WILDEARTH GUARDIANS et al v. U.S. BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
MEMORANDUM OPINION granting motion 18 to transfer case to the District of Wyoming. Signed by Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth on February 13, 2013. (lcrcl5)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
and SIERRA CLUB
UNITED STATES BUREAU OF LAND
THE STATE OF WYOMING
Civil No. 12-708 (RCL)
Plaintiffs Wildearth Guardians and Sierra Club brought this action challenging four
decisions by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) to authorize the sale of federal coal
leases in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. BLM moved the Court to transfer the action to the
District of Wyoming. Def.’s Mot. to Transfer, ECF No. 18. For reasons given below, the Court
will GRANT this motion.
In 2011 and 2012, BLM authorized the sale of four coal leases in Wyoming’s Powder
River Basin: the North Porcupine, South Porcupine, North Hilight, and South Hilight leases.
Record of Decision (“ROD”) for North Porcupine, ECF No. 19-3; ROD for South Porcupine,
ECF No. 19-2; ROD for North Hilight, ECF No. 19-4; ROD for South Hilight, ECF No. 19-1;
see also Compl. ¶¶ 6, 38–48, 70. When taking these actions, BLM relied on a single Final
Environmental Impact Statement (“FEIS”) covering all four of the leases. Compl. ¶ 70; see
generally ROD for North Porcupine; ROD for South Porcupine; ROD for North Hilight; ROD
for South Hilight.
Because some of the coal at issue in these leases underlies National Forest lands, the
consent of the U.S. Forest Service (“the Service”) to the sale of those tracts was also required
before the leases could be sold. See 43 C.F.R. § 3420.4–2. The Service provided the necessary
consent for the North Porcupine and South Porcupine tracts, relying on the impact analysis in the
same FEIS to do so. See First Am. Compl. ¶ 15, WildEarth Guardians v. USFS (hereinafter
“Wyoming First Am. Compl.”), 12-cv-85, ECF No. 94 (D. Wyo. Nov. 19, 2012); see also ROD
for North Porcupine 2; ROD for South Porcupine 2.
In late 2011, the present plaintiffs filed a separate suit in the District of Colorado 1
(hereinafter “the Forest Service case”) challenging the Service’s consent regarding the North and
South Porcupine leases. 2 See WildEarth Guardians v. USFS, 2012 WL 1415378 (D. Colo. Apr.
24, 2012). They argue, among other things, that the analysis in the FEIS was inadequate under
the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321 et seq., and that the
Service’s consent to the sale of the two tracts was unlawful because it was based on that faulty
analysis. See Wyoming First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 185–211. In April 2012, on the Service’s motion,
Judge John Kane transferred the Forest Service case to the District of Wyoming. WildEarth
Guardians, 2012 WL 1415378.
Plaintiffs explain that they selected this venue “because of the availability of free legal counsel from the University
of Colorado Law School’s Natural Resources Law Clinic.” Pls.’ Resp. 5 n.1.
The suit initially challenged the Service’s approval of only one lease (South Porcupine), but, after the case was
transferred to Wyoming, the plaintiffs added a second (North Porcupine). See Wyoming First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 9, 11–
12, 15–16. Both leases are also at issue in the present case.
Plaintiffs filed the present action in May 2012 arguing, among other things, that the FEIS
was inadequate under NEPA and that BLM’s decisions to authorize the sale of all four leases
were thus also unlawful insofar as they were made in reliance on that faulty analysis. See
Compl. ¶¶ 98–109.
“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). “Section 1404(a) is intended to place discretion in the district court to
adjudicate motions for transfer according to an ‘individualized, case-by-case consideration of
convenience and fairness.’” Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988) (quoting
Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 622 (1964)); see also In re Whittman, 2001 WL 238171, at
*1 (D.C. Cir. Feb. 14, 2001) (per curiam) (holding that the “court’s conclusion that transfer was
appropriate is to be accorded great deference”). The movant “bears the burden of establishing
that the transfer of this action is proper.” Greater Yellowstone Coal. v. Bosworth, 180 F. Supp.
2d 124, 127 (D.D.C. 2001).
When considering a motion to transfer under section 1404, courts must balance the
“convenience of the parties and witnesses” and the “interests of justice.” § 1404(a). Under the
“convenience” factor, courts consider several “private” interests including: (1) the plaintiff’s
choice of forum; (2) the defendant’s choice of forum; (3) whether the claim arose elsewhere; and
(4) the convenience of the witnesses and other sources of proof. See Nat’l Wildlife Fed’n v.
Harvey, 437 F. Supp. 2d 42, 46 (D.D.C. 2006); Trout Unlimited v. USDA, 944 F. Supp. 13, 16
(D.D.C. 1996). Under the “interest of justice” factor, courts consider several “public” interests
including: (1) the desire to avoid multiplicity of litigation as a result of a single transaction or
event; (2) the local interest in deciding local controversies at home; and (3) the relative
familiarity of both venues with the governing laws. See Harvey, 437 F. Supp. 2d at 46 (listing
the second and third interests); Holland v. A.T. Massey Coal, 360 F. Supp. 2d 72, 76 (D.D.C.
2004) (same); Trout Unlimited, 944 F. Supp. at 16 (same); Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys
Imbricata) v. FEMA, 939 F. Supp. 1, 4 (D.D.C. 1996) (listing the first and second interests); see
also Reiffin v. Microsoft Corp., 104 F. Supp. 2d 48, 56 (D.D.C. 2000) (“The interests of justice
are better served when a case is transferred to the district where related actions are pending.”).
