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VAN DUSEN V. BARRACK, 376 U. S. 612 (1964)

U.S. Supreme Court

Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612 (1964)

Van Dusen v. Barrack

Nos. 56 and 80

Argued January 8-9, 1964

Decided March 30, 1964

376 U.S. 612


Respondents, personal representatives of Pennsylvania decedents, instituted in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania 40 wrongful death actions arising from an airplane crash in Massachusetts. Acting on petitioners' motion under § 1404(a) of the Judicial Code of 1948, which provides for transfer of civil actions for the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, to any district where such action "might have been brought," the District Court ordered that the actions be transferred to the District of Massachusetts, where over 100 other actions arising out of the same disaster are pending. The Court of Appeals, interpreting § 1404(a) and relying on Rule 17(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, vacated the transfer order, holding that it could be granted only if, at the time the actions were filed, respondents were personal representatives qualified to sue in Massachusetts courts.


1. In § 1404(a), the phrase "where it might have been brought" must be construed with reference to federal venue laws setting forth the districts where such actions "may be brought," and not with reference to the laws, such as those relating to damages and the capacity of personal representatives to sue, of the State where the transferee district court is located. Pp. 376 U. S. 616-626.

2. In a case such as this, where the actions were properly brought in the transferor district court and where defendants seek transfer under § 1404(a), the change of venue should not be accompanied by a change in the governing state laws. Pp. 376 U. S. 626-640.

3. Where a § 1404(a) transfer is held not to effect a change of state law, but essentially only to authorize a change of federal courtrooms, the provision in Rule 17(b) that the capacity of personal representatives to sue or be sued shall be determined by the law of the State "in which the district court is held" should similarly be interpreted to refer to the law of the State in which the transferor District Court is located. Pp. 376 U. S. 640-643.

Page 376 U. S. 613

4. The general criteria of convenience and fairness of § 1404(a) include what witnesses may be heard, the evidence which will be relevant and important under the applicable state laws, and also consideration of the judicial familiarity with the governing state laws and the relative ease and practicality of trying the action in the proposed transferee District Court. Pp. 376 U. S. 643-646.

309 F.2d 953, reversed and remanded.

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