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Douglas v. Chariots for Hire

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 24, 2013

Charita DOUGLAS, Plaintiff,
v.
CHARIOTS FOR HIRE, et al., Defendants.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Neil E. Duke, Ober, Kaler, Grimes & Shriver, PC, Baltimore, MD, for Plaintiff.

Jeffrey W. Pagano, Ira M. Saxe, Crowell & Moring LLP, New York, NY, Trina L. Fairley, Crowell & Moring LLP, Washington, DC, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JAMES E. BOASBERG, District Judge.

On March 19, 2012, Plaintiff Charita Douglas, a limousine driver, filed this suit against her former employer, Chariots for Hire, and its management, seeking unpaid wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 207. The Court subsequently granted Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Amend her Complaint to pursue a " collective action" on behalf of similarly situated employees at the company. Defendants now move to dismiss or to transfer venue to the Eastern District of Virginia, arguing that nearly all of the alleged events here arose in Virginia, not the District of Columbia. Finding that venue is proper in this District and that the interests of justice do not weigh in favor of transfer, the Court will deny Defendants' Motion.

I. Background

According to the Amended Complaint, which must for now be presumed true, Chariots hired Douglas as a driver in June 2010. See Am. Compl., ¶ 17. She drove both large and small vehicles for the company, which operates a luxury-limousine transportation service in the greater Washington area. Id., ¶¶ 16, 17-19, 28. Douglas alleges that Defendants took a number of steps to avoid paying her and similarly situated employees appropriate minimum and overtime wages as required by the FLSA. Id., ¶¶ 10-16, 28-31, 36-40, 44. According to Douglas, these measures included misclassifying her and her peers as " casual workers" or " independent contractors" for tax and employee-benefits purposes. Id., ¶¶ 38-40. In addition, Plaintiff alleges that although she was required to be present on Defendants' premises from 9:00 a.m. until the conclusion of her last drive of the day, seven days per week, she was only compensated for time spent actually driving passengers. Id., ¶¶ 18-21. She claims this deprived her of overtime wages to which she would otherwise have been entitled for working more than 40 hours per week. Id., ¶ 23. She asserts that this also had the effect of denying her minimum wages on several occasions. Id., ¶ 24.

Douglas originally filed this lawsuit on March 19, 2012, and subsequently sought leave to amend her complaint to proceed as a " collective action" under § 216(b) of the FLSA, which request this Court granted. See Order of September 11, 2012 (ECF No. 36). Additionally, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Conditional Class Certification, which the Court also granted. See Order of October 31, 2012 (ECF No. 42). Defendants now move to dismiss the Amended Complaint for improper venue or, in the alternative, to transfer the case to the Eastern District of Virginia.

II. Legal Standard

A. 12(b)(3) and § 1406 Dismissal for Improper Venue

When a plaintiff brings suit in an improper venue, the district court " shall dismiss [the case], 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); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(3) (may assert improper venue via motion). In considering a Rule 12(b)(3) motion, the Court " accepts the plaintiff's well-pled factual allegations

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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, 67 S.Ct. 1009, 91 L.Ed. 1209 (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 & Arthur R. Miller, 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 or she has chosen is a proper venue." ). To prevail on a motion to dismiss for improper venue, however, " the defendant must present facts that will defeat the plaintiff's assertion of venue." Khalil v. L-3 Commc'ns Titan Grp., 656 F.Supp.2d 134, 135 (D.D.C.2009). Unless there are " pertinent factual disputes to resolve, a challenge to venue presents a pure question of law." Williams v. GEICO Corp., 792 F.Supp.2d 58, 62 (D.D.C.2011).

B. § 1404 Transfer of Venue

As an alternative to dismissal, Defendants seek to transfer this action to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in the interests of justice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404. Even where a plaintiff has brought its case in a proper venue, a district court may, " for the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interests of justice ... transfer [it] ... to any other district ... where [the case] might have been brought." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). District courts have " discretion ... to adjudicate motions for transfer according to an ‘ individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness.’ " Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29, 108 S.Ct. 2239, 101 L.Ed.2d 22 (1988) (quoting Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 622, 84 S.Ct. 805, 11 L.Ed.2d 945 (1964)).

III. Analysis

A. § 1406 Dismissal

Defendants first contend that Plaintiff's Amended Complaint should be dismissed under 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a) because venue in the District of Columbia is improper. See Mot. at 2-7. This is so, they maintain, because " no substantial part of the events that allegedly gave rise to Plaintiff's claims arose in the District of Columbia. On the contrary, all or nearly all of the events alleged arose in Virginia." Id. at 6. Plaintiff counters that venue is proper here since " a substantial part of the events giving rise to [her] claims occurred in [the District of Columbia], and Defendant corporation is a resident of the District of Columbia." Opp. at 4-5. The Court agrees.

For the venue purposes of this case, a civil action may be brought in " a judicial district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred." 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2). As a court in this District has noted,

Nothing in section 1391(b)(2) mandates that a plaintiff bring suit in the district where the most substantial portion of the relevant events occurred, nor does it require a plaintiff to establish that every event that supports an element of a claim occurred in the district where venue

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is sought. To the contrary, a plaintiff need only show that " a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred" in that district. 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2) (emphasis supplied). Indeed, the transactional-venue provision of section 1391(b)(2) clearly allows that, in some cases, a plaintiff will have a choice among multiple districts where a substantial portion of the underlying events occurred. See City of New York v. Cyco.Net, Inc., 383 F.Supp.2d 526, 543 (S.D.N.Y.2005) (" Venue may be proper even if a greater part of the events giving rise to a claim happened in another forum." ); Dooley v. United Techs. Corp., 786 F.Supp. 65, 80 (D.D.C.1992) (" [I]t appears that [section 1391(b)(2) ] is intended to place venue within the District of Columbia, even where the case also might be brought in another forum." ); Setco Enters. Corp. v. Robbins, 19 F.3d 1278, 1281 (8th Cir.1994) (" [W]e ask whether the district the plaintiff chose had a substantial connection to the claim, whether or not other forums had greater contacts." ).

Modaressi v. Vedadi, 441 F.Supp.2d 51, 57 (D.D.C.2006). The court concluded that " even if a substantial part of the events in this case took place in Maryland, that does not preclude plaintiff from filing suit in the District of Columbia if a substantial part of the events took place here, as well." Id.; see also Radt ...


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