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Peters v. Inmate Services Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio

January 11, 2018

MICHAEL PETERS, Plaintiff,
v.
INMATE SERVICES CORP., Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER [Resolving Doc. 22]

          JAMES S. GWIN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In this class action involving the negligent transportation of detainees and prisoners, Defendant Inmate Services Corporation (“Inmate Services”) moves this Court to transfer the case to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas (Jonesboro).[1]

         For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendant's motion to transfer.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Michael Peters, an Ohio resident, filed this action in the Cuyahoga Court of Common Pleas on July 5, 2017.[2] Defendant Inmate Services removed the action to this Court on August 8, 2017.[3]

         In his complaint, Plaintiff Peters alleges that Defendant Inmate Services took custody of him pursuant to an extradition order and then circuitously transported him handcuffed for five straight days through several states.[4] During that time, Defendant allegedly failed to provide Peters a shower, a bed, adequate physical exercise, sufficient breaks, medical care, or opportunities to attend to basic hygiene.[5]

         Peters brings claims for negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress.[6] In addition to damages, Peters seeks declaratory and injunctive relief.[7] Peters also seeks to certify a class of detainees or prisoners whom Defendant Inmate Services took custody of and transported for trips greater than 24 hours in length.[8] This class has not yet been certified.

         About eight months before Peters filed suit, on November 15, 2016, Danzel Stearns filed a complaint in the Eastern District of California against Defendant Inmate Services in connection with the conditions of his own custody and transportation.[9] On December 6, 2016, the Eastern District of California transferred the case to the Eastern District of Arkansas because Defendant is located there.[10] The Order does not say that any of the parties had moved to transfer.[11]

         In his earlier-filed complaint, Stearns alleges that Defendant Inmate Services took custody of him pursuant to a warrant and then transported him handcuffed for 200 continuous hours through 13 states.[12] During that time, Stearns alleges Defendant Inmate Services allegedly did not allow Stearns to wash his hands, change clothes, use the toilet regularly, or sleep on a bed.[13]

         Stearns brings claims under Section 1983 for Fourth, Eighth, and/or Fourteenth Amendment violations and a California state law claim, which provides a cause of action for another's interference with one's constitutional rights.[14] Stearns seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, in addition to damages.[15] Stearns also seeks to certify a class of inmates whom Defendant transported on or after November 7, 2014 for more than 48 continuous hours.[16] The class would include subclasses of inmates subject to certain conditions during transportation for more than 48, 72, 96, 120, 144, 168, and 192 hours.[17] No class or subclass has been certified yet in Stearns.[18]

         Defendant Inmate Services argues that the Court should transfer this case to the Eastern District of Arkansas (Jonesboro) under the first-to-file rule.[19] Plaintiff has not filed any opposition to Defendant's motion. Plaintiff filed a report stating he is unable to determine whether to oppose Defendant's motion because Defendant has not provided him with his requested discovery.[20]

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

“The first-to-file rule is a well-established doctrine that encourages comity among federal courts of equal rank. The rule provides that when actions involving nearly identical parties and issues have been filed in two different district courts, ‘the court in which the first suit was filed should generally proceed to judgment.'”[21]

         When the first-to-file rule has been properly raised, a district court presiding over the second-filed case has four options: (1) dismiss the case without prejudice; (2) transfer the second-filed case to the district in which the first-filed case is pending; (3) stay proceedings in the second-filed case while the first-filed court decides whether to retain or relinquish jurisdiction; or (4) proceed without interruption.[22]

         In deciding whether to transfer a case pursuant to the first-to-file rule, the Court looks to three factors: (1) the chronology of the actions; (2) the similarity of the parties involved; and (3) the similarity of the issues at stake.[23] If these three factors are satisfied, the Court must still determine “whether any equitable considerations, such as evidence of ‘inequitable conduct, bad faith, anticipatory suits, [or] forum shopping, ' merit not applying the first-to-file rule in a particular case.”[24] District courts maintain discretion to decline to apply the first-to-file rule.[25]

         III. ANALYSIS

         The Court transfers this case to the Eastern District of Arkansas (Jonesboro) under the first-to-file rule.[26]

         A. Chronology of Events

         The first factor is satisfied. The Stearns case was filed on November 15, 2016. The instant case was filed in state court on July 5, 2017 and then removed to this Court on August 8, 2017.

         B. Similarity of Parties

         Second, similar parties are involved in both cases. “The first-to-file rule applies when the parties in the two actions ‘substantial[ly] overlap, ' even if they are not perfectly identical.”[27] To start, Inmate Services is a defendant in both actions.

         In addition, the plaintiffs in both cases are substantially similarly situated. Where neither relevant case has a certified class, the Sixth Circuit has held that courts must “evaluate the identity of the parties by looking at overlap with the putative ...


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