United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. FRIEDMAN United States District Judge.
matter is before the Court on the motion [Dkt. No. 20] of
plaintiffs Marta Alicia Mejia and her great-grandson, E.G.S.,
to transfer venue to the United States District Court for the
Southern District of California. Defendants - various federal
agencies and officials responsible for enforcing immigration
laws and regulations - oppose the motion. Upon careful
consideration of the parties' written submissions, the
relevant legal authorities, and the entire record in this
case, the Court will deny the motion.
crossing the U.S.-Mexico border together on June 1, 2018,
five-year-old E.G.S. and his sixty-year-old great-grandmother
were detained and separated by border officials. See
Compl. ¶ 22. Ms. Mejia asserts that she is the sole
primary caregiver, legal guardian, and adoptive parent of
E.G.S. See Compl. at 3 and ¶¶ 3, 16; Mejia
Decl. ¶ 2. She explains that she took custody of E.G.S.
shortly after he was born because he was born prematurely and
required extensive medical care. See Compl. ¶
17; Mejia Decl. ¶ 4; Martinez Decl. ¶ 3. The
biological parents of E.G.S. have not been involved in his
care. See PI Mem. at 2-3.
she was detained in Texas, Ms. Mejia applied for asylum based
on threats of violence she received from gang members in
Honduras. See Compl. ¶ 26. Immigration
authorities conducted a credible fear interview in connection
with Ms. Mejia's asylum application on June 15, 2018.
See id.; Mejia Decl. ¶ 20. After receiving a
negative credible fear determination, Ms. Mejia was scheduled
to be removed from the United States on September 7, 2018.
See Compl. ¶ 28. Meanwhile, E.G.S. was
initially placed with a foster mother in New York who
allegedly abused him. See id. ¶ 29; Martinez
Decl. ¶ 7. He was later released to the custody of Ms.
Mejia's son and daughter-in-law in Texas. See
Mejia Decl. ¶ 21; Martinez Decl. ¶¶ 1-5.
brought suit on September 6, 2018 asserting nine causes of
action: (1) Violation of Asylum Statute (Count I); (2) Due
Process Violations Based on Punishment of Civil Detainee
(Count II); (3) Substantive Due Process (Counts III and IV);
(4) Administrative Procedure Act (Count V); (5) Petition for
Habeas Corpus (Counts VI and VII); (6) Punitive Damages
(Count VIII); and (7) Attorneys' Fees (Count IX).
See Compl. at 9-14. On September 6, 2018, plaintiffs
moved for a temporary restraining order to stop Ms.
Mejia's removal scheduled for September 7, 2018.
See TRO Mot. Because plaintiffs filed the motion
after business hours, the matter was referred to the
scheduled motions judge, Judge Christopher R. Cooper,
pursuant to Local Civil Rules 40.8(b) and 65.1(b). In light
of the emergency nature of plaintiffs' request, Judge
Cooper held an ex parte hearing that evening and
issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting Ms.
Mejia's removal pending further review by the merits
judge. See Sept. 6, 2018 TRO Order. Ms. Mejia has
been detained in Texas since then. See Mejia Decl.
case was reassigned to this Court on September 10, 2018. On
September 14, 2018, plaintiffs moved for a preliminary
injunction requiring the immediate reunification of Ms. Mejia
and E.G.S. and an order enjoining defendants from removing
Ms. Mejia without E.G.S. See PI Mot. at 1-2.
Defendants filed an opposition on September 19, 2018.
See PI Opp'n. The Court held a preliminary
injunction hearing on September 25, 2018. Shortly before the
hearing, plaintiffs filed the motion currently pending before
the Court - a motion to transfer venue to the Southern
District of California. See Transfer Mot.
28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), a district court may transfer a
civil action to any other district “[f]or the
convenience of the parties and witnesses, in the interest of
justice, ” so long as the transferee district is one
where the case “might have been brought.”
See 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Section 1404(a)
affords the Court broad discretion in determining whether
transfer from one jurisdiction to another is appropriate.
