The Judicial Code of 1948, 28 U.S.C.S. § 1404(a), allows a change of venue within the federal judicial system, and provides that: For the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought.
Forty wrongful death actions were brought in the district court by petitioner personal representatives of victims of an airplane crash. Petitioners relied upon 28 U.S.C.S. § 1404(a), which authorized the transfer of a civil action to any other district "where it might have been brought," and moved to transfer the actions to the district where over 100 other similar actions were pending. Petitioners sought review of the court of appeals’ decision, which overturned the district court’s grant of transfer to them and held that transfer, under the Judicial Code of 1948, 28 U.S.C.S. § 1404(a), could only be granted if at the time the suits were brought, respondents were qualified to sue in the state of the transferee court. The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the order of the court of appeals and remanded to the district court to reconsider the motion to transfer.
Was the court of appeals correct when it held that the transfer of a civil action could only be granted if at the time the actions were filed petitioners were qualified to sue in the state of the transferee district court?
Both the history and purpose of 28 U.S.C.S. § 1404(a) indicated it was a federal judicial housekeeping measure intended, based on convenience and fairness, simply to authorize a change of courtrooms. Therefore, when petitioners sought transfer, the transferee court was obligated to apply the state law that would have been applied if there had been no change of venue. Fed. R. Civ. P. 17(b) provided that, for personal representatives, capacity to sue or be sued should be determined by law of the state in which the district court sat, that would otherwise be the source of the applicable laws. Fed. R. Civ. P. 17(b) should not be interpreted to force denial of 28 U.S.C.S. § 1404(a) transfer. Fed. R. Civ. P. 17(b) was intended to work an accommodation of interests within the federal system.