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LIBAN v. CHURCHEY GROUP II

February 26, 2004.

VERALEE LIBAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CHURCHEY GROUP II, L.L.C. et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICARDO URBINA, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING THE DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO TRANSFER
I. INTRODUCTION
This case comes before the court on the defendants' motion to transfer. The plaintiff alleges that the defendants discriminated against her due to her familial status in violation of the Fair Housing Act ("FHA"), 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq., as well as the District of Columbia Human Rights Act ("DCHRA"), D.C. Code Ann. §§ 2-1401 et seq. Because the plaintiff originally could have brought her case in the proposed transferee forum and the considerations of convenience and the interest of justice weigh in favor of transfer, the court grants the defendants' motion. Page 2

II. BACKGROUND

  A. Factual Background

  Defendant Churchey Group II, L.L.C. ("the Churchey Group") is a real-estate development, marketing and management company, incorporated in Maryland. Compl. ¶ 5. One of the Churchey Group's properties is Greenwich Village, a development of new, single-family homes in Hagerstown, Maryland. Id. In July of 2002, the plaintiff, a Maryland resident and the mother of three children, read the defendants' advertisement in the Washington Post, which stated that Greenwich Village consisted of "Gracious Homes for the Empty Nester." Id. ¶¶ 4, 9-10. The plaintiff also accessed the Greenwich Park website, which displayed the same statement. Id. ¶ 11.

  On July 18, 2002 the plaintiff and her children traveled to Greenwich Park to inquire about available homes. Id. ¶ 12. At Greenwich Park, the plaintiff alleges that defendant Tricia Churchey ("Churchey"), the sales manager and a principal of the Churchey Group, told the plaintiff that Greenwich Park was designed for "empty nesters." The plaintiff claims that Churchey further explained that an "empty nester" was a person who did not have children or whose children no longer lived at home, and that Greenwich Park was not well-suited to families with children. Id. ¶ 13. The plaintiff alleges that Churchey then explained that the vision for Greenwich Park was that of a retirement community for seniors and couples who no longer had children living at home. Id. The plaintiff claims that Churchey then showed her model home to the plaintiff, reiterating throughout the tour that Greenwich Park was intended to be a retirement community and that there would be no place in Greenwich Park for the plaintiff's children to play. Id. ¶ 18. The next day, the plaintiff called Churchey with some follow-up questions Page 3 regarding the purchase of a lot in Greenwich Park. Id. ¶ 22. The plaintiff claims that Churchey did not know the answers to any of her questions, and that Churchey did not offer to obtain the information for the plaintiff. Id.

  B. Procedural History

  On February 13, 2003, the plaintiff filed suit in this court, alleging violations of the FHA and the DCHRA. On March 7, 2003 the defendants filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, to transfer the action to the District of Maryland. The court now turns to that motion.

  III. ANALYSIS*fn1

  A. Legal Standard for Venue and Transfer to Another District

  When federal jurisdiction is premised on a federal question, 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b) controls venue, establishing three places where venue is proper:
(1) a judicial district where any defendant resides, if all defendants reside in the same State, (2) a judicial district in which 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) a judicial district in which any defendant may be found, if there is no district in which the action may otherwise be brought.
28 U.S.C. § 1391(b).

  Section 1404(a) authorizes a court to transfer a civil action to any other district where it could have been brought "for the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice [.]" 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Section 1404(a) vests "discretion in the district court to adjudicate Page 4 motions to transfer according to individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness." Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 27 (1988) (quoting Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 622 (1964)). Under this statute, the moving party bears the burden of establishing that transfer is proper. Trout Unlimited v. Dep't. of Agric., 944 F. Supp. 13, 16 (D.D.C. 1996).

  Accordingly, the defendants must make two showings to justify transfer. First, the defendants must establish that the plaintiff originally could have brought the action in the proposed transferee district. Van Dusen, 376 U.S. at 622. Second, the defendants must demonstrate that considerations of convenience and the interest of justice weigh in favor of transfer to that court. Trout Unlimited, 944 F. Supp. at 16. As to the second showing, the statute calls on the court to weigh a number of case-specific private and public interest factors. Stewart Org., 487 U.S. at 29. 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, 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. Trout Unlimited, 944 F. Supp. at 16 (citing Jumara v. State Farm Ins. Co., 55 F.3d 873, 879 (3d. Cir. 1995); Heller Fin., Inc. v. Riverdale Auto Parts, Inc., 713 F. Supp. 1125, 1129 (N.D. Ill. 1989); 15 FED. PRAC. & PROC. § 3848 at 385 (2d ed. 1986)). 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 local interest in deciding local controversies at home. Id. Page 5

 
B. The Court Grants the Defendants' Motion to Transfer the Action to the District of Maryland
  The defendants argue that the interest of justice favors transfer to the District of Maryland because all of parties are Maryland residents, the Churchey Group is incorporated in Maryland, the housing development at issue is located in Maryland, almost all the complained of actions by the defendants occurred in Maryland, and documentary evidence and witnesses are in Maryland. Defs.' Mot. at 13. The plaintiff counters by first pointing out that the defendants reside in Hagerstown, Maryland, which is closer to the District of Columbia than to the federal district court in Baltimore. Pl.'s Opp'n at 22 Second, the plaintiff notes that she works in the District of Columbia, resides near the District of Columbia border and has ...

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