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Holley v. Wilkie

United States District Court, D. Maine

June 2, 2019

EVELYN O. HOLLEY, Plaintiff
v.
ROBERT WILKIE, Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Defendant

          RECOMMENDED DECISION ON MOTION TO DISMISS OR TRANSFER

          JOHN H. RICH III UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         In this discrimination action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., the plaintiff Evelyn O. Holley alleges that the defendant Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) failed to remedy her complaints of sex discrimination and other misconduct over the long course of her employment at the VA Medical Center in East Orange, New Jersey. See generally Complaint (ECF No. 1). The defendant has filed a motion to dismiss or transfer this action based on improper venue. See generally Defendant United States of America's Motion To Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3), or, in the Alternative, to Transfer Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a) (“Motion”) (ECF No. 7). I conclude that venue is improper in this district and, accordingly, recommend that the court transfer this case to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, mooting the motion insofar as it seeks to dismiss the complaint.

         I. Applicable Legal Standard

         When ruling on a pretrial motion challenging venue, “[a]ll well-pleaded allegations in the complaint bearing on the venue question generally are taken as true, unless contradicted by the defendant's affidavits.” Turnley v. Banc of Am. Inv. Servs., Inc., 576 F.Supp.2d. 204, 211 (D. Mass. 2008) (quoting 5B Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1352 (3d ed. 2004)). “A district court may examine facts outside the complaint to determine whether its venue is proper.” Id. The plaintiff bears the burden of showing that “venue is proper in the judicial district in which the action has been brought.” Id. (quoting Transam. Corp. v. Trans-Am. Leasing Corp., 670 F.Supp. 1089, 1090 (D. Mass. 1987)) (footnote omitted). “The district court of a district in which is filed a case laying venue in the wrong division or district shall dismiss, or if it be in the interest of justice, transfer such case to any district or division in which it could have been brought.” 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a).

         In a Title VII action, venue is governed by 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3), rather than the general venue statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1391.[1] See Donnell v. Nat'l Guard Bureau, 568 F.Supp. 93, 94 (D.D.C. 1983) (“[42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3)] controls any other venue provision governing actions in federal court.”); see also Stebbins v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 413 F.2d 1100, 1102 (D.C. Cir. 1969) (noting the statute defines the “four judicial districts in which employment discrimination suits may be filed”).

         Thus, a Title VII action may be brought

[1] in any judicial district in the State in which the unlawful employment practice is alleged to have been committed, [2] in the judicial district in which the employment records relevant to such practice are maintained and administered, or [3] in the judicial district in which the aggrieved person would have worked but for the alleged unlawful employment practice, but [4] if the respondent is not found within any such district, such an action may be brought within the judicial district in which the respondent has his principal office.

42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3). In deciding how Section 2000e-5(f)(3) should govern in a given action, courts should apply “a commonsense appraisal of events having operative significance” in determining where venue lies. Darby v. U.S. Dep't of Energy, 231 F.Supp.2d 274, 277 (D.D.C. 2002) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

         II. Background

         On August 15, 2018, the plaintiff received a “Final Agency Decision” from the VA Office of Resolution Management dismissing her complaint and notifying her of her right to appeal the decision to the United States District Court via a civil action within 90 days. Complaint at 3; Exh. 1 (ECF No. 1-6) thereto, at [8]. The plaintiff filed this civil action on September 5, 2018. See Complaint at 1.

         The plaintiff's complaint and attachments (comprising 327 pages) allege a long history of sex discrimination and derivative misconduct, all of which occurred during her employment at the VA Medical Center in East Orange, New Jersey. See Complaint at 5-9; see generally Exhs. 1-4 (ECF Nos. 1-6 to 1-9) thereto. The plaintiff further alleges that the agency failed to adequately remedy the discrimination against her, eventually resulting in her constructive termination in 2002. See Complaint at 9.

         On November 2, 2018, the defendant filed its motion to dismiss or transfer, arguing that venue is improper under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3). See Motion at 1.

         III. Discussion

         Since the plaintiff brought this action under Title VII, see Complaint at 2-3, she must comply with at least one of the applicable venue provisions outlined in Section 2000e-5(f)(3). See Turnley, 576 F.Supp.2d at 212 (“Only one of Title VII's venue provisions need[s] to be satisfied in order for venue to be proper.”) (citation omitted). The defendant argues ...


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