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Western Watersheds Project v. Jewell

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

September 23, 2014

WESTERN WATERSHEDS PROJECT, COTTONWOOD ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CENTER, Plaintiffs,
v.
SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR SALLY JEWELL, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, Defendants

For WESTERN WATERSHEDS PROJECT, COTTONWOOD ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CENTER, Plaintiffs: John Meyer, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, COTTON ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CENTER, Bozeman, MT; Matt G. Kenna, PUBLIC INTREST ENVIRONMENTAL LAW, Durango, CO.

For SALLY JEWELL, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, Defendants: Ruth Ann Storey, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Land & Natural Resources Division, Washington, DC; Mary E. Hollingsworth, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Environment & Natural Resources Division, Washington, DC.

Page 42

OPINION AND ORDER

CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER, United States District Judge.

This case is about two species of cacti that are dear to both the environmental groups bringing this action and, apparently, the cows grazing in Utah's Capital Reef National Park. The groups have sued Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel and the National Park Service for allegedly endangering the existence of the cacti by permitting cattle to graze in the park. The Secretary and the Park Service have filed a motion to transfer venue, arguing that this is essentially a local dispute that belongs in Utah rather than Washington, D.C. The Court agrees. It will grant the motion and transfer the case to United States District of Utah.

I. Background

Plaintiffs Western Watersheds Project (" WWP" ) and Cottonwood Environmental Law Center (" Cottonwood" ) are nonprofit organizations dedicated to the protection and restoration of wildlife and watersheds, including endangered species. Am. Compl. ¶ ¶ 10-11. WWP is located in Hailey, Idaho, and Cottonwood is located in Bozeman, Montana. Defs.' Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Change Venue 8. They filed a suit in this Court alleging that the

Page 43

National Park Service (" NPS" ) violated the National Environmental Policy Act (" NEPA" ), 42 U.S.C. § § 4332, et seq., the Administrative Procedure Act (" APA" ), 5 U.S.C. § 706, and the Endangered Species Act (" ESA" ), 16 U.S.C. § 1536, by permitting cattle grazing in Utah's Capitol Reef National Park in a manner that threatens the existence of two species of rare cacti, Sclerocactus wrightiae and Pediocactus winkleri. Am. Compl. ¶ ¶ 1-4.

In response, Secretary Jewell and NPS answered the Complaint and moved to transfer the case to the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah. Defs.' Answer; Defs.' Mot. to Change Venue. Secretary Jewell and NPS argue that the District of Utah is the appropriate venue for this suit because Capitol Reef National Park, the local NPS offices responsible for Capitol Reef, the two species of cacti, and the administrative record are all located in Utah. Defs.' Mot. to Change Venue at 1; Mem. in Supp. at 5. They also assert that transferring the case would not inconvenience the parties, particularly since WWP and Cottonwood are located much closer to Utah than the District of Columbia. Id. WWP and Cottonwood oppose the motion, contending that the issues being litigated carry national significance; that transfer would prejudice their interests; and that this Court could resolve the case efficiently because the average judge's docket in this district is quantitatively smaller than that in the District of Utah. Pls.' Opp'n. at 1.

II. Standard of Review

" 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). In actions against officers or employees of the United States, venue is proper in any district where " (A) a defendant in the action resides, [or] (B) 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). District courts exercise their discretion to decide whether to grant a motion to change venue " according to individualized, case-by-case consideration of 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) (internal quotation marks omitted)). Yet, " a court may not transfer a case from a plaintiff's chosen forum simply because another forum, in the court's view, may be superior to that chosen by the plaintiff." W. Watersheds Project v. Pool, 942 F.Supp.2d 93, 96 (D.D.C. 2013) (quoting Sierra Club v. Van Antwerp, 523 F.Supp.2d 5, 11 (D.D.C.2007) (internal quotation marks omitted)).

In deciding motions to transfer, district courts consider both private interest factors of the parties involved as well as public interest factors that " come under the heading of 'the interest of justice.'" Stewart, 487 U.S. at 30. The private interest factors include: " (1) the plaintiff's choice of forum; (2) the defendant's choice of forum; (3) whether the claim arose elsewhere; (4) the convenience of the parties; (5) the convenience of the witnesses; and (6) the ease of access to sources of proof." Sierra Club v. Flowers,276 F.Supp.2d 62, 65 (D.D.C. 2003). The public interest factors are: " (1) the transferee's familiarity with the governing laws; (2) the relative congestion of the calendars of the transferor and transferee courts; and ...


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