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Sanchez v. United States

March 4, 2009

JUANITA A. SANCHEZ (ON BEHALF OF MINOR CHILD DEBORA RIVERA-SANCHEZ) ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Document No.: 18

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS OR, IN THE ALTERNATIVE, TO TRANSFER FOR LACK OF VENUE*fn1

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the court on the defendant's motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, to transfer for lack of venue. The plaintiffs, Juanita Sanchez, on behalf of her minor child Debora Rivera-Sanchez, and 7,124 additional plaintiffs, are citizens of Vieques Island in Puerto Rico who bring this action for money damages against the defendant pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA").*fn2 Because none of the plaintiffs reside in the District of Columbia and because the acts or omissions they complain of were directed at the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, the court grants in part and denies in part the defendant's motion, transferring the case to the District of Puerto Rico.

II. FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The plaintiffs bring this action under the FTCA asserting that the defendant engaged in negligent and wrongful acts and omissions with respect to its operation of the United States Navy Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Facility ("AFWTF") that resulted in permanent injury and damage to the people and environment of Vieques. Am. Compl. at 2. Specifically, the plaintiffs claim that the defendant is responsible for the release of toxins into the air, water, and soil on which the people of Vieques depend. Id. ¶¶ 4-6. They allege that these acts or omissions were the result of planning and decision-making that occurred in Washington, D.C.*fn3 Id. ¶¶ 20, 23, 24, 26. In response, the defendant filed a motion requesting that the court dismiss the plaintiffs' claim for lack of venue in the District of Columbia or, in the alternative, that it transfer the case to the District of Puerto Rico. Def.'s Mot. at 17, 24. The court turns now to the parties' arguments.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for Venue under 28 U.S.C. § 1402(b) and for Transfer to Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a)

Rule 12(b)(3) instructs the court to dismiss or transfer a case if venue is improper or inconvenient in the plaintiff's chosen forum. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(3). For actions brought under the FTCA, 28 U.S.C. § 1402(b) governs venue, stating that "any civil action on a tort claim against the United States... may be prosecuted only in the judicial district where the plaintiff resides or wherein the act or omission complained of occurred." 28 U.S.C. § 1402(b).

For the purposes of the FTCA, the judicial district "wherein the act... occurred" is the district in which "sufficient activities giving rise to the plaintiff's cause of action took place." Zakiya v. United States, 267 F. Supp. 2d 47, 58 (D.D.C. 2003) (citing Franz v. United States, 591 F. Supp. 374, 378 (D.D.C. 1984)). Further, when conduct occurs in one district but has intended effects in another, "the act 'occurs' in the jurisdiction where its effects are directed." Reuber v. United States,750 F.2d 1039, 1047 (D.C. Cir. 1985), rev'd on other grounds, Kauffman v. Anglo-Am. Sch. of Sofia,28 F.3d 1223 (D.C. Cir. 1994). Courts in this district in particular must examine FTCA venue issues carefully to guard against the possibility that plaintiffs might "manufacture venue in the District of Columbia." Cameron v. Thornburgh,983 F.2d 253, 256 (D.C. Cir. 1993).

If the district in which the action is brought does not meet the requirements of §1402(b), then that district court may either 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). The decision whether to dismiss or transfer the case is committed to the sound discretion of the district court. Naartex Consulting Corp. v. Watt, 722 F.2d 779, 789 (D.C. Cir. 1983). Generally, the interest of justice requires transferring such cases to the appropriate judicial district rather than dismissing them. Goldlawr, Inc. v. Heiman, 369 U.S. 463, 466-67 (1962); James v. Booz-Allen, 227 F. Supp. 2d 16, 20 (D.D.C. 2002).

To transfer the action, the court must ensure as a preliminary matter that venue is proper and that the defendants are subject to personal jurisdiction in the transferee forum. Sharp Elecs. Corp. v. Hayman Cash Register Co., 655 F.2d 1228, 1230 (D.C. Cir. 1981) (per curiam); Crisler v. Schmeltzer, 1990 WL 113887, at *2 (D.D.C. July 24, 1990). This Circuit favors transfer under ยง 1406(a) "when procedural obstacles [such as lack of personal jurisdiction, improper venue, and statutes of ...


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