This cause comes before the Court pursuant to CL Verify's Motion to Transfer Venue to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey (Doc. # 40) and Third-Party Defendants Martin Romain and Mark O. Wilhelm, II's Motion for Leave to File Motion for Sanctions Against Plaintiff CL Verify, LLC (Doc. # 44). Chex Systems, Inc., Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart, P.A., David M. Wells, Martin Romain, and Mark O. Wilhelm, II have filed a Memorandum in Opposition to the Motion to Transfer Venue (Doc. # 42). CL Verify filed an Opposition to the Motion for Leave to File Motion for Sanctions Against It (Doc. # 47). For the reasons that follow, the Motion to Transfer Venue is granted and the Motion for Leave to File Motion for Sanctions is denied.
On November 4, 2010, Chex filed a Complaint against CL Verify and DP Bureau, LLC. (Doc. # 1). In the Complaint, Chex asserts a claim against CL Verify for breach of the Resale Agreement ("CL Verify Resale Agreement") with Chex based on: (i) the Defendants' alleged failure to obtain prior written authorization from Chex before assigning certain end user agreements to other resellers, i.e., MicroBilt (Doc. # 1 at ¶¶ 17-22); (ii) the Defendants' alleged failure to contribute certain information to Chex and to obtain each end user's written consent for such data contribution (Doc. # 1 at ¶¶ 23-29); and (iii) CL Verify's purported failure to pay outstanding invoices to Chex (Doc. # 1 at ¶¶ 30-38).
On November 29, 2010, CL Verify and DP Bureau filed their Answer and Affirmative Defenses to Chex' Complaint as well as CL Verify's Counterclaim against Chex and a Third-Party Complaint against Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart, P.A., David M. Wells, Martin Romain, and Mark O. Wilhelm, II. (Doc. # 9).
In its Counterclaim, CL Verify alleges that through a series of corporate transactions, including a merger, CL Verify and its subsidiary, CL Verify Credit Solutions, LLC ("Solutions"), became wholly owned subsidiaries of MicroBilt on August 31, 2010, and that Chex began to refuse MicroBilt's requests for "sub codes" for end users of CL Verify and Solutions in mid-October 2010. (Doc. # 9 at ¶¶ 20 & 28). CL Verify alleges that such failure breached the Microbilt-Chex contract (the "MicroBilt Resale Agreement") and damaged CL Verify and Solutions as third-party beneficiaries of the MicroBilt Resale Agreement. (Id. at ¶ 32). CL Verify further alleges that by publishing information regarding the end users of CL Verify and Solutions in connection with its Complaint, Chex has tortiously interfered with the business relationships of CL Verify and Solutions with their end users, violated Florida's Uniform Trade Secrets Act ("UTSA"), and that the violation of the UTSA was willful and malicious. (Id. at ¶¶ 34-37, 39-44). In the Third-Party Complaint, CL Verify contends, inter alia, that the Third-Party Defendants misappropriated the trade secret of CL Verify and Solutions in violation of Florida's UTSA and that the violation of the UTSA was willful and malicious. (Id. at ¶¶ 5-9).
On February 17, 2011, CL Verify filed a motion to amend its Counterclaim seeking to add the Third-Party Defendants as additional parties to the Counterclaim pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 13(h) and 20. Therein, CL Verify recognized that it had erred in fashioning its claims against the Third-Party Defendants as a Third-Party Complaint in that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allow for the filing of third-party complaints only for a claim of indemnification or contribution for the damages alleged against the defendants by the plaintiff. (Doc. # 27).
On March 18, 2011, MicroBilt filed a voluntary petition for relief under chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code and, on March 23, 2011, CL Verify filed a voluntary petition for relief under chapter 11. The two bankruptcy cases have been consolidated. MicroBilt and CL Verify continue to operate their businesses and manage their properties as debtors-in-possession pursuant to §§ 1107(a) and 1108 of the Bankruptcy Code. On March 24, 2011, CL Verify filed its Suggestion of Bankruptcy with the Court advising this Court of the filing of its bankruptcy petition. (Doc. # 37).
On March 30, 2011, this Court entered its Order staying the civil action as to CL Verify pursuant to the provisions of 11 U.S.C. § 362. (Doc. # 38).
CL Verify seeks entry of an order pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1412 and 1404(a)*fn1 transferring venue of this civil action to the New Jersey District Court for automatic referral to the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of New Jersey to be adjudicated as an adversary proceeding in CL Verify's chapter 11 bankruptcy case.
This civil action is related to CL Verify and MicroBilt's consolidated chapter 11 case pending in the New Jersey Bankruptcy Court.*fn2 This case involves issues related to purported defaults under the CL Verify Resale Agreement between CL Verify and Chex, as well as CL Verify's claim for injury against Chex as a third-party beneficiary of the MicroBilt Resale Agreement.*fn3 These matters represent the primary assets and liabilities of the CL Verify bankruptcy estate. As such, the claims of this civil action are within the jurisdiction of the Bankruptcy Court and have a clear and direct impact on property of the bankruptcy estate under 11 U.S.C. § 541 and the administration of the bankruptcy estate. Accordingly, the interests of justice mandate that venue be transferred to the New Jersey District Court where it may be referred to the New Jersey Bankruptcy Court. As such, the Motion to Transfer Venue (Doc. # 40) is granted.
III. Motion for Leave to File Motion for Sanctions
Third-party Defendants Martin Romain and Mark O. Wilhelm, II seek leave to file a motion for sanctions against CL Verify, LLC for not dismissing or withdrawing its claims against the movants in the Third-Party Complaint.
While the Eleventh Circuit has not directly addressed the issue, movants argue that a proceeding to impose sanctions under Rule 11 is exempt from the automatic stay provided by § 362(a) of the Bankruptcy Code because it represents an exercise of governmental police or regulatory power. See 11 ...