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Copiers Northwest v. Johnson

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

January 31, 2017

COPIERS NORTHWEST, Plaintiff,
v.
SCOTT JOHNSON, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO REMAND AND DENYING MOTION TO TRANSFER

          JAMES L. ROBART, United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Before the court are: (1) Plaintiff Copiers Northwest, Inc.'s (“Copiers Northwest”) motion to remand and request for costs and fees (Pl.'s Mot. (Dkt. # 4)) and (2) Defendant Scott Johnson's motion to transfer venue (Def.'s Mot. (Dkt. # 6)). The court has considered the motions, all submissions filed in support thereof and opposition thereto, the balance of the record, and the applicable law. Being fully advised, [1] the court GRANTS Copiers Northwest's motion, DENIES Copiers Northwest's request for costs and fees, and DENIES Mr. Johnson's motion to transfer.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Copiers Northwest is a Washington corporation with its principal office in Seattle, Washington. (Edelson Decl. (Dkt. # 7) ¶ 3, Ex. 2 at 1.)[2] Defendant Mr. Johnson is an Oregon resident who was employed by Copiers Northwest in Oregon from January, 2010, until August, 2016. (Johnson Decl. (Dkt. # 10) ¶¶ 2-5; Edelson Decl. ¶ 3, Ex. 2 at 1-2.)

         On January 25, 2010, Mr. Johnson signed Copiers Northwest's Employment Offer and Agreement with Non-Solicitation Covenant. (Johnson Decl. ¶ 5.) The agreement prevents Mr. Johnson from soliciting Copiers Northwest's customers or recruiting Copiers Northwest's employees following either party's termination of the employment agreement. (Edelson Decl. ¶ 3, Ex. 2 at 7-9.)[3] The agreement also contains a forum selection clause that specifies the King County Superior Court in the State of Washington as the venue for “any proceedings for injunctive relief or for enforcement of this Agreement . . . .” (Id. at 9.) Mr. Johnson did not prepare or modify the agreement. (Johnson Decl. ¶ 5.)

         Mr. Johnson performed the majority of his work for Copiers Northwest in Oregon, his customers were in Oregon, and at all relevant times he resided in Beaverton, Oregon. (Id. ¶ 2-3.) On or about August 1, 2016, Mr. Johnson left Copiers Northwest to work for a competitor. (Edelson Decl. ¶ 3, Ex. 2 at 2.)

         On August 10, 2016, Copiers Northwest filed a suit in the King County Superior Court to enforce Mr. Johnson's employment agreement. (Id. at 1.) On September 12, 2016, Mr. Johnson removed Copiers Northwest's suit to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). (Notice (Dkt. # 1) ¶ 3.) Copiers Northwest filed a motion on September 15, 2016, to remand the action back to King County Superior Court pursuant to the parties' forum selection clause. (Pl.'s Mot. at 1.) Mr. Johnson filed a motion to transfer the removed case to Oregon to consolidate the suit with one he had previously filed on August 1, 2016, in the United States District Court for the District of Oregon, Portland Division. (Def.'s Mot. at 2; Edelson Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 1.) Mr. Johnson's suit in Oregon seeks to enjoin enforcement of the non-solicitation clause of his employment agreement and to recover unpaid wages. (Edelson Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 1.)

         III. ANALYSIS

         The parties dispute the validity of the forum selection clause in Mr. Johnson's employment agreement and whether the clause governs this dispute. (Def.'s Reply (Dkt. # 17) at 4.) Because settled law establishes that the forum selection clause of Mr. Johnson's employment agreement is enforceable and controls this dispute, the court remands the case to King County Superior Court. The court's remand renders Mr. Johnson's motion for transfer moot, and the court declines to award Copiers Northwest attorney fees and costs because controlling Ninth Circuit authority forecloses such an award where the court's remand is based on a contractual forum selection clause.

         A. Copiers Northwest's Motion to Remand

         1. The Validity of the Forum Selection Clause

         The forum selection clause contained in the employment agreement is valid and controls this dispute. Federal law governs the enforceability of a forum selection clause. Peterson v. Boeing Co., 715 F.3d 276, 280 (9th Cir. 2013) (citing Manetti-Farrow, Inc. v. Gucci Am., Inc., 858 F.2d 509, 513 (9th Cir. 1988)). A forum selection clauses is prima facie valid and should not be set aside unless the party challenging enforcement can show that the clause is unreasonable under the circumstances. Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery, Inc. v. Barry-Wehmiller Design Grp., Inc., Case No. 16-cv-03200-JST, 2016 WL 4710194, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 6, 2016) (citing Pelleport Inv'rs, Inc. v. Budco Quality Theatres, Inc., 741 F.2d 273, 279 (9th Cir. 1984)). A forum selection clause is unreasonable under the circumstances if (1) its incorporation into the contract was the result of fraud, undue influence, or overweening bargaining power; (2) the selected forum is “so gravely difficult and inconvenient” that the complaining party will “for all practical purposes be deprived of its day in court”; or (3) enforcement of the forum selection clause would contravene a strong public policy of the forum in which the suit was brought. M/S Bremen v. Zapata Off-Shore Co., 407 U.S. 1, 12-18 (1972) (“The Bremen”); see also Tompkins v. 23andMe, Inc., 840 F.3d 1016, 1029-30 (9th Cir. 2016) (applying The Bremen factors).

         Mr. Johnson argues that the forum selection clause implicates all three of The Bremen factors. He argues that (1) because he was not on equal footing in negotiating with Copiers Northwest, and because he did not receive sufficient notice of the clause, [4]the forum selection clause is a result of undue influence and overweening bargaining power; (2) litigation in Washington would effectively deprive him of his day in court because of this court's inability to compel unwilling Oregon-based witnesses to testify; and (3) Oregon's ...


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