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Jalloh v. Underwood

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 2, 2018

USMAN JALLOH, Plaintiff,
ROBERT UNDERWOOD et al., Defendants.


          TIMOTHY J. KELLY United States District Judge.

         On August 8, 2016, Plaintiff Usman Jalloh filed this case against Robert Underwood, Philip Tridico, and Arthur Kimball, police officers employed by the District of Columbia's Metropolitan Police Department, as well as Sean Miller and Thomas Anderson, police officers employed by the Prince George's County Police Department, alleging violations of his rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. On June 7, 2017, Defendants Miller and Anderson moved to dismiss the case for improper venue, or in the alternative, to transfer the case to the District of Maryland, on the grounds that some of the alleged events occurred in Maryland.

         I. Background

         The allegations in the Complaint are presumed to be true for purposes of this motion. Jalloh, a resident of Maryland, alleges that on the afternoon of November 13, 2013, he was sitting in his truck, parked on a District of Columbia street, when Underwood approached him and told him that he could not park there. ECF No. 1 (“Compl.”) ¶¶ 2, 10-11, 15. When Jalloh drove away, Underwood and Tridico began to follow him. Id. ¶ 17. Tridico told his supervisor on his police radio that Jalloh had intentionally struck Underwood while pulling away from the parking spot, and that Underwood was bleeding. Id. ¶¶ 18-19. The officers continued to follow Jalloh into Maryland. Id. ¶¶ 16-18, 20, 25-26. Jalloh pulled over, and Underwood got out of his vehicle and approached Jalloh's truck, pointing his gun at Jalloh. Id. ¶¶ 27-28. Anderson and Miller then arrived at the scene. Id. ¶ 29. Underwood pulled Jalloh out of the truck, and Underwood, Tridico, Kimball, and Miller punched and kicked Jalloh. Id. ¶¶ 30-34. None of the officers provided medical assistance or otherwise intervened during the beating. Id. ¶¶ 35, 38-39. In fact, Jalloh subsequently required medical attention. Id. ¶¶ 40-41, 47. A few weeks later, Jalloh learned that there was a warrant for his arrest in the District of Columbia, and he turned himself in. Id. ¶¶ 48-49. Jalloh alleges he was falsely charged with, among other things, assaulting a police officer while armed. Id. ¶¶ 52-53, 74. The charges were dismissed approximately 18 months later. Id. ¶ 55.

         Jalloh contends that the beating that he suffered constituted excessive force that violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fourth Amendment. Id. ¶¶ 59-62. He also asserts that the officers' failure to provide medical assistance and to intervene while he was being beaten violated the Fourth Amendment. Id. ¶¶ 63-72. Finally, he asserts that the subsequent prosecution for assaulting an officer and evading arrest was malicious and violated the Fourth Amendment. Id. ¶¶ 73-80.

         On June 7, 2017, Miller and Anderson, the two Prince George's County police officers sued in this case (the “Moving Defendants”) moved to dismiss the case for improper venue or, if venue is proper, to transfer it to the District of Maryland in the interest of convenience and justice. ECF No. 18 (“Transfer Mot.”). Jalloh opposed transfer, see ECF No. 25, as did Underwood, see ECF No. 24.

         II. Legal Standard

         A case filed in an improper venue shall be dismissed or, if it is in the interest of justice, transferred to a proper venue. 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(3) (providing that party may assert improper venue by motion). 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)). “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). 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).

         III. Analysis

         A. Dismissal for Improper Venue under § 1406

         Venue is proper 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). Moving Defendants allege that the case must be dismissed for improper venue under 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a) because “none of the operative events” giving rise to Jalloh's claims occurred in the District of Columbia. Transfer Mot. at 4. The Court disagrees. On the undisputed record here, a “substantial part” of the events that gave rise to Jalloh's claims took place in the District of Columbia, including: (1) the initial encounter between Jalloh and Underwood; (2) Jalloh's alleged assault of Underwood for which Jalloh was later prosecuted; (3) Underwood and Tridico's pursuit of Jalloh, which led to their alleged assault of him; and (4) Jalloh's prosecution for assaulting Underwood. Compl. ¶¶ 9-58; Transfer Mot. at 1-3.

         Moving Defendants also argue that “a substantial part” of the alleged events giving rise to Jalloh's claims occurred in Maryland, given that Jalloh was allegedly assaulted by the officers there. See Tranfer Mot. at 3-4. The Court agrees. However, this does not mean that venue is not also proper in the District of Columbia. Courts have repeatedly explained that even if a substantial part of the events in a case took place in one district, a plaintiff may still file suit in another district if a substantial part of the events also took place there. See Perlmutter v. Varone, 59 F.Supp.3d 107, 110 (D.D.C. 2014) (“The ‘substantial part' requirement does not mean that plaintiffs may only bring suit in a district where every event that supports their claims occurred, but plaintiffs must show that a considerable portion of the events took place in their chosen forum.”); Moreover, “[n]othing 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 is sought.” Douglas v. Chariots for Hire, 918 F.Supp.2d 24, 28-29 (D.D.C. 2013) (quoting Modaressi v. Vedadi, 441 F.Supp.2d 51, 57 (D.D.C. 2006)). Because a substantial part of the events giving rise to Jalloh's claims took place in the District of Columbia, venue is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2).

         B. Transfer of Venue Under § 1404

         Moving Defendants also argue that, even if the case is properly filed in the District of Columbia, it should be transferred to the District of Maryland. See Transfer Mot. at 4-7. Even if a case is filed in a proper venue, it may be transferred “[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice . . . to any other district or division where it might have been brought.” 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). The movant first must show that the plaintiff originally could have brought the case in the transferee court. Treppel v. Reason, 793 F.Supp.2d 429, 435 (D.D.C. 2011). The movant also 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). Under this inquiry, the court weighs case-specific factors “related to both the public and private interests at stake.” Douglas, 918 F.Supp.2d at 31 (citing Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988)). The moving party bears the burden to show decisively that transfer is proper. Thayer/Patricof Educ. Funding, L.L.C. v. Pryor Res., Inc. (“Thayer”), 196 F.Supp.2d 21, 31 (D.D.C. 2002) (“The moving party bears a heavy burden of establishing that ...

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