United States District Court, D. Maryland
ERIK T. HARRIS, Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS AND ROBERT A. McDONALD, SECRETARY, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION [DKT. #51]
RICHARD J. LEON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Erik T. Harris ("plaintiff) brings this action against
the United States Department of Veterans Affairs and the
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald
("defendants"). In his three-count complaint,
plaintiff alleges that defendants violated the Family and
Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), a statute that entitles
eligible employees to take periods of leave under certain
circumstances. See Compl. [Dkt. #1]. Presently
before the Court is defendants' motion to dismiss
plaintiffs claims or, in the alternative, to transfer this
case to the United States District Court for the District of
Maryland. Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss or in the Alternative to
Transfer [hereinafter "Defs.' Mot."] [Dkt. #5].
Upon consideration of the parties' pleadings, the
relevant law, and the entire record herein, defendants'
motion to transfer is GRANTED, and the Court does not reach
the remainder of the parties' arguments.
2012, plaintiff was hired to work for the United States
Department of Veterans Affairs ("VA"). Compl.
¶ 10. By September 2013, plaintiff was working as a
director of operations at the VA's Acquisition Academy in
Frederick, Maryland. Compl. ¶ 11. Plaintiff claims that
at no point during his tenure at the VA was he educated about
or informed of his rights under the FMLA. Compl. ¶ 19.
Plaintiff alleges that on September 23, 2013, he requested
emergency family medical leave related to his minor son's
medical needs but that plaintiffs supervisor Cliff Blount
denied the request. Compl. ¶¶ 12-14. Plaintiff
states that he then took unapproved leave and that, when he
returned to work, he was reprimanded for taking the leave.
Compl. ¶ 21. Thereafter, plaintiff claims, his
supervisors "harass[ed], humiliate[ed], and
bull[ied]" him, making it "difficult for plaintiff
to perform his duties." Compl. ¶ 22. Plaintiff
states that he then was the subject of an "adverse
employment decision in August 2015." Compl. ¶ 23.
Plaintiff further alleges his supervisors continue to engage
in abusive conduct towards him. Compl. ¶ 24.
filed his complaint in this Court on September 22, 2015.
Plaintiff argues his supervisors' actions violated the
FMLA by (1) interfering with plaintiffs FMLA rights, (2)
retaliating against plaintiff for exercising his FMLA rights,
and (3) creating a hostile work environment. See
Compl. ¶¶ 25-41. He claims defendants are liable
for his supervisors' actions because his supervisors
acted at all relevant times in the course and scope of their
employment with defendants. Compl. ¶ 8. On December 14,
2015, defendants filed a motion to dismiss for lack of
subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(1) or for failure to state a claim pursuant
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Defs.' Mot.
1. In the alternative, defendants request that this Court
transfer this case to the United States District Court for
the District of Maryland, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1404(a). Defs.' Mem. of P&A in Supp. of Defs.'
Mot. to Dismiss or in the Alternative to Transfer 7-9
[hereinafter "Defs.' Mem."] [Dkt.
Plaintiff opposed defendants' motion and also moved for
leave to amend his complaint to include his supervisors as
defendants. Pls.' Mem. of Law in Opp'n to Defs.'
Mot. to Dismiss or Transfer 4 [Dkt. #7].
Court begins and ends with defendants' request that this
case be transferred to the District of Maryland. Claims
brought under the FMLA are subject to the general venue
provision, which is codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1391.
James v. Verizon Servs. Corp., 639 F.Supp.2d 9, 15
(D.D.C. 2009). Accordingly, this action could have been
in any judicial district in which (A) a defendant in the
action resides, (B) 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 (C) the plaintiff resides if no real property is
involved in the action.
28 U.S.C. § 1391(e) (governing venue for actions in
which a defendant is "an officer or employee of the
United States or any agency thereof acting in his official
capacity or under color of legal authority, or an agency of
the United States, or the United States"). "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 or to any district or division to which all parties
have consented." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).
decision whether or not to transfer the case to another
judicial district pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) is
discretionary, " In re DRC, Inc., 358
F.App'x. 193, 194 (D.C. Cir. 2009), and "[t]he
moving party carries the burden of showing that transfer is
warranted, " New Hope Power Co. v. U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers, 724 F.Supp.2d 90, 94 (D.D.C. 2010).
