United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma
Shane Norrid, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, et al., Plaintiffs,
D.A.R.P., Inc., Raymond Jones, and Hendren Plastics, Inc., Defendants.
Honorable Ronald A. White United States District Judge
Eastern District of Oklahoma
the court is defendant Hendren Plastics, Inc.'s motion to
transfer venue (Docket No. 93). Because the court finds the
first-to-file rule applicable and further finds transfer to
be in the interest of justice under 28 U.S.C § 1404(a),
the motion to transfer venue is granted, and the case will be
transferred to the Western District of Arkansas.
October 23, 2017, Mark Fochtman and Shane O'Neal filed a
putative class action in Arkansas State Court. The case was
removed to the United States District Court for the Western
District of Arkansas and ordered amended. The amended class
action alleges that Defendants D.A.R.P. Inc.
(“DARP”) and Hendren Plastics, Inc.
(“Hendren”) contracted together to use
individuals on probation as involuntary laborers. The class
action alleges that this labor violated the Arkansas Minimum
Wage Act, Arkansas Constitution, Arkansas Human Trafficking
Act, and the Arkansas Civil Rights Action § 16-123-105.
Plaintiffs seek to represent all individuals who worked for
DARP in Arkansas from October 23, 2014 to the present and
wishes to recover unpaid back wages, liquidated damages,
punitive damages, and injunctive relief.
November 1, 2017, Plaintiffs Shane Norrid, et. al. filed a
putative class action in the United States District Court for
the Eastern District of Oklahoma. The instant class action
alleges that DARP, Hendren, and Raymond Jones, President of
DARP, contracted to force individuals on probation into
involuntary servitude in violation of Arkansas Minimum Wage
Act, Arkansas unjust enrichment laws, Oklahoma Trafficking
for Labor Act, Oklahoma fraud laws, Oklahoma wage laws, the
Fair Labor Standards Act, the Racketeer Influenced and
Corrupt Organizations Act, and the Trafficking Victims
Protection Act. Plaintiffs seek to represent all persons who
have worked for Hendren and DARP in Arkansas or Oklahoma
since November 1, 2007 and recover unpaid wages, liquidated
damages, punitive damages, injunctive relief, disgorgement,
attorney's fees, and costs.
court finds that the first-to-file rule provides an adequate
basis for transfer. Federal courts must be careful to not
interfere in one another's affairs so as “to avoid
the waste of duplication, to avoid rulings which may trench
upon the authority of sister courts, and to avoid piecemeal
resolution of issues that call for a uniform result."
Buzas Baseball, Inc. v. Board of Regents, 1999 U.S.
App. LEXIS 21630, at *6-7, (10th Cir. Sept. 2,
1999) (quoting Sutter Corp. v. P&P Indus., Inc.,
125 F.3d 914, 917 (5th Cir. 1997)). To aid in this goal, the
first-to-file rule allows a district court to decline
jurisdiction when a complaint raising the same issues against
the same parties has been previously filed in another
district court. Buzas Baseball, Inc., 1999 U.S. App.
LEXIS 21630, at *7. While the first-to-file rule is generally
enforced by the first court, the second court has the
discretion to transfer, stay, or dismiss the second case.
Wallace B. Roderick Revocable Living Trust v. XTO Energy,
Inc., 679 F.Supp.2d 1287, 1297 (D. Kan. 2010) (quoting
Cedars-Sinai Med. Ctr. v Shalala, 125 F.3d 765, 769
(9th Cir. 1997)). “The first-to-file rule applies when
three conditions are met: (1) chronology of the actions, (2)
similarity of the parties, and (3) similarity of the
issues.” Shannon's Rainbow, LLC v. Supernova
Media, Inc., 683 F.Supp.2d 1261, 1278 (D. Utah 2010)
(citing Alltrade, Inc. v. Uniweld Prods., Inc., 946
F.2d 622, 625 (9th Cir. 1991)).
Chronology of the Actions
in rem and in personam jurisdiction, jurisdiction relates
back to the filing of the complaint. Hospah Coal Co. v.
Chaco Energy Co., 673 F.2d 1161, 1163 (10th Cir. 1982)
(citing Product Engineering and Manufacturing, Inc. v.
Barnes, 424 F.2d 42 (10th Cir. 1970)). "When a
state action is removed to federal court, for first-to-file
purposes, the state court filing date is the date used."
Medspring Group, Inc. v. Atl. Healthcare Group,
Inc., 2006 WL 581018, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13443, at *9
(D. Utah March 6, 2006) (quoting Affinity Memory &
Micro, Inc. v. K & Q Enterprises, Inc., 20 F.Supp.2d
948, 954 n.10 (E.D. Virginia 1998)).
court finds that the case in the Western District of Arkansas
is the first-filed action, while the instant case is the
second-filed action. The Fochtman case was
indisputably filed before the Norrid case. Plaintiff
argues that Norrid should be considered the first
case, as Norrid is further along in its proceedings
than Fochtman. Even if true, procedural maturity is
irrelevant for purposes of evaluating the first-to-file rule.
As stated in Hospah, jurisdiction relates back to
the filing, not subsequent stages of the case. Thus, the
Fochtman case in the Western District of Arkansas
qualifies as the first-filed case.
Similarity of the Parties
require that parties be similar or substantially overlap one
another. Shannon's Rainbow, LLC, 683 F.Supp.2d
at 1279. Parties need not be identical. Id. at
1278-79. “Courts have held that proposed classes in
class action lawsuits are substantially similar where both
classes seek to represent at least some of the same
individuals." See Letbetter v. Local 514, Transp.
Workers Union of Am., 2014 WL 4403521, 2014 U.S. Dist.
LEXIS 123949, at *18 (N.D. Okla. September 5, 2014) (quoting
Wallerstein v. Dole Fresh Vegetables, Inc., 967
F.Supp.2d 1289, 1296 (N.D. Cal. 2013)).
are substantially similar. The Fochtman case
currently lists DARP and Hendren as defendants. In the
instant case, the defendants are Raymond Jones (President of
DARP), as well as DARP and Hendren. The court concludes that
Raymond Jones may be considered substantially similar to
DARP. Both are represented by the same counsel, and there is
no reason to believe that Mr. Jones, as president of DARP,
has any conflicting interests with DARP. See Cherokee
Nation v. Nash, 724 F.Supp.2d 1159, 1169 (N.D. Okla.
2010). Mr. Jones's position in the lawsuit may therefore
be considered identical to the position of DARP. See
id. As such, there is substantial overlap between
defendants in the two cases.
are substantially similar. Both this court and the Northern
District of Oklahoma have compared the putative classes, not
the named plaintiffs, for the purposes of the first-to-file
rule when the class has not yet been certified. See
Chieftain Royalty Co. v. XTO Energy, Inc.,
CIV-11-29-FHS, 2011 WL 1533073, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43704,
at *2 (E.D. Okla. Apr. 22, 2011); See Letbetter,
2014 WL 4403521, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 123949, at *15-16. The
proposed Norrid class seeks to represent DARP
participants who worked in either Oklahoma or Arkansas from
November 2007 to the present. The proposed Fochtman
class seeks to represent DARP participants who worked in
Arkansas from October 2014 to the present. Therefore, the
Fochtman putative class is a ...