Ecological Rights Found. v. EPA, No. 19-04242, 2019 WL 5295124 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 18, 2019) (Seeborg, J.)
Re: Action challenging rule updating processes and guidelines by which EPA would manage FOIA requests
Disposition: Granting defendant's motion to transfer; transferring case to District Court for District of Columbia
- Litigation Considerations, Venue and Removal: The court holds that "[t]he factors balanced above demonstrate that, while [plaintiffs] reasonably brought their lawsuit in the Northern District of California, the EPA has now presented more compelling reasons for the case to be transferred." The court relates that "[t]he parties do not dispute that both the Northern District of California and the District of Columbia are proper venues for this case." The court considers factors favoring transfer, first finding that "the factual and legal overlap between the cases is significant" because "[a]ll three cases are challenging the process by which the Rule was promulgated, as well as some of the [substantive] changes it makes, under various provisions of the APA and the FOIA." "The courts handling each of the cases will thus need to apply the same statutes to the same Administrative Record and answer many of the same questions." "A situation where the Northern District of California finds the Rule acceptable under the APA and the FOIA and the District of Columbia does not, or vice versa, would leave the parties without real guidance about how to act." "Another factor favoring transfer, albeit less strongly, is relative court congestion." "The statistics provided by the parties demonstrate D.D.C. is less congested than the Northern District of California by almost every measure." The court then considers factors disfavoring transfer, first finding that "Plaintiffs' strongest argument for keeping the case in this district is, somewhat circuitously, that they would prefer to litigate here." "That concern is not insignificant, especially given that both [plaintiffs] are headquartered in this district." "That deference, however, is somewhat diminished given that the facts giving rise to the litigation did not occur in this district." Additionally, the court finds that "this is not a 'local' controversy; this district does not have any special interest in the outcome of this litigation." "Another consideration disfavoring transfer, albeit much less weightily than plaintiffs suggest, is the ease of access to sources of proof." "The parties seem to agree that the Administrative Record and the relevant statutory provisions, all of which are available electronically, are the only evidence that will be needed to decide this case." The court lastly finds that "the districts’ relative familiarity with the law" and "convenience of the parties" are relatively neutral in this case. Overall, the court finds that, "[e]valuating all the factors holistically, . . . only two meaningfully favor transfer and two disfavor it." "Of these, court congestion (favors transfer) and convenience of witnesses (disfavors transfer) essentially balance each other out in degree." "The strongest argument disfavoring transfer – the plaintiffs' choice of forum – is minimized in that the facts underlying the case did not arise in this district; put differently, this district has no special interest in the litigation." "The strongest argument favoring transfer – the possibility of consolidation with [two other cases] – is thus significant enough to overcome that weakened presumption, given the risk of not only inefficient litigation but also inconsistent judgments."