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Edley v. Saul

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 18, 2019

MICHELLE EDLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL,[1] in his official capacity as the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          REGGIE B. WALTON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The plaintiff, Michelle Edley, brings this civil action against the defendant, Andrew M. Saul, in his official capacity as the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17 (2018); the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (the “Rehabilitation Act”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 701- 797 (2018); and the Family and Medical Leave Act (the “FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601, 2611- 2654. See Complaint (“Compl.”) ¶¶ 19-50. Currently pending before the Court is the defendant's Motion to Dismiss (“Def.'s Mot.”), which seeks the dismissal of the plaintiff's Complaint for improper venue pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3), or, in the alternative, to transfer this case to the Eastern District of Virginia in the interest of justice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406 (2018). Upon careful consideration of the parties' submissions, [2] the Court concludes that it must deny the defendant's request to dismiss for improper venue and grant the defendant's request to transfer this case to the Eastern District of Virginia.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following factual allegations are taken from the plaintiff's Complaint and are accepted as true for the purposes of resolving the defendant's motion, as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3). The plaintiff, an African American female, was employed by the Social Security Administration as a “Supervisory Legal Assistant . . . in the Analytic Review and Oversight Office.” Compl. ¶ 6. The plaintiff alleges that, in 2015, she “was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder . . . [that] impacts her major life activities of thinking, remembering, concentrating, sleeping, eating, . . . caring for herself[, ] and working” and causes “gastrointestinal disruptions.” Id. ¶ 7. The plaintiff contends that (1) “[a]fter [she] [ ] disclosed her medical condition [to her supervisor, Dale Britton], [the Social Security Administration] failed to engage [ ] in the interactive reasonable accommodation process required under the Rehabilitation Act, ” id. ¶ 9; (2) that “she was denied job opportunities[ ] [and] did not receive awards for high visibility assignments[, ] [ ] advancements[, ] or development and support from the [Resource Management Office] as a supervisor in carrying out her duties, ” id.; and (3) that she “was treated less favorably in the workplace than [one of] her colleague[s] . . ., who was consistently selected for and granted career building and resume enhancing opportunities, ” id. Specifically, the plaintiff claims that Britton “refused to provide [her with the] assistance” required to successfully perform her job, id. ¶ 10, and after requesting an accommodation, “Britton responded that there were no other positions with comparable salary available and denied her the opportunity to be reassigned to another position, ” id. Allegedly, Britton's treatment of the plaintiff “created a hostile work environment[, ] which increased [the plaintiff's] anxiety level and exacerbated her disability, making it more difficult to work in the environment.” Id. ¶ 11. According to the plaintiff, on May 26, 2017, she received a Notice of Proposed Removal (the “Notice”) from Britton, see id. ¶¶ 6, 13, and after disputing many of the charges alleged against her in the Notice, the plaintiff was denied her “reasonable accommodation request[, ] . . . and [ ] was placed on leave without pay, ” id. ¶¶ 14-15. Thereafter, the plaintiff purportedly received and declined to accept “a Last Chance Agreement [ ][, ] which required her to take a voluntary [two] grade demotion and waive all civil rights and merit system protections.” Id. ¶ 16. Then, on October 27, 2017, the plaintiff's employment with the Social Security Administration was terminated, see id., and on June 28, 2018, she initiated this civil action, see id. at 1. On November 2, 2018, the defendant filed his motion to dismiss, see generally Def.'s Mot., which is the subject of this Memorandum Opinion.

         II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3) authorizes a party to move for dismissal of a complaint for “improper venue.” In considering a motion to dismiss for lack of proper venue under Rule 12(b)(3), a court must “accept[] 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.” Quarles v. Gen. Inv. & Dev. Co., 260 F.Supp.2d 1, 8 (D.D.C. 2003) (alterations in original) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). In assessing a Rule 12(b)(3) motion, a court may “consider material outside of the pleadings.” Taylor v. Shinseki, 13 F.Supp.3d 81, 85 (D.D.C. 2014). “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) (citations omitted).

         If a court determines that venue is improper in the district in which a case has been filed, it may either dismiss the case, “or if it be in the interest of justice, transfer such case to any district . . . in which it could have been brought.” 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a). The decision whether to transfer or dismiss a case is committed to the discretion of the court where the suit was improperly filed. See Naartex Consulting Corp. v. Watt, 722 F.2d 779, 789 (D.C. Cir. 1983). And, although a court may dismiss a case if the plaintiff's claim suffers from obvious substantive defects, see Buchanan v. Manley, 145 F.3d 386, 389 n.6 (D.C. Cir. 1998), the District of Columbia Circuit favors transfer “when procedural obstacles”-such as “lack of personal jurisdiction, improper venue and statute of limitations bars”-“‘impede an expeditious and orderly adjudication . . . on the merits, '” Sinclair v. Kleindienst, 711 F.2d 291, 293-94 (D.C. Cir. 1983) (quoting Goldlawr, Inc. v. Heiman, 369 U.S. 463, 466-67 (1962)).

