Northwest Airlines, Inc. v. American Airlines, Inc.

Decision Date24 June 1992
Docket NumberCiv. No. 4-91-539.
Citation792 F. Supp. 655
PartiesNORTHWEST AIRLINES, INC., Plaintiff, v. AMERICAN AIRLINES, INC., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Minnesota

Thomas W. Tinkham, William R. Stoeri, Christopher John Riley, Dorsey & Whitney, Minneapolis, Minn., for plaintiff.

Janie S. Mayeron, Richard Alvin Kaplan, Julie Miriam Friedman, Popham Haik Schnobrich & Kaufman, Minneapolis, Minn., for defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DIANA E. MURPHY, District Judge.

Northwest Airlines, Inc. (Northwest) brought this diversity action against American Airlines, Inc. (American) seeking a declaratory judgment that its "past hiring of `terminable-at-will' employees of American was a proper and lawful part of the competition in the airline industry, and that Northwest has the right to seek to hire other `terminable-at-will' employees ..." Complaint 3-4. American later filed suit against Northwest in the Northern District of Texas, alleging tortious interference with employment contracts and unfair competition.

Subsequently the parties brought motions in both jurisdictions. Each prefers to go forward in the jurisdiction which it chose. On October 30, 1991, this court denied American's motion to dismiss or to transfer this action to the Northern District of Texas. On January 28, 1992, the Texas court denied Northwest's motion to transfer the action filed there and on May 12, 1992, Northwest's motion to reconsider was denied. Northwest now moves to enjoin American from proceeding with the Texas lawsuit.

I.

Northwest, a Minnesota corporation with its principal place of business in Minnesota, and American, a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Texas, compete in the airline industry. Between November 1990 and November 1991, Northwest hired fourteen terminable-at-will employees previously employed by American. These employees served as executives in two departments at American: the Pricing and Yield Management Department and the Finance Department. American claims that these employees had access to proprietary information and trade secrets.

On May 15, 1991, American's general counsel wrote Northwest to complain of its hiring American employees and threatened to bring suit. It closed: "I have never much fancied being a plaintiff, but you folks may drive us to it. Although we are flattered by all the attention, we hope you'll look elsewhere for your staffing needs." By this time Northwest had hired nine of the fourteen employees. In the following two months, Northwest hired two more American executives.

On June 6, 1991, Northwest replied to American's letter, disagreeing with American's interpretation of Texas law and, on July 17, 1991, Northwest filed this declaratory judgment action. On August 30, 1991, American filed suit against Northwest in the Northern District of Texas, alleging tortious interference and unfair competition, and seeking both damages and injunctive relief. Between the filing of the two suits, Northwest had hired two more American executives. On November 19, 1991, Northwest hired one more American employee, bringing the total to fourteen.

II.

The first motion related to venue was brought by American when it moved this court to dismiss this declaratory judgment action or to transfer, and a hearing was held on October 11, 1991. On October 30, 1991, American's motion was denied. The court declined to dismiss the declaratory judgment action because it found that Northwest had filed this action to free itself from the uncertainty presented by American's open-ended threat of litigation. This court determined that:

The facts do not indicate that Northwest has engaged in procedural fencing. Northwest does not appear to have filed suit simply to avoid an impending lawsuit in Texas. American gave Northwest no warning as to when it might file suit. Northwest reacted to the uncertainty created by American's communicated legal position by filing this suit. Northwest does not appear to have raced to the courthouse. Without any impending deadline, Northwest did not know that a race was on.

Order Dated 10/30/91 at 3-4.

The day before this court ruled on American's motion, Northwest moved to transfer the Texas action to this district. The Texas court denied the motion without oral argument. It concluded that "application of the first-filed rule to the facts of this case would penalize American for efforts to resolve this dispute out of court and deprive it of its forum of choice." Order dated January 28, 1992. The Texas court then denied Northwest's motion to reconsider, stating that it had "based its decision upon the improper anticipatory filing of a declaratory judgment action in the District of Minnesota." Order Denying Motion to Reconsider. Neither order of the Texas court mentioned this court's prior order or determinations.

Thus, we have a situation where two federal courts have issued somewhat conflicting decisions in related cases over which they have jurisdiction. Such a situation can arise where decisions are in discretionary areas such as the exercise of jurisdiction in declaratory judgment actions, see Brillhart v. Excess Ins. Co., 316 U.S. 491, 62 S.Ct. 1173, 86 L.Ed. 1620 (1942), or motions to transfer under 28 U.S.C. § 1404. See Arkla Exploration Co. v. Texas Oil & Gas Corp., 734 F.2d 347 (8th Cir.1984).

