United States District Court, District of Columbia
C. Lamberth United States District Judge
Nana Gyau and Elizabeth Toku, a married couple residing in
Virginia, ask this Court to undo the United States Custom
& Immigration Service's (USCIS) denial of their
petition sponsoring Gyau for lawful permanent residency.
After considering their Form 1-130 and interviewing
plaintiffs, USCIS's Washington Field Office denied the
petition, crediting evidence that suggested Gyau married Toku
to obtain an immigration benefit.
unsuccessfully appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals
(BIA), and now seek this Court's review under the
Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 702. Pending
before the Court is the government's motion either to
dismiss for improper venue under Rule 12(b)(3) or to transfer
under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) to the Eastern District of
Virginia. Because the suit could have been-and ought to
be-heard in the Eastern District, the Court will grant the
government's motion and transfer the case.
a § 1404 motion to transfer is like dancing a Texas
two-step: First, could the suit have been brought in the
transferee court? And second, should the suit be brought in
the transferee court? See Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376
U.S. 612, 616-43 (1964).
the former turns on the general venue statute, 28 U.S.C.
§ 1391. Under § 1391(e), a suit against a United
States officer or employee can be brought in any district
where a defendant resides, where the underlying claim arose,
or-if no real property is involved-where the plaintiff
resides. Federal defendants reside "where the[ir]
official duties are performed and not the[ir] personal
residence." Lamont v. Haig, 590 F.2d 1124, 1128
n.19 (D.C. Cir. 1978).
the latter "calls on district courts to weigh in the
balance a number of case-specific factors." Stewart
Org. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988). These
prudential factors consider public and private interests. The
public interests include the transferee court's
familiarity with the governing laws, each court's
relative congestion, and the local interest in resolving the
controversy. Elemary v. Philipp Holzmann A.G., 533
F.Supp.2d 144, 149-50 (D.D.C. 2008) (quoting Trout
Unlimited v. U.S. Dep't of Agria, 944 F.Supp. 13, 16
(D.D.C. 1996)). The private interests include the plaintiffs
preferred forum, the defendant's preferred forum, where
the claim arose, and the convenience to the parties, to the
witnesses, and to the evidence. Id.
Transfer is warranted since the suit could and should have
been brought in the Eastern District of Virginia.
venue properly lies in the Eastern District of Virginia, and
because the private and public interests at stake support
transfer, the Court will grant plaintiffs motion and transfer
the government easily establishes the suit could have been
brought in the Eastern District of Virginia. Defendants
Kimberly Zanotti and Sarah Taylor (the Field Office Director
and the District Director of USCIS's Washington field
office) work in Fairfax, Virginia and thus reside in the
Eastern District of Virginia for venue purposes. What is
more, the events giving rise to plaintiffs' claim-the
adjudication of their 1-130 petition and subsequent appeal to
the BIA- took place within the Eastern District of Virginia
in Fairfax and in Falls Church. And finally, the suit does
not involve real property, and both Gyau and Toku reside
within the Eastern District's borders in Alexandria.
balancing the prudential factors favors transfer. To be sure,
the first two public interests implicated by transfer (the
transferee court's familiarity with the governing
laws,' and each court's relative congestion) favor
neither side: "this case involves the application of
federal law, with which this Court and the Eastern District
of Virginia are equally familiar, and the parties have
presented the Court with no evidence regarding the relative
congestion of the respective courts." Al-Ahmed v.
Chertoff, 564 F.Supp.2d 16, 20 (D.D.C. 2008). But the
third public interest-the transferee court's interest in
resolving the controversy-supports transfer since courts have
"a local interest in having localized controversies
decided at home," Adams v. Bell, 711 F.2d 161,
167 (D.C. Cir. 1983), an interest which extends "to
controversies requiring judicial review of an administrative
decision." Sierra Club v. Flowers, 276
F.Supp.2d 62, 70 (D.D.C. 2003).
private interests add more weight. Of course, although
plaintiffs prefer the District of Columbia, the government
prefers the Eastern District of Virginia. And though courts
usually defer to the plaintiffs forum choice, they need not
"when the forum preferred by the plaintiff is not his
home forum, and the defendant prefers the plaintiffs home
forum." Ngonga v. Sessions, 318 F.Supp.3d 270,
275 (D.D.C. 2018); see also Id. ("[D]eference
is not always warranted where the plaintiffs choice of forum
has no meaningful ties to the controversy, and where transfer
is sought to a forum with which plaintiffs have substantial
ties and where the subject matter of the lawsuit is
connected."). So too here, where plaintiffs reside in
the Eastern District of Virginia, the government prefers the
Eastern District, and plaintiffs' claim arose in the
Eastern District, but they filed their suit in the District
of Columbia. Moreover, to determine where the claim arose
"in cases brought under the APA, courts generally focus
on where the decision making process occurred"-here, the
Eastern District of Virginia, where USCIS interviewed
plaintiffs, adjudicated their petition, and denied their
appeal. Even crediting plaintiffs' claim that the
Attorney General, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the
USCIS Director played some 'nominal role as the
heads' of the agencies that denied plaintiffs'
petition, Br. at 5, "attenuated or insignificant
involvement by an official in the District of Columbia does
not support venue here." Aftab v. Gonzales, 597
F.Supp.2d 76, 82 (D.D.C. 2009). The last three
convenience-related private interests are a wash: "[t]he
geographic distance between the Eastern District of
Virginia's courthouse in Alexandria and the District of
Columbia is small and it is unlikely that a transfer would
materially affect the convenience of the parties or
witnesses, or the ability to obtain sources of proof."
Montgomery v. STG Intern., Inc., 532 F.Supp.2d 29,
34 (D.D.C. 2008).
three private interests and one public interest favor
transfer, and the remaining five are in equipoise, balancing
the prudential factors counsels transfer. And not for
nothing, this result comports with other decisions in this
district, Ngonga,318 F.Supp.3d 270, Pearson v.
Rodriguez,174 F.Supp.3d 210 (D.D.C. 2016), and with the
Court of Appeals's command to "guard against the
danger that a plaintiff might.... nam[e] high government
officials as defendants ... [to] ...