         III. LEGAL ANALYSIS

         The defendant argues that the Complaint in this case should be dismissed because the District of Columbia is an improper venue for the plaintiff's Title VII, Rehabilitation Act, and FMLA claims, see Def.'s Mem. at 4-6, or, in the alternative, that this case should be transferred to the Eastern District of Virginia in the interest of justice because “the facts establish that the Eastern District of Virginia is the judicial district in which this action should have been brought, ” id. at 5. Although the plaintiff, in her Complaint, alleges that “[v]enue is proper in this [C]ourt pursuant to 28 U.S.C. [§] 1391(b) in that all or some events or omissions giving rise to [her] claims occurred in this judicial district or [the] [d]efendant may be found in this judicial district, ” Compl. ¶ 3, she does not contest, in her opposition to the defendant's motion, that venue is improper in the District of Columbia, see generally Pl.'s Mem.

         A. Motion to Dismiss the Plaintiff's FMLA Claim for Improper Venue

         Venue for claims arising under the FMLA is governed by the general venue statute codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1391. See James v. Verizon Servs. Corp., 639 F.Supp.2d 9, 15 (D.D.C. 2009) (stating, in an action brought against a private defendant, that “[v]enue for [ ] FMLA claim[s] is governed by the general venue [statute] codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)”). In this case, because the plaintiff's FMLA claim is brought against the defendant in his official capacity as the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, subsection (e) of 28 U.S.C. § 1391 applies, which governs venue for actions in which a defendant is “an officer or employee of the United States or any agency thereof acting in his official capacity or under color of legal authority, or an agency of the United States, or the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1391(e). Under this subsection, a civil action may be brought in any judicial district in which (1) “a defendant in the action resides, ” (2) “a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred, ” or (3) “the plaintiff resides.” Id.

         The Court finds that venue for the plaintiff's FMLA claim is proper in this district under the first provision of 28 U.S.C. § 1391(e) because, contrary to the defendant's assertion that “this case has no ties to th[is] [d]istrict, ” Def.'s Mem. at 5, the defendant “resides” in the District of Columbia, see Webster v. Mattis, 279 F.Supp.3d 14, 19 (D.D.C. 2017) (internal quotation marks omitted) (citing Lamont v. Haig, 590 F.2d 1124, 1128 n.19 (D.C. Cir. 1978)) (stating that for venue purposes, a federal officer “resides where he conducts [a significant amount of] his official duties”). Although the Social Security Administration's “headquarters are located [in] . . . Maryland, ” Def.'s Mem. at 5, “[o]fficers and agencies of the United States can have more than one residence, and venue can properly lie in more than one jurisdiction, ” Bartman v. Cheney, 827 F.Supp. 1, 2 (D.D.C. 1993), and there is nothing in the record indicating that the defendant performs a significant amount of his official duties in Maryland as opposed to the District of Columbia. While acknowledging that the plaintiff “bears the burden of establishing that venue is proper, ” Sierra Club v. Johnson, 623 F.Supp.2d 31, 34 (D.D.C. 2009) (quoting Varma v. Gutierrez, 421 F.Supp.2d 110, 113 (D.D.C. 2006)), the Court finds that, based on case law, venue for the plaintiff's FMLA claim under the first provision of 28 U.S.C. § 1391(e) is proper either in this district or in the District of Maryland. See A.J. Taft Coal Co. v. Barnhart, 291 F.Supp.2d 1290, 1307 (N.D. Ala. 2003) (“Because the Social Security Administration has principal offices in both the District of Columbia and Baltimore, Maryland, venue is proper in either district.” (citation omitted)). Therefore, the Court must deny the defendant's motion to dismiss the plaintiff's FMLA claim based on the argument that this case was brought in an improper venue.

         B. Motion to Dismiss the Plaintiff's Title VII and Rehabilitation Act Claims for Improper Venue

         While the general venue statute applies to the plaintiff's FMLA claim, venue for the plaintiff's Title VII and Rehabilitation Act claims are governed by Title VII's specific venue provisions articulated in 42 U.S.C. ...


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