Because "transfer under § 1404(a) is restricted to
those venues in which the action 'might have been
brought, '" the first question for the Court is
whether the potential transferee court is a proper venue
under 28 U.S.C. § 1391. Id. If so, the Court
then undergoes a "factually analytical, case-by-case
determination of convenience and fairness, " SEC v.
Savoy Indus. Inc., 587 F.2d 1149, 1154 (D.C. Cir. 1978),
by balancing "case-specific factors related to the
public interest of justice and the private interests of the
parties and witnesses." Montgomery v. STG Int'l,
Inc., 532 F.Supp.2d 29, 32 (D.D.C. 2008).
the private interest factors usually considered by courts
are: l)the plaintiffs choice of forum, 2) the defendant's
choice of forum, 3) where the claim arose, 4) the convenience
of the parties, 5) the convenience of the witnesses,
particularly if important witnesses may actually be
unavailable to give live trial testimony in one of the
districts, and 6) the ease of access to sources of proof.
New Hope Power Co., 724 F.Supp.2d at 94-95. Public
interest factors typically include: 1) the local interest in
making local decisions about local controversies, 2) the
potential transferee court's familiarity with the
applicable law, and 3) the congestion of the transferee court
compared to that of the transferor court. Id. at 95.
Transfer is warranted where "the balance of private
considerations of the parties of convenience and fairness and
public concerns, such as systemic integrity, weigh in its
seek transfer to the District of Maryland. Because Maryland
is where;'a substantial part of the events or
omissions giving rise to the claim occurred, " plaintiff
could have brought this case in the District of Maryland. 28
U.S.C. § 1391(e)(1). Moreover, the private interest
factors weigh in favor of transfer. Although "[c]ourts
give considerable deference to the plaintiffs choice of
forum, " which here, of course, is the United States
District Court for the District of Columbia, "[t]hat
deference ... is lessened when plaintiffs forum choice
'lacks meaningful ties to the controversy and [has] no
particular interest in the parties or subject
matter."' S. Utah Wilderness All. v.
Norton, 315 F.Supp.2d 82, 86 (D.D.C. 2004) (quoting
Islamic Republic of Iran v. Boeing Co., 477 F.Supp.
142, 144 (D.D.C. 1979)); see also Hunter v. Johanns,
517 F.Supp.2d 340, 344 (D.D.C. 2007) ("The presumption
is weakened, though, when the forum is not plaintiffs home
forum and most of the relevant events occurred
elsewhere.")- Here, plaintiff resides in Virginia.
Compl. ¶ 6 (referencing the caption). And although the
VA headquarters and Secretary McDonald's office are in
Washington, D.C., the alleged operative events giving rise to
plaintiffs claims occurred in Maryland. Compl. ¶ 11;
see also Blount Aff. ¶¶ 4-6. Further, the
Court has no cause to believe that the District of Maryland
would be an inconvenient venue for the parties in terms of
travel time or expenses, and Maryland would certainly be more
convenient for the potential witnesses-plaintiffs coworkers
and supervisors who work in Maryland-and for access to
plaintiffs employment records, which are stored in Maryland.
Blount Aff. ¶ 7.
the public interests are either neutral or lean towards
transfer. The District of Maryland is, of course, familiar
with the FMLA, and all federal courts are "competent to
decide federal issues correctly.'" Sierra Club
v. Flowers,276 F.Supp.2d 62, 70 n.6 (D.D.C. 2003). The
parties do not address the relative congestion of the
District of Columbia and the District of Maryland, but
"[t]he court has no reason to suspect that the District
of Maryland's docket could not accommodate this
case" or that "a transfer to the District of
Maryland would lead to unnecessary delay." Barham v.
UBS Fin. Servs.,496 F.Supp.2d 174, 180 (D.D.C. 2007).
And Maryland's local interest in this matter is certainly
greater than the District of ...