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Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC v. Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 27, 2019

RELMAN, DANE & COLFAX PLLC, Plaintiff,
v.
FAIR HOUSING COUNCIL OF SAN FERNADO VALLEY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TREVOR N. McFADDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley (“FHC”) and Mei Ling (collectively, “the Clients”) retained Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC (“Relman”), a Washington, D.C. law firm, to represent them in a False Claims Act suit against the City of Los Angeles and its Community Redevelopment Agency. But the attorney-client relationship soured, and the Clients told Relman that they were voiding their contingency fee agreements (“the Agreements”) with the firm. Relman sued, alleging anticipatory breach and seeking a declaration that the Clients remained bound by the Agreements. The Clients moved to dismiss Relman’s Complaint or to transfer this matter to the Central District of California (“CDCA”). The Court referred this case to Magistrate Judge Meriweather for full case management, and she has submitted a Report and Recommendation (“Report”) on the Clients’ motions. Relevant here, the Magistrate Judge recommends transferring this matter to the CDCA. For the reasons below, the Court will adopt the Report and transfer this matter over Relman’s objections.

         I.

         The Report thoroughly recounts the background of this case. See R. & R. at 2–7, ECF No. 33.[1] Only a brief procedural history is necessary. After Relman filed its Complaint, FHC moved to dismiss. FHC argued that Relman’s claims were not ripe, the Court lacked personal jurisdiction over FHC, and venue was improper. FHC Mot. to Dismiss at 23–29, 32–46, ECF No. 10. Ms. Ling also moved to dismiss, raising similar arguments. Ling Mot. to Dismiss at 15– 24, 26–30, ECF No. 22-1. In the alternative, the Clients requested that the Court transfer this matter to the CDCA under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).[2] See Id. at 29 n.14; FHC Mot. to Dismiss at 46. Relman opposed both motions on all fronts. Opp’n to FHC Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 14; Opp’n to Ling Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 26.

         The Magistrate Judge largely agreed with Relman. She found that Relman’s claims were ripe, that the Court had personal jurisdiction over the Clients, and that venue was proper.[3] R. & R. at 10–36. The Magistrate Judge, however, agreed with the Clients that the interest of justice supported transferring this matter to the CDCA. Id. at 36–45.

         Weighing the private interests in transfer, the Magistrate Judge concluded that the parties’ choice of forum “slightly weighs against transfer, ” but the convenience of the parties and witnesses “tilts . . . slightly in favor of transferring the case to California.” Id. at 39, 41. The other private interest factors-where the claim arose and the ease of access to sources of proof- according to the Magistrate Judge, are neutral. Id. at 39, 41.

         As for the public interest in transfer, the Magistrate Judge concluded that the related False Claims Act litigation pending in the CDCA-the litigation underlying the Agreements at issue-“favors transfer.” Id. at 43. The other public interest factors-the relative congestion of the courts, the local interest in resolving the controversy, and the courts’ familiarity with governing law-are neutral, according to the Magistrate Judge. Id. at 42–45. Finally, she determined that the balance of public and private interests favors transfer. Id. at 45.

         Relman objects. Objs. to R. & R., ECF No. 34. It argues that it was improper for the Magistrate Judge to consider the public interest factors after finding that the private interest factors were in equipoise. Id. at 12–13. More, Relman objects to the Magistrate Judge’s findings on several individual private and public interest factors. Id. at 14–22.

         II.

         The Court’s review is limited to “only those issues that the parties have raised in their objections to the Magistrate Judge’s report.” Taylor v. District of Columbia, 205 F.Supp.3d 75, 79 (D.D.C. 2016). “The decision whether to stay or transfer a case is a non-dispositive matter committed to the broad discretion of a district court.” Am. Ctr. for Civil Justice v. Ambush, 794 F.Supp.2d 123, 129 (D.D.C. 2011). And “[w]here, as here, a party timely objects to a magistrate judge’s decision with respect to a non-dispositive matter, the Court must modify or set aside all or part of that decision if it is ‘clearly erroneous’ or ‘contrary to law.’” Id. (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a)).

         III.

         Relman objects to the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation to transfer this matter. But the Magistrate Judge’s determinations were neither clearly erroneous nor contrary to law.

         First, Relman argues that it was “contrary to law” for the Magistrate Judge to evaluate the public interest factors after finding that the private interest factors tipped in neither direction. Objs. to R. & R. at 12–13. Not so. Indeed, the cases that Relman cites betray its argument.

         According to Relman, under Section 1404(a), “transfer is permitted only ‘[i]f the balance of the private and public interests favors a transfer of venue.’” Id. at 13 (quoting Flick v. Sessions, 298 F.Supp.3d 205, 207 (D.D.C. 2018)) (emphasis added by Relman). Exactly. The decision whether to transfer a matter depends on a balance of private and public interest factors. Nothing in Flick precludes a court from considering public interest factors where the private interest factors are unclear. Indeed, courts often consider public interest factors when the private interest factors are inconclusive. See, e.g., Douglas v. Chariots for Hire, 918 F.Supp.2d 24, 33 (D.D.C. 2013) (“Finding that the private-interest factors do not tilt strongly in favor of either venue, the Court now turns to the public-interest ...


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