Essentially the same controversy is pending before two federal courts. The parties have agreed that discovery in either action can be used in both actions, and case deadlines have been set in both jurisdictions. Trial in Texas is currently set for the week of October 26, 1992; the ready for trial date here is December 15, 1992. In an attempt to reduce the number of active fora to one, Northwest now moves to enjoin American from proceeding in the Texas litigation.

III.

Northwest argues that this court should apply the "first-filed" rule unless American can show that there are compelling circumstances to avoid its application. Orthmann v. Apple River Campground, Inc., 765 F.2d 119 (8th Cir.1985). Northwest filed the Minnesota action first; American's claims in the Texas litigation are virtually identical to the counterclaims here; and there are no unusual or compelling circumstances to justify proceeding in the later-filed action. Northwest argues that this court already considered and rejected the factors that might permit the continuation of the Texas action when it denied American's motion to dismiss or to transfer.

American argues that there are compelling circumstances to avoid the "first-filed" rule. First, it argues that Northwest had no basis to bring its declaratory judgment action. It argues that, despite the claim in its complaint, Northwest was not deterred from hiring American personnel by the threat of a lawsuit. Second, American argues that Northwest should be bound by the determination of the Texas court on the motion to transfer. American argues that Northwest is trying to circumvent the ruling of the Texas court. Northwest had the choice of moving for transfer in Texas or immediately moving for an injunction here. By choosing to move for transfer in Texas, it should be bound by the Texas court's decision.

Northwest replies that American also moved to transfer and has not acknowledged any binding effect, in the Texas litigation, of this court's order denying transfer. Northwest insists that American cannot argue that Northwest is bound by the determination of the Texas court without admitting that it is bound by the determination of this court. Northwest argues that American should not have opposed its motion to transfer in the Texas litigation.

IV.

In the absence of compelling circumstances, the district court first...

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  • BOATMEN'S FIRST NAT. BANK v. KAN. PUB. EMP. RET.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of Missouri
    • 12 Enero 1996
    ...plaintiff in the first-filed action raced to the courthouse to avoid litigating in another forum. Northwest Airlines, Inc. v. American Airlines, Inc., 792 F.Supp. 655, 658 (D.Minn.1992), aff'd, 989 F.2d 1002 (8th Cir.1993) (citations omitted). However, in determining whether to enjoin a par......
  • Whaley v. Esebag
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of Arkansas
    • 28 Agosto 2020
    ...to avoid litigating in another forum, or that the second action has developed further than the first." Nw. Airlines, Inc. v. Am. Airlines, Inc., 792 F.Supp. 655, 658 (D. Minn. 1992) (citations omitted), aff'd, 989 F.2d 1002 (8th Cir. 1993); accord Boatmen's First Nat'l Bank of Kan. City v. ......
  • Boatmen's First Nat. Bank of Kansas City v. Kansas Public Employees Retirement System
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit
    • 7 Junio 1995
    ...the suit was anticipatory or filed in bad faith or in a race to the courthouse. Id. at 1006-07; Northwest Airlines, Inc. v. American Airlines, Inc., 792 F.Supp. 655, 658-59 (D.Minn.1992), aff'd, 989 F.2d 1002 (8th Cir.1993). Before affirming the district court's application of the first-fil......
  • Northwest Airlines, Inc. v. American Airlines, Inc.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit
    • 6 Abril 1993
    ...21, 1992, to enjoin American from proceeding with the parallel action in Texas. The District Court granted the motion on June 24, 1992. 792 F.Supp. 655. In enjoining American from proceeding with its suit in Texas, the District Court found that "American ha[d] not shown that Northwest proce......
1 books & journal articles
  • Issues Relating to Parallel Litigation
    • United States
    • ABA Antitrust Library Business Torts and Unfair Competition Handbook Business tort litigation
    • 1 Enero 2014
    ...declaratory judgment action seeking ruling that no trade secrets existed in separate federal court); Northwest Airlines v. Am. Airlines, 792 F. Supp. 655 (D. Minn. 1992) (involving initial action by Northwest Airlines for declaratory judgment that hiring at-will employees was protected comm......

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