United States District Court, District of Columbia
E. BOASBERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Ernest Ngonga and Danny Fokou, a married couple residing in
Lovettsville, Virginia, seek a reversal of the United States
Citizenship and Immigration Services' Washington Field
Office's denial of Ngonga's visa petition on behalf
of Fokou. When the Field Office Director determined that
Fokou's prior marriage had been entered into for the
purposes of obtaining an immigration benefit, she denied
Ngonga's Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative), a
decision later affirmed by the Board of Immigration Appeals.
See Compl., ¶¶ 1-2. Plaintiffs responded
by filing this suit in December 2017, contending that such
denial was arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion,
and unsupported by “substantial and probative
evidence” of marriage fraud. Id., ¶ 1.
Defendants - the Attorney General, the Washington Field
Office Director, the District Director of the Department of
Homeland Security for that Field Office, the Secretary of
DHS, and the Director of USCIS - now move to transfer this
case to the Eastern District of Virginia. As the relevant
factors favor transfer, the Court will grant Defendants'
to the Complaint and its attached exhibit, Plaintiffs Danny
Fokou, a native and citizen of Cameroon, and Ernest Ngonga, a
lawful permanent resident of the United States, are a married
couple with three children who live in Lovettsville,
Virginia. See Compl., ¶ 12. Fokou was
previously married to Valery Keyi, a naturalized United
States citizen and native of Cameroon. Id., ¶
14; ECF No. 1-2 (Petition Decisions) at 7. At the time of her
marriage to Keyi in May 2008, Fokou was pregnant with
Ngonga's second child. See Compl., ¶ 14.
After Keyi filed and subsequently withdrew an I-130 Petition
for Fokou in 2009, she was temporarily placed in removal
proceedings. See Petition Decisions at 9. Keyi and
Fokou divorced in July 2010, and Plaintiffs married that
then filed an I-130 Petition on behalf of Fokou in December
2010, seeking to have her “classified as the spouse of
a lawful permanent resident under section 203(a) of the
Immigration and Nationality Act.” Id. at 5, 9.
In USCIS's evaluation of this application, it discovered
Fokou's prior marriage to Keyi. Although Plaintiffs
maintain that that marriage was “bona fide” and
“for love, [and] for no other reason, ” Compl.,
¶ 14, Kimberly Zanotti, the USCIS Washington Field
Office Director, apparently saw it differently. Citing
Ngonga's statement in his 2014 naturalization interview
that Fokou had married Keyi for immigration purposes, as well
as discrepancies in Keyi's withdrawn I-130 Petition and
purported irregularities in Fokou and Keyi's marriage,
Zanotti determined that the marriage was “entered into
. . . for the sole purpose of circumventing immigration laws
of the United States.” Petition Decisions at 10.
Ngonga's I-130 Petition was consequently denied on June
2, 2017, pursuant to Section 204(c) of the Immigration and
Nationality Act, which forecloses benefits if an “alien
has attempted or conspired to enter into marriage for the
purpose of evading the immigration laws.” 8 U.S.C.
§ 1154(c); see also Petition Decisions at 10.
This decision was upheld some five months later by the BIA in
Falls Church, Virginia. See Petition Decisions at 2.
subsequently brought this suit in December 2017, claiming
that the denial of the I-130 Petition was arbitrary and
capricious and therefore in contravention of the
Administrative Procedure Act. See Compl., ¶ 1.
Contending that the Petition was instead “supported by
overwhelming evidence demonstrating the bona fide nature of
the Plaintiffs' marriage” and that “the
evidentiary record does not support USCIS's allegation of
prior marriage fraud, ” they challenge Defendants'
application of Section 204(c) of the INA and seek a reversal
of the denial of the I-130 Petition. Id.,
¶¶ 1-3. Defendants now move to transfer the case to
the Eastern District of Virginia.
a plaintiff has brought its case in a proper venue, a
district court may, “[f]or 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
(1988) (quoting Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612,
Court has previously explained the standard for a transfer of
venue under § 1404(a):
To warrant transfer under § 1404(a), the movant must
first show that the plaintiff could originally have brought
the case in the transferee district. Treppel v.
Reason, 793 F.Supp.2d 429, 435 (D.D.C. 2011). The movant
must also 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). This second inquiry “calls on the
district court to weigh in the balance a number of
case-specific factors, ” related to both the public and
private interests at stake. Stewart Org., 487 U.S.
at 29. The burden is on the moving party to establish that
transfer is proper. Trout Unlimited v. U.S.
Dep't of Agric., 944 F.Supp. 13, 16 (D.D.C. 1996).
Douglas v. Chariots for Hire, 918 F.Supp.2d 24, 31
(D.D.C. 2013). Although Plaintiffs and Defendants disagree
about whether venue is proper in this District, the Court
need not wade into that controversy today. Instead, it will
proceed with the § 1404(a) transfer framework outlined
above, first examining whether this case could have been
brought in the Eastern District of Virginia and next looking
at the private- and public-interest factors relevant to
Propriety of New Venue
Plaintiffs have filed suit against federal officers and
employees acting in their official capacity, venue is
governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1391(e). Under that section,
venue is proper in any district in which “(A) a
defendant in the action resides, (B) a substantial part of
the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred . .
.[, ] or (C) the plaintiff resides if no real property is
involved in the action.” As Plaintiffs currently reside
in Lovettsville, ...