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Clean Air Carolina v. North Carolina Department of Transportation

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

November 14, 2014



GRAHAM C. MULLEN, District Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendants' motions to change venue (Doc. Nos. 13 & 14), Plaintiffs' Response in Opposition (Doc. No. 17), and Defendants' replies (Doc. Nos. 18 & 19). Defendants request that this case be transferred to the Eastern District of North Carolina so that it may proceed before the Honorable James C. Dever, III. For the reasons set forth below, those motions are GRANTED.


This is an environmental case arising from the construction of the Monroe Connector/Bypass ("Bypass") in Mecklenburg and Union counties. Defendants North Carolina Department of Transportation ("NCDOT") and Federal Highway Administration ("FHWA") are attempting to build a new controlled-access toll road across approximately twenty miles of new terrain, "from U.S. 74 near I-485 in Mecklenburg County to U.S. 74 between the towns of Wingate and Marshville in Union County." Record of Decision ("ROD") 1 (Doc. No. 13, Ex. 1). Plaintiffs contend that Defendants violated the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq. ("NEPA"), while reviewing matter related to the transportation project. The Complaint, filed on June 23, 2014, contains eight separate claims for relief in 282 paragraphs and broadly alleges that "the Transportation Agencies have acted arbitrarily and capriciously in issuing the Environmental Impact Statements and the Record of Decision for the proposed Toll Road." (Doc. No. 1 at 1).

This lawsuit follows an earlier challenge to this project filed on November 2, 2010 in the Eastern District of North Carolina by the same plaintiffs. See N.C. Wildlife Fed'n v. N.C. DOT, No. 5:10-cv-476-D (E.D. N.C. ) (" Monroe I "). The district court in that case, Honorable James. C. Dever, III, considered cross motions for summary judgment and eventually found in favor of Defendants. Monroe I, No. 5:10-cv-476-D, 2011 WL 5042075 (E.D. N.C. Oct. 24, 2011). Plaintiffs appealed, and the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in Plaintiffs' favor, finding that Defendants did not properly disclose assumptions underlying certain data and did not properly respond to public concerns about those assumptions and data. The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment and remanded the matter "so that the Agencies and the public can fully (and publicly) evaluate the no build' data." N.C. Wildlife Fed'n v. N.C. DOT, 607 F.3d 596, 605 (4th Cir. 2012).

After the Fourth Circuit's ruling, FHWA and NCDOT initiated new studies and analyses that resulted in a Supplemental Final Environmental Impact Statement ("SFEIS") and accompanying Record of Decision. Plaintiffs thereafter filed this second suit, this time in the Western District of North Carolina. The Complaint asserts that "[v]enue is proper in the Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(e)." (Doc. No. 1 at 4).


United States Code Title 28 Section 1404(a) provides, in part: "For the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought...." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a); see also Atl. Marine Constr. Co., Inc. v. U.S. Dist. Court, 134 S.Ct. 568, 581 (2013). Congress designed Section 1404(a) as a "federal judicial housekeeping measure" to "prevent the waste of time, energy, and money and to protect litigants, witnesses and the public against unnecessary inconvenience and expense." Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 616, 636 (1964). In a motion brought pursuant to Section 1404(a), the moving party must establish (1) that the plaintiff could have brought the case in the transferee district and (2) that transfer would make the litigation more convenient for the parties and for the witnesses, and would advance justice. See Ward v. INVISTA S.a.r.L., LLC, 5:06-cv-40, 385 B.R. 817, 821 (W.D. N.C. 2008).


As an initial matter, the Court notes that this lawsuit could have been brought in the Eastern District originally. United States Code Title 28 Section 1391(e)(1) governs venue in civil actions where the United States or any of its officers or agencies is a defendant. Under that Section, venue lies in any district where "(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...." 28 U.S.C. § 1391(e)(1). Defendants John Sullivan and Anthony Tata both live and work in Raleigh, which is also where the offices of the NCDOT and the North Carolina division of the FHWA are located. Additionally, a substantial part of the work and analysis done on the ROD being challenged in this case occurred in Raleigh. For these reasons, the Court finds that this case could have been brought in the Eastern District of North Carolina.

As to the parties' convenience and the interests of justice, the Western District has consistently applied an eleven-factor test. Those factors are:

(1) the Plaintiff's choice of forum; (2) the residence of the parties; (3) the relative ease of access of proof; (4) the availability of compulsory process for the attendance of witnesses and the costs of obtaining attendance of willing witnesses; (5) the possibility of a view; (6) the enforceability of any judgment obtained; (7) the relative advantages and obstacles to a fair trial; (8) other problems which might make the litigation more expeditious and economical; (9) the administrative difficulties of court congestion; (10) the interest in having localized controversies resolved at home and the appropriateness in having litigation of a diversity case in a forum that is at home with the state law that must govern the action; and (11) the avoidance of issues involving conflict of laws.

Am. Motorists Ins. Co. v. CTS Corp., 356 F.Supp.2d 583, 585 (2005). Defendants note, and the Court agrees, that most of these factors are obviated by the fact that this is a challenge under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 701-706, which will likely be decided on summary judgment. Factors 3, 4, and 5 weigh the ease of access to sources of proof, witnesses, and locations; these factors weigh neutrally because under the APA, "[t]he factfinding capacity of the district court is... typically unnecessary to judicial review of agency decisionmaking." Fla. Power & Light Co. v. Lorion, 470 U.S. 729, 744 (1985).[1] Factor 7 relates to trials, and actions under the APA typically do not proceed to trial. See, e.g., Guthrie v. Schweiker, 718 F.2d 104, 108 (4th Cir. 1983). Factor 5 relates to the enforceability of judgments; this factor weighs neutrally because the defendants here are agencies of the ...

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