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Rodney Williams v. Geico Corporation

June 20, 2011

RODNEY WILLIAMS,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
GEICO CORPORATION,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Rodney Williams ("Williams") brings this action against his former employer, the Government Employees Insurance Company ("GEICO"), alleging violations of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12112. GEICO has filed a motion to dismiss for insufficient service of process and, in the alternative, moves to dismiss or transfer for improper venue. For the reasons explained below, the Court will deny the motion to dismiss and instead will transfer this action to the United States District Court for the District of Maryland pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a).

BACKGROUND

I. Factual Background

Williams worked as a systems technician for GEICO from June 2008 until April 2009. Compl. ¶ 9 [Docket Entry 1]. In early 2009, Williams was hospitalized three times for complications relating to congestive heart failure, and he was forced to miss several days of work. Id. ¶¶ 10-12. On April 8, 2009, Williams called in sick to work. Id. ¶ 16. GEICO terminated his employment the following day. Id. Williams alleges that GEICO fired him because of his medical disabilities. Id. ¶ 18.

Williams has exhausted his administrative remedies. Id. ¶ 2. He alleges that he filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") within 300 days of his termination from GEICO on April 9, 2009. Id. ¶ 6, 17. He further alleges that the EEOC issued him a right-to-sue notice on May 25, 2010 and that he filed his claim in district court within 90 days from receipt of the notice. Id.

The parties agree that defendant is a Maryland corporation. Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss or Transfer Venue ("Def. Mot.") [Docket Entry 3] at 2. Nonetheless, Williams alleges that his "employment was based in the District of Columbia" and that "the decision to terminate his employment[] occurred in the District of Columbia." Compl. ¶ 8. GEICO, on the other hand, asserts that Williams worked at its headquarters in Chevy Chase, Maryland, throughout his employment with the company and that all decisions concerning his employment occurred in Maryland. Def. Mot. at 2.

The affidavit of service filed by Williams states that he served defendant at 1 GEICO Plaza in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Aff. Service [Docket Entry 2]. Plaintiff hired a process server, who states that he informed the guard on duty at GEICO headquarters that he was there to serve process on GEICO. Carter Decl. ¶ 2, Pl. Opp'n to Def. 's Mot. to Dismiss or Transfer ("Pl. Opp'n"), Ex. A [Docket Entry 4-1]. According to the process server, the guard called the general counsel's office, and a woman came to meet him who reviewed the summons and complaint, gave the process server her name, and accepted the documents. Id. ¶ 3-4. He claims the woman said she was a "legal officer" with GEICO.*fn1

The affidavit of Estela Turlik ("Turlik") filed by defendant states that Turlik is an executive secretary in GEICO's general counsel's office and that she received the summons and complaint from a man in GEICO's lobby on September 2, 2010. Turlik Aff. ¶¶ 3, 8-10, Def. Mot., Ex. 1 [Docket Entry 3-2]. It further states that the man did not identify himself. Id. ¶ 9. Turlik asserts she has no say in the operations, management, or business decisions of GEICO and is not an agent authorized by appointment or law to receive service of process. Id. ¶¶ 6-7.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

"In considering a Rule 12(b)(3) motion, 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." Pendleton v. Mukasey, 552 F. Supp. 2d 14, 17 (D.D.C. 2008) (citing Darby v. U.S. Dep't of Energy, 231 F. Supp. 2d 274, 276-77 (D.D.C. 2002)). The court need not, however, accept the plaintiff's legal conclusions as true, Darby, 231 F. Supp. 2d at 277, and may consider material outside of the pleadings, Artis v. Greenspan, 223 F. Supp. 2d 149, 152 (D.D.C. 2002) (citing Land v. Dollar, 330 U.S. 731, 735 n.4, (1947)). "Because it is the plaintiff's obligation to institute the action in a permissible forum, the plaintiff usually bears the burden of establishing that venue is proper." Freeman v. Fallin, 254 F. Supp. 2d 52, 56 (D.D.C. 2003); 15 Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 3826, at 258 (2d ed. 1986 & Supp. 2006) ("[W]hen [an] objection has been raised, the burden is on the plaintiff to establish that the district he chose is a proper venue."). Unless there are pertinent factual disputes to resolve, a challenge to venue presents a pure question of law.

DISCUSSION

I. Venue

Defendant moves to dismiss or transfer plaintiff's claim for improper venue. Def. Mot. at 4; see Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(3). The Rehabilitation Act and Americans with Disabilities Act adopt the special venue provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 29 U.S.C. § 794(d); 42 U.S.C. § 12117(a). Title VII's venue provision "limit[s] venue to the judicial district concerned with the alleged discrimination," Stebbins v. State Farm ...


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