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Back-Country Against Dumps v. Abbott

June 8, 2010

BACK-COUNTRY AGAINST DUMPS, THE PROTECT OUR COMMUNITIES FOUNDATION, EAST COUNTY COMMUNITY ACTION COALITION, AND DONNA TISDALE, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
JIM ABBOTT, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS CALIFORNIA STATE DIRECTOR OF THE UNITED STATES BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT, REN LOHOEFENER, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS PACIFIC SOUTHWEST REGIONAL DIRECTOR OF THE UNITED STATES FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE, KEN SALAZAR, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SECRETARY OF THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, ET AL., DEFENDANTS. AND SAN DIEGO GAS & ELECTRIC CO., INTERVENOR-DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Frank C. Damrell, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter is before the court on defendants' motion for transfer of venue pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).*fn1 Defendant-Intervenor San Diego Gas & Electric Company ("SDG&E") joins defendants' motion. (Docket #13.) Defendants do not challenge the propriety of venue in the Eastern District of California, but argue that the United States District Court for the Southern District of California is the more convenient forum. Plaintiffs oppose the motion arguing the balance of factors weigh heavily in their favor, meriting retention of the case in this district.

For the reasons set forth below, the court GRANTS defendants' motion. The court finds that there is little, if any, nexus between the claims alleged and the Eastern District of California. Instead, the complaint demonstrates that very substantial connections with the parties, the documents, the lands, and the resources at issue in the litigation exist with the Southern District of California. Accordingly, the court concludes that transferring the action to that court best serves the interests of justice.

BACKGROUND

This action concerns the Bureau of Land Management's ("BLM") approval of the Eastern San Diego County Resource Management Plan ("RMP"), along with an amendment to that plan, and approval of rights-of-way to construct and operate the Sunrise Powerlink Transmission Line Project ("Sunrise Project"), which is designed to deliver electricity to the San Diego area from renewable energy sources generated in San Diego and Imperial Counties. The action also challenges the related United States Fish and Wildlife Service ("FWS") biological opinions. The Sunrise Powerlink will run approximately 120 miles from Imperial Valley to San Diego. (Compl., filed Feb. 16, 2010.)

Plaintiffs are three community organizations and one individual, all based in, and residents of, San Diego County. The named defendants are the United States Department of the Interior ("DOI"), two agencies within the DOI, the BLM, the FWS, and six DOI officials sued in their official capacity. On April 9, 2010, the court approved a stipulation executed by plaintiffs, defendants, and SDG&E and issued an order granting SDG&E's intervention as a defendant. (Docket #7.)

Plaintiffs contend that in adopting the RMP and approving rights-of-way for the Sunrise Project, DOI did not comply with several federal environmental statutes, including the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321, et seq. (First and Fifth Claims for Relief), the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. §§ 1531-44 (Second and Seventh Claims for Relief), the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, 43 U.S.C. §§ 1701-85 (Third, Fourth, and Sixth Claims for Relief), the National Historic Preservation Act, 16 U.S.C. §§ 470 et seq. (Eighth Claim for Relief), and the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"), 5 U.S.C. § 706 (all Eight Claims for Relief). Plaintiffs request declaratory and injunctive relief with respect to these eight claims. Defendants filed an answer to the complaint on April 23, 2010. (Docket #11.) SDG&E answered the complaint on April 13, 2010. (Docket #9.)

The principal agency officials at BLM and FWS who prepared and approved many of the environmental documents at issue have their offices located in El Centro and Carlsbad, California, respectively, both within the Southern District. Four of the named DOI officials and all three of the named governmental entities reside, for venue purposes, in Washington, D.C. Only the BLM State Director, defendant Jim Abbott, and defendant Ren Lohoefener, the Regional Director of the FWS, reside in Sacramento. However, Lohoefener did not issue any decisions challenged in this action.

Significantly, all of the land and resources at issues lie exclusively in Imperial and San Diego Counties, both within the Southern District. Also, the majority of the documents to be included in the administrative record, and which may be addressed during court hearings in the case, are being complied from DOI offices in the Southern District.

STANDARD

Except as otherwise provided by law, a civil action against an agency of the United States or an officer or employee of the United States acting in his official capacity may be brought "in any judicial district in which (1) a defendant in the action resides, (2) a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred or a substantial part of property that is the subject of the action is situated, or (3) the plaintiff resides if no real property is involved in the action." 28 U.S.C. § 1391(e). Here, defendants concede that the Eastern District qualifies as a forum with permissible venue for this action because two named federal officials have their offices in Sacramento, California. However, they move for a change of venue based on 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).

Said statute provides: "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." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). In conducting an inquiry under Section 1404(a), the court examines whether the defendant seeking to transfer venue can "satisfy both of the following requirements: (1) the transferee district is one in which the action might have been brought originally; and (2) transfer will enhance the convenience of the parties and witnesses, and is in the interests of justice." Exact Identification Corp. v. Feldman Sherb & Co., No. Civ. S0502116 FCD/PAN, 2006 WL 236921, *1 (E.D. Cal. Jan. 31, 2006) (citing Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 616 (1964)).

The United States Supreme Court has explained that the purpose of Section 1404 is to permit a case to be transferred, despite its initial forum, where it presents "issues and requires witnesses that make one District Court more convenient than the another." Continental Grain Co. v. Barge FBL--585, 364 U.S. 19, 26 (1960). The statute "reflects an increased desire to have federal civil suits tried in the federal system at the place called for in the particular case by considerations of convenience and justice." Van Dusen, 376 U.S. at 616. Ultimately, the decision whether to transfer venue under Section 1404(a) is committed to the sound discretion of the district court and should be exercised in light of all the circumstances of a case. Decker Coal Co. v. Commonwealth Edison Co., 805 F.2d 834, 843 (9th Cir. 1986). Whether venue should be transferred depends on "individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness." Stewart Organization v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988) (quoting Van Dusen, 376 U.S. at 622). In rendering this decision, courts consider a ...


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