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Munoz v. England

November 20, 2006

YSAURO R. MUNOZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GORDON R. ENGLAND, SECRETARY OF THE NAVY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colleen Kollar-kotelly United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Ysauro R. Munoz is a career Navy Civilian employee who entered into a settlement agreement with the Navy on February 28, 2002 regarding complaints Plaintiff filed against the Navy for employment discrimination based on race and age discrimination, harassment and retaliation. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Gordon R. England, in his official capacity as Secretary of the Navy ("Defendant" or "the Navy"), breached this settlement agreement by refusing to provide Plaintiff with the career enhancement training Plaintiff sought, and that this denial of training constituted retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et. seq., and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621, et. seq. Currently pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint or, in the Alternative, to Transfer. Plaintiff has filed an Opposition to Defendant's Motion, to which Defendant has replied. Upon consideration of the parties' briefings, the relevant case law, and the entire record herein, the Court shall grant Defendant's motion to transfer venue. In light of the transfer of venue, the Court will not address the substance of Defendant's motion to dismiss but will deny that motion without prejudice so that Defendant may refile it, if appropriate, upon transfer to the District of Hawaii.

I: BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a career Navy Civilian employee of Hispanic descent who is over forty years old. Am. Compl. ¶ 2. Plaintiff has been stationed overseas at the Naval Ship Repair Facility in Yokosuka, Japan since February 1, 1987 and, as an Engineering Technician, GS-12, provides technical, repair and modernization services to ships and weapons systems at the Ship Repair Facility. Id. ¶ 8. On August 21, 2001, Plaintiff filed a formal Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") complaint alleging age and race discrimination because he was not allowed to take weapon systems training and some of his responsibilities were given to other employees. Id. ¶ 12. Plaintiff filed a second formal EEO complaint on November 26, 2001 for continued retaliation and harassment. Id. ¶ 13.

On February 28, 2002, Plaintiff and the Navy entered into a settlement agreement ("Settlement Agreement"), which provided that Plaintiff would withdraw his EEO complaints in exchange for the Navy providing Plaintiff with career-enhancing training within twelve months of the date of the Settlement Agreement and also providing Plaintiff with a "Letter of Regret." Id. ¶ 14, Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss Ex. 2 (2/28/02 Settlement Agreement). The Settlement Agreement includes a procedure for dispute resolution, which calls for Plaintiff to complain in writing within thirty (30) days of any alleged violation of the Settlement Agreement. Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss at 3; Ex. 2 (2/28/02 Settlement Agreement) at 2-3. If the Navy fails to respond or if Plaintiff is not satisfied with the Navy's response, Plaintiff may appeal to the EEOC's Office of Federal Operations within thirty (30) days of receiving the Navy's response. Id.

By letter dated April 12, 2002, Plaintiff notified the Navy that he believed the Navy's refusal to provide him with requested Vertical Launch System (VLS) training constituted a breach of the Settlement Agreement. Am. Compl. ¶ 15. On June 4, 2002 Plaintiff attended a two-day training conference on the MK13 Missile Launcher. Id. ¶ 16. Plaintiff alleges that at the time of the training, the MK13 system was slated for removal from all Navy ships, and that the training Plaintiff attended was the last training given on the system. Id. On June 13, 2002, the Navy determined that it had not breached the Settlement Agreement because the one year time period had not yet elapsed, and because the Settlement Agreement did not specify any particular career-enhancing training. Id. ¶ 17. Plaintiff filed a timely appeal of this determination with the EEOC on July 17, 2002, id. ¶ 18, and on December 11, 2002, Plaintiff initiated EEO counseling for the alleged breach of the Settlement Agreement "including failures to provide requested career enhancing training, continued retaliation and removal of job responsibilities," id. ¶ 19. On February 23, 2003, Plaintiff filed a second formal complaint, alleging that the Navy's denial of Plaintiff's subsequent requests for training, in particular VLS training, constituted a breach of the Settlement Agreement. Id. ¶ 20.

