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Oceana, Inc. v. Pritzker

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

October 28, 2013

OCEANA, INC., Plaintiff,
PENNY PRITZKER, et al., Defendants

For OCEANA, INC., Plaintiff: Judith E. Coleman, HOGAN LOVELLS U.S. LLP, Washington, DC.

For REBECCA BLANK, in her official capacity as Acting Secretary of the United States Department of Commerce, NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION, NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE, Defendants: Andrea Gelatt, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, ENRD, Washington, DC.


JAMES E. BOASBERG, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Oceana, Inc. brought this action under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § § 701-706, challenging procedural and substantive aspects of the National Marine Fisheries Service's at-sea monitoring program in its Northeast Multispecies Fishery. Oceana alleges that the Service's relatively lax monitoring plan was motivated by cost savings, not conservation, and that, as a result, it violates controlling law, including this Court's decision in Oceana, Inc. v. Locke, 831 F.Supp.2d 95 (D.D.C. 2011). See Compl., ¶ 60. The Government, believing that the suit should be heard near the communities most affected by the Service's decision, now moves to transfer the case to the District of Massachusetts pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Because the Court finds that convenience and the interests of justice justify keeping the matter in the District of Columbia, it will deny Defendants' Motion.

I. Background

In recognition of the persistence of overfishing and habitat loss that threaten fish populations off the coasts of the United States, and with the aim of maintaining a balance between conserving fishery resources and promoting the American fishing industry, Congress enacted the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976, 16 U.S.C. § 1801 et seq. The Act created eight Regional Fishery Management Councils to monitor and oversee multiple fisheries in each region's waters. 16 U.S.C. § 1852. Each Council is responsible for developing and maintaining a Fishery Management Plan for each fishery under its control. The Act imposes content requirements on these FMPs, see § 1853(a)(15), which must ultimately be approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service, acting on behalf of the Secretary of Commerce. See § 1854.

The Northeast Multispecies Fishery is a " mixed stock" fishery that includes 13 species of fish that live in the coastal waters off New England and the mid-Atlantic states. See Compl., ¶ 18. Some of these

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stocks include species that have been chronically overfished for years. See id., ¶ 19. In response, the Service enacted the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan, a federal scheme that regulates the management of twenty stocks of fish in New England. See id., ¶ 23. In 2009, the Service adopted Amendment 16 to the FMP, see id., ¶ ¶ 23-26, which was meant to end overfishing and to rebuild overfished stocks in the Northeast. It also expanded the Fishery's sector program, which limits the number of vessel groups that may fish in a given year. See id.

The Service has established procedures to adjust FMPs during the time between amendments. See Compl., ¶ 48. These procedures, known as " framework adjustments," are intended to allow the Government flexibility in managing fisheries without having to observe the full procedural requirements that otherwise apply to the adoption of new or significantly modified management measures. Id. Framework 48, one such adjustment, took effect on May 3, 2013, altering the process by which vessel groups could gain access to the areas cordoned off under the Northeast FMP. See Compl., ¶ 48; 50 C.F.R. § 648.87(c)(2)(i). According to Plaintiff, the new Framework " allowed [the Service] discretion not to adequately monitor" the covered sectors. Compl., ¶ 54.

Oceana is " a non-profit international advocacy organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the world's oceans through policy, advocacy, science, law, and public education." Id., ¶ 2. Although headquartered in Washington, D.C., Oceana claims " 195,000 members around the world," id., who " use and enjoy the oceans for a variety of [recreational and commercial] activities" and are interested in the " consumption and commercial and recreational use of fish populations." Id., ¶ 5. Its members are harmed, Oceana alleges, by " unsustainable fishing practices in the Northeast fisheries" generally and by " the failure of the Fisheries Service to establish adequate catch monitoring systems and accountability measures" in particular. Id., ¶ ¶ 5-6.

In this suit, Oceana challenges two agency actions: (1) the Secretary's promulgation of Framework 48; and (2) her approval, pursuant to the new Framework, of an allegedly inadequate monitoring level for the 2013 fishing year. See id., ¶ ¶ 56-86. The challenged regulations relate directly to fisheries off the coast of New England, but the parties disagree sharply about whether the regulations will have broader effects. Compare Transfer Opp. at 6 (" Mismanagement of the Northeastern fisheries is not a 'Northeastern' problem; it is a national one." ) with Transfer Mot. at 7 (noting " the local interest in deciding local controversies at home" ) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Although Defendants here also moved for summary judgment on the merits of Plaintiff's suit, they have separately brought this Motion to Transfer, contending that Massachusetts is the more desirable location for the resolution of this dispute.

II. Legal Standard

Even if 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 or division where [the case] might have been brought." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). The only textual limitation on the Court's power to transfer a case under § 1404(a), then, is the requirement that the case " might have been brought" in the forum to which the defendant is seeking transfer. Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 623, 84 S.Ct. 805, 11 L.Ed.2d 945 (1964). In other words, the

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transfer statute requires that venue be proper in the new forum.

Once that threshold condition is met, 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, 376 U.S. at 622); see also Pres. Soc'y of Charleston v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng'rs, 893 F.Supp.2d 49, 53 (D.D.C. 2012). Courts in this circuit are instructed to consider motions to transfer venue favorably, given " [t]he danger that a plaintiff might manufacture venue in the District of Columbia . . . by naming high government officials as defendants . . . ." Cameron v. Thornburgh, 983 F.2d 253, 256, 299 U.S.App.D.C. 228 (D.C. Cir. 1993). Still, to prevail, the movant must show that " considerations of convenience and the interest of justice weigh in favor of transfer . . . ." Sierra Club v. Flowers, 276 F.Supp.2d 62, 65 (D.D.C. 2003).

III. Analysis

A. Propriety of New Venue

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