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Gage v. Somerset County

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 21, 2018

THOMAS I. GAGE, pro se, Plaintiff,
v.
SOMERSET COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendant Jay B. Bohn, proceeding pro se, moves for dismissal of himself from this action for lack of personal jurisdiction, improper venue, and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The Court need proceed no further than the venue issue. Upon consideration of the briefing, [1] the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court GRANTS Defendant Bohn's [5] Motion to Dismiss Complaint Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b) (2), (3) and (6) (“Motion to Dismiss”), and, in an exercise of its discretion, shall DISMISS all claims against Defendant Bohn due to improper venue.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Court shall recite only those few allegations in the [1] Complaint that are necessary to the resolution of Defendant Bohn's Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff Thomas I. Gage, who is also proceeding pro se, has filed this suit against a number of public entities and current or former officials in New Jersey, as well as Defendant Bohn, a private attorney.[2] Plaintiff's thirty-eight count Complaint pursues a variety of causes of action that allegedly “arose from an attempt of Plaintiff to expose fraudulent documents that have been used on August 8, 2011, to steal Plaintiff's private property at: 51 Hillcrest Blvd, Warren, NJ.” Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶ 3. The Complaint is not a model of clarity, but as best the Court can discern, Plaintiff objects to an alleged series of actions taken by state and local officials and Defendant Bohn in response to his opposition to a real estate development called Sleepy Hollow in Warren, NJ. See generally Id. ¶¶ 4, 5, 29, 32. Defendant Bohn has moved to dismiss this case pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), (3), and (6). Upon conclusion of briefing, this motion is ripe for resolution.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         The federal statute governing venue provides that “[a] civil action may be brought in (1) a judicial district in which any defendant resides, if all defendants are residents of the State in which the district is located [or] (2) a 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(b)(1), (2). Only “if there is no district in which an action may otherwise be brought as provided in” Section 1391 may the plaintiff pursue his claims in “any judicial district in which any defendant is subject to the court's personal jurisdiction with respect to such action.” Id. § 1391(b)(3).

         When presented with a motion to dismiss for improper venue under Rule 12(b)(3), 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.” James v. Verizon Servs. Corp., 639 F.Supp.2d 9, 11 (D.D.C. 2009). “The court, however, need not accept the plaintiff's legal conclusions as true.” Id. “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). “If the [p]laintiff is proceeding pro se, however, the factual allegations contained in his complaint will be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings.” Akers v. Gutierrez, Civ. Action No. 07cv266 (RJL), 2007 WL 1541500, at *1 (D.D.C. May 23, 2007).[3] “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).

         “The district court of a district in which is filed a case laying venue in the wrong division or district shall dismiss, or if it be in the interest of justice, transfer such case to any district or division in which it could have been brought.” 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a). Before dismissing a case for want of proper venue, a district court should consider whether the “interest of justice” standard warrants transfer. See Dugdale v. Ditech Fin., LLC, No. 17-7137, 2018 WL 1391724 (D.C. Cir. Feb. 21, 2018) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a); Hayes v. Livermont, 279 F.2d 818, 818 (D.C. Cir. 1960) (per curiam)).

If by reason of the uncertainties of proper venue a mistake is made, Congress, by the enactment of [Section] 1406(a), recognized that “the interest of justice” may require that the complaint not be dismissed but rather that it be transferred in order that the plaintiff not be penalized by what the late Judge Parker aptly characterized as “time-consuming and justice-defeating technicalities.”

Goldlawr, Inc. v. Heiman, 369 U.S. 463, 467 (1962) (quoting, respectively, 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a); Internatio-Rotterdam, Inc. v. Thomsen, 218 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1955)). “The decision whether a transfer or a dismissal is in the interest of justice, however, rests within the sound discretion of the district court.” Naartex Consulting Corp. v. Watt, 722 F.2d 779, 789 (D.C. Cir. 1983).

         III. DISCUSSION

         In his Complaint, Plaintiff pleads nothing to support laying venue against Defendant Bohn in the District of Columbia. Between the Complaint and the briefing, it is clear that neither Plaintiff nor Defendant Bohn resides in the District of Columbia. Both parties are residents of New Jersey. Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶ 23; Def.'s Mot. at 5; see 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(1). Nor is there any allegation that “a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim[s] occurred, or a substantial part of property that is the subject of the action is situated, ” in the District of Columbia. 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2). It appears that all of the activities alleged in the Complaint occurred in New Jersey.

         Despite Plaintiff's inability to avail himself of the first two options under Section 1391(b), Plaintiff cannot resort to the residual opportunity to lay venue in simply any federal district court where personal jurisdiction may lie, for there is a federal district court in which venue would be proper. See Id. § 1391(b)(3). Because both Plaintiff and Defendant Bohn are residents of New Jersey, venue is proper in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. If that were not enough, the District of New Jersey is also the proper venue because a substantial part, if not all, of the alleged events or omissions and the property at issue are located there. Accordingly, the Court finds that venue is improper in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

         In an exercise of its discretion, the Court also finds that it would not be in the interest of justice to transfer this case to the District of New Jersey. Defendant Bohn's motion suggests that Plaintiff is shopping for a forum amenable to claims similar to, and perhaps the same as, those that have been dismissed by courts in New Jersey. See Def.'s Mot. at 6-12, 17-18 (listing 11 of the prior cases in New Jersey federal and state courts, as well as ...


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