See Ravulapalli v. Napolitano, 773 F.Supp.2d 41, 55
(D.D.C. 2011) (citing SEC v. Savoy Indus. Inc., 587
F.2d 1149, 1154 (D.C. Cir. 1978)). The decision to transfer
is made based on an “individualized, case-by-case
consideration of convenience and fairness.” See
Ravulapalli v. Napolitano, 773 F.Supp.2d at 55 (quoting
Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 622
(1964)); see also Aracely v. Nielsen, No. 17-1976,
2018 WL 3243977, at *6 (D.D.C. July 3, 2018). It is normally
the defendant who moves for a change of venue. See
15 Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller, Edward H. Cooper
& Richard D. Freer, Federal Practice and Procedure §
3844 (4th ed. 2018). But where a plaintiff seeks to transfer
venue from the forum that he or she has chosen to another
district, “the burden should be at least as heavy on a
plaintiff who seeks to change the forum originally chosen as
it is when the defendant moves to transfer.” See
id. § 3848.
whether transfer is appropriate under Section 1404(a) calls
for a two-part inquiry. See Willis v. Chase Home
Fin., 923 F.Supp.2d 89, 92 (D.D.C. 2013). The Court must
first ask whether the transferee forum is one where the
action “might have been brought” originally.
See id. (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a));
Aracely v. Nielsen, 2018 WL 3243977, at *7 (citing
Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. at 616-17). Where a
party is able to establish the threshold requirement that the
transferee court lies within a district where the action
“might have been brought, ” the Court must then
turn to step two, which requires the Court to determine
whether the movant has shown that the “convenience of
the parties and witnesses” and the “interest of
justice” counsel in favor of transfer. See Willis
v. Chase Home Fin., 923 F.Supp.2d at 93; Aracely v.
Nielsen, 2018 WL 3243977, at *7 (citing Trout
Unlimited v. U.S. Dep't of Ag., 944 F.Supp. 13, 16
to plaintiffs, Ms. Mejia is a member of the following class
certified by Judge Dana M. Sabraw in Ms. L. v. U.S.
Immigration & Customs Enforcement, 310 F.Supp.3d
1133 (S.D. Cal. 2018): “All adult parents who enter the
United States at or between designated ports of entry who (1)
have been, are, or will be detained in immigration custody by
the [Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”)],
and (2) have a minor child who is or will be separated from
them by DHS and detained in ORR custody, ORR foster care, or
DHS custody, absent a determination that the parent is unfit
or presents a danger to the child.” See id. at
1139. Defendants maintain, however, that Ms. Mejia is not a
member of the Ms. L. class because she is not
E.G.S.'s “adult parent” for purposes of the
class definition. See Transfer Opp'n at 4. To
the extent that Ms. Mejia's membership in the Ms.
L. class is an open question, plaintiffs ask the Court
to transfer this case to the Southern District of California
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) for resolution by Judge
Sabraw. See Transfer Mot. at 2. Defendants counter
that transfer is inappropriate as a threshold matter because
venue would be improper in the Southern District of
California under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(e)(1). See
Transfer Opp'n at 5.
threshold question under Section 1404(a) is whether the
transferee district - here, the Southern District of
California - is a forum where this action “might have
been brought” originally. See 28 U.S.C. §
1404(a). The federal venue statute applicable here, 28 U.S.C.
§ 1391(e)(1), provides that a civil action may be
brought against a federal officer or employee acting in his
or her official capacity “in any judicial 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.” See
28 U.S.C. § 1391(e)(1). Unless the Court can fit this
case into one of these three provisions, venue is improper in
the Southern District of California.
the first and third inquiries, defendants correctly assert
that none of the parties to this action reside in the
Southern District of California, and plaintiffs present no
evidence or argument to the contrary. Each defendant listed
in the complaint is associated with an address either in
Texas or in the District of Columbia. See Compl. at
1-2; E.V. v. Robinson, 200 F.Supp.3d 108, 113
(D.D.C. 2016) (“In determining a defendant's
residency under Section 1391(e), “[w]hat controls is
the official residence of the federal defendant where the
official duties are performed.” (quoting Lamont v.
Haig, 590 F.2d 1124, 1128 n.19 (D.C. Cir. ...