On August 7, 2003, the EEOC vacated the Navy's June 13, 2002 decision and remanded the case, ordering the Navy to conduct an investigation into compliance with the Settlement Agreement and issue a new decision within 30 days. Id. ¶ 21. On September 4, 2003, the Navy determined that it had complied with the Settlement Agreement because the Settlement Agreement did not identify specific training classes and because the MK13 training classes that Plaintiff attended were considered career-enhancing because they were directly related to Plaintiff's duties as an Engineering Technician, GS-12. Id. ¶¶ 22-23. Plaintiff appealed this determination to the EEOC on October 8, 2003. Id. ¶ 24. The Navy subsequently agreed to investigate Plaintiff's second settlement breach complaint and provided Plaintiff with a report of the second investigation on March 29, 2004. Id. ¶¶ 25-26. On August 19, 2004, Plaintiff filed an appeal with the EEOC's Office of Federal Operations. Id. ¶ 28. On September 21, 2005, the EEOC issued a final decision denying relief to Plaintiff on both of his complaints that the Navy breached the Settlement Agreement. Id. ¶ 30. Plaintiff received this decision on September 26, 2005, id., and timely filed his initial one-count Complaint before this Court on December 27, 2005, alleging that the Navy breached the Settlement Agreement and that this breach violated both Title VII and the ADEA. Compl. The Navy moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint on March 20, 2006. In response to the Navy's motion to dismiss, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on March 31, 2006, which broke Plaintiff's claims into two counts -- Plaintiff's first Cause of Action alleges that the Navy breached the Settlement Agreement, his second Cause of Action alleges that the Navy retaliated against Plaintiff by denying him the training he requested in reprisal for filing his EEO complaints, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., Am. Compl. ¶¶ 31-33, and the ADEA, 29 U.S.C. § 633, et seq., id. ¶¶ 34-37.

The Navy filed a Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint or, in the Alternative, to Transfer on April 17, 2006, seeking to dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), 12(b)(3) and 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, to transfer this case to the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii. Specifically, the Navy argues that Plaintiff's breach of contract claim is a contract claim against the United States seeking damages in excess of $10,000 and that, as a result, exclusive jurisdiction over the claim lies in the Court of Federal Claims pursuant to the Tucker Act, Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss at 6-9. The Navy also argues that Plaintiff's retaliation claim should be dismissed for failure to exhaust his administrative remedies, id. at 10-14, and that, even if Plaintiff's retaliation claim is valid, it should be dismissed because venue is improper in the District of Columbia, id. at 15-19. As an alternative, the Navy argues that this Court should transfer this case to the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii pursuant to either 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) or 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a). Id. 19-25. Plaintiff filed an Opposition to the Navy's motion on May 1, 2006, in which he opposed each of the Navy's arguments. On May 18, 2006, the Navy filed a Reply in further support of their motion.

II: LEGAL STANDARDS

Defendant argues that venue in this case is improper in the District of Columbia, and that this Court should dismiss this case pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3). When a case is filed in the wrong federal judicial district, the district court in which the action is filed "shall dismiss, or if it be in the interest of justice, transfer such case to any district or division in which it could have been brought." 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a). In considering a motion to dismiss for lack of venue, "unless contradicted by an evidentiary showing, the court accepts the plaintiff's well-pled factual allegations regarding venue as true, draws all reasonable inferences from those allegations in the plaintiff's favor, and resolves any factual conflicts in the plaintiff's favor." Jyachosky v. Winter, No. Civ. A. 04-01733, 2006 WL 1805607, * 1 (D.D.C. Jun. 29, 2006) (citations and internal quotations omitted).

Defendant alternatively argues that this Court should exercise its discretion to transfer this case to the District of Hawaii pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), which states that "[f]or 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). The Court is afforded broad discretion to decide whether transfer from one jurisdiction to another is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). SEC v. Savoy Indus. Inc., 587 F.2d 1149, 1154 (D.C. Cir. 1978) (quoting Norwood v. Kirkpatrick, 349 U.S. 29, 32 (1955)). The decision to transfer is made by an "individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness . . . ." Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 622 (1964).

The Court must therefore initially determine whether venue in the District of Columbia is proper for Plaintiff's claims, before turning to the threshold question under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) of whether this action "might have been brought" in the District of Hawaii. Id. at 616. Title VII contains a specific venue provision, which provides that Title VII actions may only be brought:

[I]n any judicial district in the State in which the unlawful employment practice is alleged to have been committed, in the judicial district in which the employment records relevant to such practice are maintained and administered, or in the judicial district in which the aggrieved person would have worked but for the alleged unlawful employment practice, but if the respondent is not found within any such district, such an action may be brought within the judicial district in which the respondent has his principal office. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3); see also Hayes v. RCA Serv. Co., 546 F. Supp. 661, 663 (D.D.C 1982).

In contrast, the ADEA does not contain a specific venue provision, rather in an action brought against an officer or employee of the United States, venue is covered ...


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