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Wildearth Guardians and Sierra Club v. United States Bureau of Land

February 13, 2013

WILDEARTH GUARDIANS AND SIERRA CLUB PLAINTIFFS,
v.
UNITED STATES BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT, FEDERAL DEFENDANT,
AND THE STATE OF WYOMING INTERVENOR-DEFENDANT.



MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiffs Wildearth Guardians and Sierra Club brought this action challenging four decisions by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management ("BLM") to authorize the sale of federal coal leases in Wyoming's Powder River Basin. BLM moved the Court to transfer the action to the District of Wyoming. Def.'s Mot. to Transfer, ECF No. 18. For reasons given below, the Court will GRANT this motion.

I. BACKGROUND

In 2011 and 2012, BLM authorized the sale of four coal leases in Wyoming's Powder River Basin: the North Porcupine, South Porcupine, North Hilight, and South Hilight leases. Record of Decision ("ROD") for North Porcupine, ECF No. 19-3; ROD for South Porcupine, ECF No. 19-2; ROD for North Hilight, ECF No. 19-4; ROD for South Hilight, ECF No. 19-1; see also Compl. ¶¶ 6, 38--48, 70. When taking these actions, BLM relied on a single Final Environmental Impact Statement ("FEIS") covering all four of the leases. Compl. ¶ 70; see generally ROD for North Porcupine; ROD for South Porcupine; ROD for North Hilight; ROD for South Hilight.

Because some of the coal at issue in these leases underlies National Forest lands, the consent of the U.S. Forest Service ("the Service") to the sale of those tracts was also required before the leases could be sold. See 43 C.F.R. § 3420.4--2. The Service provided the necessary consent for the North Porcupine and South Porcupine tracts, relying on the impact analysis in the same FEIS to do so. See First Am. Compl. ¶ 15, WildEarth Guardians v. USFS (hereinafter "Wyoming First Am. Compl."), 12-cv-85, ECF No. 94 (D. Wyo. Nov. 19, 2012); see also ROD for North Porcupine 2; ROD for South Porcupine 2.

In late 2011, the present plaintiffs filed a separate suit in the District of Colorado*fn1

(hereinafter "the Forest Service case") challenging the Service's consent regarding the North and South Porcupine leases.*fn2 See WildEarth Guardians v. USFS,2012 WL 1415378 (D. Colo. Apr. 24, 2012). They argue, among other things, that the analysis in the FEIS was inadequate under the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321 et seq., and that the Service's consent to the sale of the two tracts was unlawful because it was based on that faulty analysis. See Wyoming First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 185--211.In April 2012, on the Service's motion, Judge John Kane transferred the Forest Service case to the District of Wyoming. WildEarth Guardians, 2012 WL 1415378.

Plaintiffs filed the present action in May 2012 arguing, among other things, that the FEIS was inadequate under NEPA and that BLM's decisions to authorize the sale of all four leases were thus also unlawful insofar as they were made in reliance on that faulty analysis. See Compl. ¶¶ 98--109.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

"For 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). "Section 1404(a) is intended to place discretion in the district court 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 (1988) (quoting Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 622 (1964)); see also In re Whittman, 2001 WL 238171, at *1 (D.C. Cir. Feb. 14, 2001) (per curiam) (holding that the "court's conclusion that transfer was appropriate is to be accorded great deference"). The movant "bears the burden of establishing that the transfer of this action is proper." Greater Yellowstone Coal. v. Bosworth, 180 F. Supp. 2d 124, 127 (D.D.C. 2001).

When considering a motion to transfer under section 1404, courts must balance the "convenience of the parties and witnesses" and the "interests of justice." § 1404(a). Under the "convenience" factor, courts consider several "private" interests including: (1) the plaintiff's choice of forum; (2) the defendant's choice of forum; (3) whether the claim arose elsewhere; and (4) the convenience of the witnesses and other sources of proof. See Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n v. Harvey, 437 F. Supp. 2d 42, 46 (D.D.C. 2006); Trout Unlimited v. USDA, 944 F. Supp. 13, 16 (D.D.C. 1996). Under the "interest of justice" factor, courts consider several "public" interests including: (1) the desire to avoid multiplicity of litigation as a result of a single transaction or event; (2) the local interest in deciding local controversies at home; and (3) the relative familiarity of both venues with the governing laws. See Harvey, 437 F. Supp. 2d at 46 (listing the second and third interests); Holland v. A.T. Massey Coal, 360 F. Supp. 2d 72, 76 (D.D.C. 2004) (same); Trout Unlimited, 944 F. Supp. at 16 (same); Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys Imbricata) v. FEMA, 939 F. Supp. 1, 4 (D.D.C. 1996) (listing the first and second interests); see also Reiffin v. Microsoft Corp., 104 F. Supp. 2d 48, 56 (D.D.C. 2000) ("The interests of justice are better served when a case is transferred to the district where related actions are pending.").

III. ANALYSIS

BLM has met its burden to show transfer is proper because the action could have been brought in the District of Wyoming, the "private" interests are not dispositive, and the "public" interests weigh decisively in favor of transfer.

A.The Action Could Have Been Filed in the District of Wyoming

Venue is proper in an action against the United States in "any judicial district in which . . . a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred, or a substantial part of property that is the subject of the action is situated." 28 U.S.C. § 1391(e)(1). This action "might have been brought" in the District of Wyoming, see § 1404(a), because the tracts of land at ...


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