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Oceanic Exploration Co. v. ConocoPhillips

February 5, 2007

OCEANIC EXPLORATION CO., ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CONOCOPHILLIPS, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Pending before the Court is ConocoPhillips' Motion to Transfer Venue. Upon consideration of the motion, the response and reply thereto, and for the following reasons, the Court GRANTS ConocoPhillips' Motion to Transfer Venue and this case shall be transferred to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

I. BACKGROUND

This case involves ConocoPhillips' alleged bribery of government officials in East Timor with respect to concessions to develop natural resources in the Timor Sea between East Timor and Australia. The facts of this case are laid out in more detail in the Court's September 21, 2006 opinion granting in part and denying in part ConocoPhillips' Motion to Dismiss.

In its September 21, 2006 opinion, the Court dismissed the Timor Sea Designated Authority ("TDSA") from the case based on the act of state doctrine. On November 8, 2006, ConocoPhillips filed a motion to transfer the case to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, arguing that without any foreign defendants in the case, there is no basis for keeping this case in the District of Columbia.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The federal venue transfer statute provides 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 district court has discretion to adjudicate motions to transfer according to an "'individualized case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness.'" Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988) (quoting Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 622 (1964)). The moving party bears the burden of establishing that transfer of the action is proper. Devaughn v. Inphonic, Inc., 403 F. Supp. 2d 68, 71 (D.D.C. 2005).

The defendant must make two showings to justify transfer. First, the defendant must establish that the plaintiff could have brought suit in the proposed transferee district. Devaughn, 403 F. Supp. 2d at 71-72; Trout Unlimited v. United States Dep't of Agric., 944 F. Supp. 13, 16 (D.D.C. 1996). Second, the defendant must demonstrate that considerations of convenience and the interests of justice weigh in favor of a transfer. Devaughn, 403 F. Supp. 2d at 72; Trout Unlimited, 944 F. Supp. at 16.

III. THE CASE COULD HAVE BEEN BROUGHT IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS

Before the Court transfers an action to another venue, the defendant must show that the plaintiff could have brought the action in the proposed transferee district. Devaughn, 403 F. Supp. 2d at 72 (citing Van Dusen, 376 U.S. at 622). Under all the statutes cited by plaintiffs in their complaint as bases for venue except for 28 U.S.C. § 1391(f), a plaintiff can bring an action where the defendant resides. See Second Am. Compl. ¶ 8; 1391 U.S.C. § 1391(b); 28 U.S.C. § 1400(a); 18 U.S.C. § 1965; 15 U.S.C. § 15. When a plaintiff brings an action against foreign state or subdivision thereof, the default venue is the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. See 28 U.S.C. § 1391(f)(4).

Plaintiffs argue that when a court is considering a transfer, it must assess whether the plaintiff could have brought the action in the proposed transferee district at the time the action was originally filed. Pls.' Opp'n at 4. Defendants counter that the proper rule is that a federal court may transfer a case to another district if the case might have been brought in the transferee forum against the defendants in the case at the time of transfer. Defs.' Reply at 4. The Court agrees with the defendants. When certain defendants are dismissed from the case, those defendants are no longer considered in determining whether a case could have been brought in the proposed transferee district. See Chung v. Chrysler Corp., 903 F. Supp. 160, 163 (D.D.C. 1995) (finding that the residence of a defendant who was dismissed from the case for lack of proper service should not be considered in evaluating a motion to transfer filed after such defendant's dismissal); Piekarski v. Home Owners Sav. Bank, 743 F. Supp. 38, 43 (D.D.C. 1990) ("The Court cannot blindly consider the case as it was at the time it was filed in reaching its decision, without considering the dismissal or substitution of parties . . . ."); Martin-Trigona v. Meister, 668 F. Supp. 1, 4 (D.D.C. 1987) (transferring case from the District of Columbia to Connecticut after dismissing the only defendants that had a tie to the District of Columbia). With the TDSA no longer in the case, the remaining ConocoPhillips' defendants reside in Houston where they have their principal place of business. Accordingly, the action against the defendants who currently remain in the case could have been brought in the Southern District of Texas.

IV. THE BALANCE OF PRIVATE AND PUBLIC INTERESTS FAVORS TRANSFER

In determining whether considerations of convenience and the interests of justice support transfer, the Court weighs a number of private-interest and public-interest factors. See Devaughn, 403 F. Supp. 2d at 72. ...


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