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IMS Global Learning Consortium, Inc. v. Schools Interoperability Framework Association

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

February 1, 2018

IMS GLOBAL LEARNING CONSORTIUM, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
SCHOOLS INTEROPERABILITY FRAMEWORK ASSOCIATION D/B/A ACCESS 4 LEARNING COMMUNITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER RE: DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO TRANSFER VENUE (DOCKET ENTRY # 33)

          MARIANNE B. BOWLER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Pending before this court is a motion to transfer this action to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio (“the Southern District of Ohio”) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) (“section 1404(a)”) filed by defendant Schools Interoperability Framework Association d/b/a Access 4 Learning Community (“SIF”). (Docket Entry # 33). Plaintiff IMS Global Learning Consortium, Inc. (“IMS”) opposes a transfer. (Docket Entry # 37). After conducting a hearing on January 11, 2018, this court took the motion (Docket Entry # 33) under advisement.

         BACKGROUND

         This action arises out of purportedly false and misleading advertising in violation of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a), by SIF, which “prepares educational data standards” for “the collection, storage, and use of educational data.” (Docket Entry # 1, p. 1) (Docket Entry # 34-2). The verified complaint also includes two statutory and two common law claims under Massachusetts law. (Docket Entry # 1).

         IMS, a Delaware corporation which is registered to do business in Massachusetts, also develops standards for use of educational data. (Docket Entry ## 1, 34-2). IMS and SIF “are comprised of members from school districts, government agencies, and corporations” and they “collaborate on the Common Education Data Standards, ” an “education data management initiative” designed “to streamline the understanding of data” across educational institutions. (Docket Entry # 1, pp. 2-4). IMS and SIF produce “standards and technology for a data transfer framework” and are direct competitors. (Docket Entry # 1, p. 4). According to its website, SIF “offers state-wide implementation of its specifications in 12 states including Massachusetts.” (Docket Entry # 37-1).

         In November 2016, SIF, a District of Columbia corporation with three employees, published “Educational Technical Standards 101, ” which the parties refer to as the “White Paper.” (Docket Entry # 1, Ex. A) (Docket Entry # 1, p. 5) (Docket Entry # 34-2). IMS alleges that the White Paper, a “slide deck, ” and SIF's website include false statements and misrepresentations harmful to IMS. (Docket Entry # 1, pp. 5-10). In March 2017, the Australian Ministry of Education, a longtime IMS member, refused to renew its annual contract with IMS.

         SIF does not have an office in Massachusetts. Although “[i]t has a small office in Washington, D.C., . . . its main operating presence is in Columbus, Ohio, ” where Larry Furth (“Furth”), the executive director of SIF, lives and works. (Docket Entry # 34-2). A second employee, John Lovell (“Lovell”) lives and works in Bellingham, Washington, and a third employee, Penny Murray (“Murray”), lives and works in England. (Docket Entry # 34-2). Furth was the primary author and editor of the White Paper. Working in Columbus, Furth collected and implemented various comments and revisions suggested by reviewers across the United States into the final document. (Docket Entry # 34-2). “The preparation of the Whitepaper and its posting on the Internet occurred entirely outside Massachusetts, mainly in Ohio.” (Docket Entry # 34-2).

         IMS is located in Lake Mary, Florida. Rob Abel, Ed.D. (“Abel”), the company's chief executive officer, resides in Florida and lives near Orlando. (Docket Entry # 34-2). The company conducts “board meetings across the country” and held one such board meeting in Massachusetts in June 2017. Comprised of 16 employees, IMS has 19 members in Massachusetts and six members in Ohio. (Docket Entry # 37-1). One employee, Tracy Fandel (“Fandel”), IMS' finance and administration manager, “works out of an office in Massachusetts.”[1] (Docket Entry # 37-1). Abel regularly communicates with Fandel. SIF distributed the White Paper by email in a press release on November 16, 2016. Fandel, in turn, forwarded the press release and the White Paper by email to Abel the following day. (Docket Entry # 37-1).

         “[T]he direct distance between Orlando, Florida and Columbus, Ohio is 711 miles.” (Docket Entry # 34-1, pp. 1-2). The direct distance between Orlando and Boston is 1, 115 miles. (Docket Entry # 34-1).

         DISCUSSION

         Arguing that the connections of this case to Massachusetts are nonexistent, SIS moves to transfer the action to the Southern District of Ohio. (Docket Entry ## 34, 39). As a plaintiff, IMS maintains that its choice of the Massachusetts forum is afforded weight and “there is a presumption in favor of” its choice. (Docket Entry # 37).

         The appropriate mechanism to transfer a case is section 1404(a) where, as here, “the chosen forum is within the federal system.” Aurora Casket Co., LLC v. Caribbean Funeral Supply, Corp., CV 16-2937 (GAG/BJM), 2017 WL 5633102, at *2 (D.P.R. Nov. 22, 2017). Section 1404(a) affords this court discretion “to adjudicate motions for transfer according to an ‘individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness.'” Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29, (1988); accord Baskin-Robbins Fran. LLC v. Alpenrose Dairy, Inc., 825 F.3d 28, 41 n.7 (1st Cir. 2016) (section 1404(a) transfer motion is “addressed to the district court's sound discretion”); Astro-Med, Inc. v. Nihon Kohden Am., Inc., 591 F.3d 1, 12 (1st Cir. 2009).

         The initial inquiry is “‘whether the case “might have been brought” in the suggested transferee district.'” Group-A Autosports, Inc. v. Billman, CA 14-10884-JGD, 2014 WL 3500468, at *2 (D. Mass. July 9, 2014) (quoting section 1404(a)); 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). The Southern District of Ohio is a court where this action “may have been brought” inasmuch as the majority of the alleged misconduct in preparing and posting the White Paper took place in Columbus.

         In assessing a venue transfer under section 1404(a), the court considers a number of private and public interest factors. Garcia-Tatupu v. Bert Bell/Peter Rozelle NFL Player Ret. Plan, 249 F.Supp.3d 570, 576 (D. Mass. 2017). The applicable factors “include 1) the plaintiff's choice of forum, 2) the relative convenience of the parties, 3) the convenience of the witnesses and location of documents, 4) any connection between the forum and the issues, 5) the law to be applied and 6) the state or public interests at stake.” Avci v. Brennan, 232 F.Supp.3d 216, 219 (D. Mass. 2017); accord Kleinerman v. Luxtron Corp., 107 F.Supp.2d ...


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