BLM has met its burden to show transfer is proper because the action could have been
brought in the District of Wyoming, the “private” interests are not dispositive, and the “public”
interests weigh decisively in favor of transfer.
A. The Action Could Have Been Filed in the District of Wyoming
Venue is proper in an action against the United States in “any judicial district in which . .
. a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred, or a substantial
part of property that is the subject of the action is situated.” 28 U.S.C. § 1391(e)(1). This action
“might have been brought” in the District of Wyoming, see § 1404(a), because the tracts of land
at issue are located there and the contested regulatory actions took place there. See Compl. ¶¶ 1,
6. Plaintiffs do not contest this point.
B. The Private Interests Are Not Dispositive
The “private” interests weigh on both sides of the issue and are not dispositive.
Plaintiffs’ choice of forum weighs against transfer, but only weakly. This choice should
ordinarily be afforded “substantial deference,” but will be entitled to “diminished consideration”
when the chosen forum “has no meaningful ties to the controversy and no particular interest in
the parties or subject matter.” The Wilderness Soc. v. Babbitt, 104 F. Supp. 2d 10, 13 (D.D.C.
2000); see also Trout Unlimited, 944 F. Supp. at 17; Here, the District of Columbia has “no
meaningful ties to the controversy” because the central dispute concerns land located in
Wyoming and arises out of acts by BLM in that district. That another action brought by the
present plaintiffs regarding other federal Wyoming coal land without reference to the FEIS at
issue in this case is currently pending in our district 3 only shows that the minimal requirements
of venue may be satisfied here, not that the connection between this forum and the controversy is
particularly “meaningful.” And, that Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar traveled from D.C. to
Wyoming to announce the contested actions, see Nat’l Park Service News Release, ECF No. 222, might indicate a substantial interest in the underlying issue in Washington, but could just as
easily signify that the issue was important mainly within the state of Wyoming. One plaintiff,
Sierra Club, has an office in this district, but only members and staff from other districts
participated in the public comment phase of the FEIS process. See Def.’s Mot. to Transfer 11
(citing comment letters). Accordingly, plaintiffs’ choice of forum is only worthy of “diminished
consideration,” and thus weighs only weakly against transfer.
Against this, the defendant’s choice of forum weighs in favor of transfer, as does the fact
that the claim arose elsewhere—i.e. in Wyoming. The convenience of witnesses and other
sources of proof is not relevant here because the case will be decided on the basis of the
administrative record. Accordingly, that interest does not help either side.
In sum, the “private” interests cancel each other out.
See WildEarth Guardians v. BLM, 11-cv-1481 (D.D.C. filed Aug. 16, 2011). Plaintiffs also cite a second
analogous case WildEarth Guardians v. Salazar, 10-cv-1174, for which they appear to have provided an incorrect
case number. See Pls.’ Resp. 2, 3. Since plaintiffs’ filing, Judge Kollar-Kotelly has granted defendants’ motion for
summary judgment in that case, see Wildearth Guardians v. Salazar, 880 F. Supp. 2d 77 (D.D.C. 2012), and
plaintiffs have filed notice of appeal. See Notice of Appeal, WildEarth Guardians v. Salazar, 10-cv-1174, Sept. 26,
2012, ECF No. 101. That case involves federal coal land in Wyoming, but did not concern the FEIS at issue in the
C. The Public Interests Weigh Decisively In Favor of Transfer
In contrast, the “public” interests weigh decisively in favor of transfer.
Most importantly, the desire to avoid multiplicity of litigation as a result of a single
transaction or event weighs heavily in favor of transfer. The Forest Service case addresses two
of the same BLM leasing decisions at issue in the present case. See Wyoming First Am. Compl.
¶ 15 (challenging the Service’s consent regarding the proposed sale of North Porcupine and
South Porcupine leases). More importantly, the Forest Service case raises NEPA claims about
the FEIS very similar to those raised in the present matter in order to undermine these actions.
Compare Compl. ¶¶ 102–109 (challenging the FEIS under NEPA for failing to adequately
analyze air quality and climate change impacts; a reasonable range of alternatives; and
reasonable mitigation measures), with Wyoming First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 185–211 (challenging the
same FEIS for some of identical reasons some that are very similar). Allowing the two cases to
go forward in different districts would create the possibility for conflicting judgments and would
unnecessarily squander judicial resources. This “public” interest weighs heavily in favor of
The local interest in deciding local controversies at home also weighs in favor of transfer.
As Judge Kane held in his opinion granting the motion to transfer the case from Colorado to
Wyoming: “The challenged project would have substantial impacts on the local economy,” and
“[c]onsidered as a whole, the magnitude of these local interests weigh heavily in favor of
transfer.” WildEarth Guardians, 2012 WL 1415378, at *4. The recognition of the significant
local interest in this matter does not refute the national importance of the land management,
energy, and environmental concerns raised by this case. It does, however, provide an additional
reason to transfer this case to Wyoming.
In sum, the “public” interests weigh heavily in favor of transfer.
The Court will GRANT BLM’s motion to transfer the case, and will transfer the case to
the District of Wyoming.
An order shall issue with this opinion.
Signed by Royce C. Lamberth, Chief Judge, on February 13, 2013.
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