, 337 U.S. at page 58, 69 S.Ct. at page 946, and that 'the unequivocal words of § 1404(a) and the legislative history * * * (establish) that Congress indeed meant what it said.' United States v. National City...

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