United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
HEATHER SMITH, individually and on behalf of all those similarly situated, Plaintiff,
OASIS LEGAL FINANCE, LLC d/b/a OASIS FINANCE, Defendant.
VIRGINIA M. HERNANDEZ COVINGTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes before the Court upon consideration of Defendant
Oasis Legal Finance, LLC's Motion to Dismiss Amended
Complaint and to Strike Class Allegations (Doc. # 14), filed
on October 10, 2017. Plaintiff Heather Smith responded on
October 23, 2017. (Doc. # 16). For the reasons that follow,
the Motion is granted to the extent the case is dismissed
pursuant to the doctrine of forum non conveniens.
entered a litigation funding agreement, which she
characterizes as a loan, with Oasis Legal in May of 2016.
(Doc. # 10 at 3; Doc. # 10-1 at 2). The agreement specified
Oasis Legal would give Smith $1, 140 to fund a lawsuit in
which Smith was represented. (Doc. # 10 at 3). In return,
Smith agreed to pay a portion of the proceeds from that
pending litigation - a provision Smith interprets as imposing
an unlawfully high interest rate between 33.44% and 71.42%.
(Id.). The agreement also included a forum selection
clause and choice of law provision, which state in relevant
This Purchase Agreement, and all lawsuits, disputes, claims,
or proceedings arising out of or relating to this Purchase
Agreement or the relationships that result from this Purchase
Agreement, shall be governed, construed and enforced in
accordance with the laws of the State of Florida.
The Parties hereby irrevocably and unconditionally consent to
submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Circuit Court of
Cook County, Illinois for any disputes, claims or other
proceedings arising out of or relating to this Purchase
Agreement, or the relationships that result from this
Purchase Agreement, and agree not to commence any such
lawsuit, dispute, claim or other proceeding except in the
Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois.
(Doc. # 10-1 at 6).
the agreement specified: “THE PARTIES ALSO WAIVE ANY
RIGHT TO HAVE HANDLED AS A CLASS ACTION ANY PROCEEDING ON ANY
LAWSUIT, DISPUTE, CLAIM, OR CONTROVERSY ARISING OUT OF THIS
AGREEMENT . . . .” (Id.). Smith's attorney
for that litigation also signed an “Attorney
Acknowledgement, ” acknowledging that he received a
copy of the agreement and that there was no other source of
funding for the litigation to the attorney's knowledge.
(Doc. # 10-2 at 6).
August 21, 2017, Smith initiated this action in the
Thirteenth Judicial Circuit, in and for Hillsborough County,
Florida. (Doc. # 2). Oasis Legal removed the case to this
Court on September 19, 2017. (Doc. # 1). The next day, Oasis
Legal filed a Motion to Dismiss and Strike Class Allegations,
arguing the case should be dismissed for improper venue and
the class allegations should be stricken based on the
agreement's forum selection and class action clauses.
(Doc. # 5).
filed her Amended Complaint on October 3, 2017, again
asserting claims for unjust enrichment and violation of
Florida's Interest, Usury, and Lending Practices Act and
Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, as
well as for declaratory relief under Florida's Consumer
Finance Act. (Doc. # 10). She seeks this relief on behalf of
herself and all others who entered similar agreements with
Oasis Legal in Florida beginning on August 21, 2013.
(Id. at 5-6). Oasis Legal then filed its Motion to
Dismiss Amended Complaint and to Strike Class Allegations on
October 10, 2017, (Doc. # 14), to which Smith has responded.
(Doc. # 16). The Motion is ripe for review.
Venue is proper in the Middle District of Florida, but
dismissal under the doctrine of forum non conveniens is still
Oasis Legal argues that the case should be dismissed for
improper forum pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6). (Doc. # 14 at 6). Oasis Legal insists that
“[p]ursuant to the agreement's broad, comprehensive
exclusive venue provision, any forum other than the Circuit
Court of Cook County is improper.” (Id.).
Because Oasis Legal refers to an improper forum rather than
improper venue, it is unclear whether Oasis Legal is arguing
that venue does not properly lie in the Middle District of
Florida under the federal statutory venue provisions. See
Trafalgar Capital Specialized Inv. Fund (In Liquidation) v.
Hartman, 878 F.Supp.2d 1274, 1286 (S.D. Fla.
2012)(“A forum selection clause does not, by itself,
render venue in an alternative forum improper, as venue is
improper only if the statutory venue requirements . . . have
not been satisfied.” (quoting Eres N.V. v. Citgo
Asphalt Ref. Co., 605 F.Supp.2d 473, 479 (S.D.N.Y.
as that is Oasis Legal's argument, Smith contends that
venue is proper in the Middle District of Florida because
Oasis Legal removed the case to this Court. (Doc. # 16 at 6).
Indeed, 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) prescribes that a state
action is properly removed “to the district court of
the United States for the district and division embracing the
place where such action is pending.” 28 U.S.C. §
1441(a). “[Section] 1441(a), by requiring removal to
the district court for the district in which the state action
is pending, properly fixes the federal venue in that
district. Thus, once a case is properly removed to federal
court, a defendant cannot move to dismiss on § 1391
venue grounds.” Hollis v. Fla. State Univ.,
259 F.3d 1295, 1299 (11th Cir. 2001). Venue is proper in the
Middle District of Florida because Oasis Legal removed the