United States District Court, District of Columbia
N. MCFADDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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
Report thoroughly recounts the background of this case.
See R. & R. at 2-7, ECF No. 33. 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). 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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)).
objects to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation to
transfer this matter. But the Magistrate Judge's
determinations were neither clearly erroneous nor contrary to
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.
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