United States District Court, D. Idaho
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
Lynn Winmill U.S. District Court Judge.
Court has before it a motion to dismiss or, in the
alternative, to transfer venue. The motion is fully briefed
and at issue. For the reasons explained below, the Court will
not dismiss the case, but will transfer venue to the U.S.
District Court for the District of Utah.
Western Watersheds Project (WWP) brought this lawsuit to
reverse a decision of the Interior Board of Land Appeals
(IBLA) and to reverse the Bureau of Land Management's
(BLM's) decision renewing grazing permits on the Duck
Creek allotment. That allotment covers about 22, 000 acres in
northern Utah, of which 13, 900 acres are BLM lands, 8, 617
acres are owned by Utah residents, and 1, 078 acres are owned
by the State of Utah.
the BLM was considering renewing the grazing permits for this
allotment, WWP presented the BLM with evidence that grazing
was degrading fish and wildlife habitat among other damage in
violation of NEPA and FLPMA in an effort to prevent the
renewal. The BLM nevertheless renewed the grazing permits.
WWP appealed to Interior's Office of Hearings and
Appeals, and an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a lengthy
evidentiary hearing. Following that hearing, the ALJ rendered
a decision agreeing with WWP that the BLM violated NEPA and
FLPMA and reversing the BLM's decision to renew the
permits but declining WWP's request for remedial relief.
the BLM appealed that decision to the IBLA. The IBLA ruled in
favor of the BLM, reversing the ALJ's decision and
reinstating the BLM's decision to renew the grazing
permits. WWP responded by filing this action, alleging that
the IBLA improperly imposed a burden of proof on WWP that was
impossible to meet and ignored the credibility findings of
the ALJ. WWP also alleges that the BLM decision renewing the
permits violates NEPA and FLPMA because the BLM ignored the
environmental damage being done by livestock grazing on the
has filed a motion to dismiss this case for lack of venue or,
in the alternative, to transfer venue to the Federal District
Court for the District of Utah. WWP responds that venue is
proper here and objects to any transfer.
federal venue statute allows a plaintiff to bring suit
against an officer, employee, or agency of the United States
in “any judicial district in which . . . the plaintiff
resides if no real property is involved in the action.”
See 28 U.S.C. § 1391(e)(3). WWP
“resides” in the District of Idaho, and the Court
has ruled previously that cases similar to this do not
involve real property as that term is used in the statute.
See WWP v. Salazar, 2009 WL 1299626, at *2 (D. Idaho
May 7, 2009) (Salazar I); WWP v. Salazar, 2010 WL
375003, at *2 (D. Idaho Jan. 25, 2010) (Salazar II). The
Court reaffirms its holdings in those cases and finds that
venue is proper here.
more difficult question is whether this case should be
transferred to Utah under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) that
grants discretion to the Court to transfer a case to another
venue “[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses,
in the interest of justice.” The Court may weigh
multiple factors in assessing a discretionary venue transfer,
including: (1) convenience of the parties and witnesses; (2)
familiarity of each forum with the applicable law; (3) the
plaintiff's choice of forum; (4) contacts of the
different parties with the forum; (5) local interest in the
controversy; (6) the ease of access to sources of proof and
evidence; and (7) relative congestion in each forum. See
Jones v. GNC Franchising, Inc., 211 F.3d 495, 498-99
(9th Cir. 2000).
apply “a strong presumption in favor of the
plaintiff's choice of forum.” Piper Aircraft
Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 255 (1981). The defendant
must “make a strong showing of inconvenience to warrant
upsetting the plaintiff's choice of forum.”
Decker Coal Co. v. Commonwealth Edison Co., 805 F.2d
834, 843 (9th Cir. 1986).
deference given to a plaintiff's choice of forum is
lessened if the transactions giving rise to the action lack a
significant connection to the plaintiff's chosen forum.
See Pac. Car & Foundry Co. v. Pence, 403 F.2d
949, 954 (9th Cir.1968) (holding that a plaintiff's
choice of forum commands less consideration where the
operative facts have not occurred within the forum and the
forum has no particular interest in the parties or subject
matter). Here, the allotment at issue involves land owned
entirely by the BLM, the State of Utah, or Utah residents.
WWP's choice of forum is entitled to less deference in
it is undisputed that this case could have been brought in
Utah originally so “[t]he Court must consider public
factors relating to the interest of justice and private
factors relating to the convenience of the parties and
witnesses.” Decker Coal, 805 F.2d at 843. The
private factors - such as convenience, familiarity with the
law, ease of access to proof, and congestion of the forums -
do not weigh consistently in any direction. It is the public
factor relating to the interest of justice - and the factor
relating to the local interest in the controversy - that is
entitled to the most weight under the unique circumstances of
this case. While overturning the IBLA's decision on the
burden of proof and credibility of witnesses could provide
some precedent to be used in other cases, the real focus of
this lawsuit is on a single allotment in Utah owned entirely
by the BLM, the State of Utah, and Utah residents. This is
not a case challenging an overarching policy or practice of
the BLM that affected grazing practices across the boundaries
of several States including Idaho. See WWP v
Schnieder, 2017 WL 874568 (D. Idaho March 3, 2017)
(refusing to transfer a challenge to numerous BLM land use
plans across several States where plaintiffs alleged that BLM
made errors common to all plans). Because this case is
focused entirely on grazing in a single allotment in Utah,
and because the case could have been brought there ...