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AIRPORT WORKING GROUP OF ORANGE COUNTY v. U.S. DEPT. OF DEFENSE

October 22, 2002

AIRPORT WORKING GROUP OF ORANGE COUNTY, INC., ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
V.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ellen Segal Huvelle, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Defendants have moved, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), to transfer venue in this case to the United States District Court for the Central District of California, Southern Division, which is located in Orange County. Based on the pleadings, as well as the facts that plaintiffs have asked the Court to take judicial notice of, the Court grants this motion because the action originally could have been brought in the Central District of California and an analysis of the factors bearing on the convenience of parties and witnesses and the interest of justice supports a transfer to that forum.

BACKGROUND

The underlying issue in this case relates to the disposal of surplus federal property at the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro ("El Toro") in Orange County. Plaintiffs are three organizations and the president of one of the organizations, and each of them resides in or is based in Orange County, California. The primary goal of the organizations is to develop and implement long-term solutions to aviation demand in Orange County, principally by converting El Toro into a commercial airport in order to divert air traffic away from their neighborhood. Defendants are federal departments, agencies and agency officials, including the Department of Defense and the Department of the Navy, which have their official residence for venue purposes in the District of Columbia. Plaintiffs have challenged a decision by the Department of Navy, consistent with a recent ballot initiative approved by Orange County voters, designating the land for a "great park" and mixed-use development. (Defendants' Memorandum in Support of Motion to Transfer Venue ("Defs.' Mem.") at 4-5.) The closure of El Toro was recommended in September 1993, pursuant to the Defense Base Reuse and Realignment Act of 1990, as amended, 10 U.S.C. § 2867. El Toro contains 4,738 acres of land in central Orange County. Approximately 3,741 acres were declared surplus to federal needs. The remaining 997 acres are being transferred to other federal agencies. (Compl. ¶¶ 19-20.) The future use of El Toro was the subject of three California ballot initiatives between 1994 and 2000, in addition to the ballot initiative entitled "Measure W," which approved the "great park" plan. (Compl. ¶¶ 28, 30, 34.)

Before issuing its final decision on the disposal and reuse of El Toro, the Navy, pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 4312, et seq., prepared an environmental impact statement assessing five alternatives. It received public comments regarding the proposed alternatives before completing the Final Environmental Impact Statement ("FEIS"). The Record of Decision ("ROD"), formalizing the Navy's decision regarding El Toro, was signed by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Installations and Facilities. See Record of Decision for Disposal and Reuse of the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, Orange County and Irvine, CA, 67 Fed. Reg. 20961, 2002 WL 737201 (Apr. 29, 2002). (Defs.' Mem. at 4.) According to defendants, "the Navy staff who [] worked to prepare the environmental impact statement and Record of Decision" are located in Orange Country. (Defendants' Reply Memorandum in Support of Motion to Transfer Venue (Reply) at 4.)

In the underlying action, plaintiffs challenge defendants' compliance with NEPA and the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. § 7401, et seq., and request declaratory and injunctive relief. Specifically, plaintiffs argue that the potential environmental impact of the mixed, non-aviation land use options addressed in the Navy's FEIS do not provide an accurate assessment of the environmental impact of the proposed use of the property as described by the ROD. (Compl. ¶¶ 16-18.)

ANALYSIS

Defendants seek to transfer this case to the United States District Court for the Central District of California, Southern Division, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), which provides:

For the convenience of the 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.

Under this statute, the moving party bears the burden of establishing that transfer is proper. Trout Unlimited v. United States Dep't. of Agriculture, 944 F. Supp. 13, 16 (D.D.C. 1996).

Defendants must make two showings. First, they must establish that the action could have been brought in the Central District of California originally. Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 622 (1964). Second, they must demonstrate that considerations of convenience and the interest of justice weigh in favor of transfer. Trout Unlimited, 944 F. Supp. at 16. The statute "place[s] discretion in the district courts to adjudicate motions for transfer according to an individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness. . . . [and] calls on the [] court to weigh in the balance a number of case-specific factors" relating to both the private interests of the parties and the interests of the public. Stewart Organization v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29-30 (1988).

The private interest considerations include: (1) the plaintiff's choice of forum, unless the balance of convenience is strongly in favor of the defendants; (2) the defendants' choice of forum; (3) whether the claim arose elsewhere; (4) the convenience of the parties; (5) the convenience of the witnesses of the plaintiff and defendant, but only to the extent that the witnesses may actually be unavailable for trial in one of the fora; and (6) the ease of access to sources of proof.
The public interest considerations include: (1) the transferee's familiarity with the governing laws; (2) the relative congestion of the calendars of the potential transferee and transferor courts; and (3) the ...

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