Wheeler v. United States of America
CLOSED TRANSFER - The Court finds that the gain in convenience to the defendants outweighs the loss of convenience to Wheeler, and that the transfer is in the interest of justice. Accordingly, the defendant's motion to transfer [dkt. 15] is granted. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) the above action is now TRANSFERRED to the Northern District of Ohio. **SEE ORDER** Copy to Plaintiff via US Mail. Signed by Judge William T. Lawrence on 2/24/2015. (AH) [Transferred from insd on 2/26/2015.]
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
TERRE HAUTE DIVISION
JAMES LEE WHEELER,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
) Case No. 2:14-cv-0210-WTL-WGH
Entry Granting Motion to Transfer
This cause is now before the Court on a motion to transfer venue pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1404(a) filed by the defendant, United States of America. The United States argues that transfer is
appropriate in this case because the Northern District of Ohio best serves the convenience of the
parties, the conveniences of the witnesses and the interests of justice. In contrast, the plaintiff,
James Lee Wheeler, argues that transfer is not appropriate because he and all of the claims raised
in the amended complaint have a nexus in this district. Further, Wheeler argues that his choice of
forum should be given great weight and is not outweighed by other considerations. For the
following reasons, this action is transferred to the Northern District of Ohio.
I. Factual Background
On June 1, 2004, following a trial, Wheeler was convicted of one count of substantive
RICO, one count of RICO conspiracy, and one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to
distribute narcotics in violation of Federal law. See United States v. Wheeler, 535 F.3d 446 (6th
Cir. 2008). He was sentenced to life imprisonment on the substantive RICO and drug conspiracy
counts and to twenty years imprisonment on the RICO conspiracy count, to run consecutively. Id.
On January 5, 2005, the Northern District of Ohio District Court issued a forfeiture order ruling
that Wheeler’s interest in certain properties, located in Indianapolis, were subject to forfeiture by
the United States.
Wheeler’s convictions as to the substantive RICO and RICO conspiracy offenses were
reversed by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Id. at 458. These convictions were the basis of the
forfeiture proceedings. On February 8, 2010, the District Court issued an order partially vacating
the preliminary order of forfeiture.
In the amended complaint filed on August 27, 2014, Wheeler alleges that the United States
of America, by and through its agents, employees and servants did “dispose of, by auction sale,
the property ordered forfeited by the Ohio Federal District Court.” He seeks $1,270,000.00 in
The United States asks this Court to transfer this matter to the Northern District of Ohio
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Section 1404(a) provides “for the convenience of the 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.” Transfer is appropriate under this section where
the moving party establishes that (1) venue is proper in the transferor district, (2) venue is proper
in the transferee district, and (3) the transfer will serve the convenience of the parties, the
convenience of the witnesses, and the interests of justice. See Coffey v. Van Dorn Iron Works, 796
F.2d 217, 219 (7th Cir.1986).
In his prayer for relief, Wheeler requests that this Court enter a money judgment in the amount of
$1,270,00.00. Elsewhere in his complaint, Wheeler alleges he was injured in the amount of $1,127,000.00.
While the third prong of 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) directs the Court to consider the convenience
of the parties, the convenience of the witnesses, and the interests of justice, it does not dictate the
relative weight to be given to each factor. As a result, “the weighing of factors for and against
transfer necessarily involves a large degree of subtlety and latitude, and, therefore, is committed
to the sound discretion of the trial judge.” Coffey, 796 F.2d at 219. As the party seeking transfer,
the United States has the burden of demonstrating that transfer is appropriate. See Millennium
Prod. Inc. v. Gravity Boarding Co., 127 F.Supp.2d 974, 980 (N.D. Ill. 2000) (citing Coffey, 796
F.2d at 219–20).
A. Venue is proper in both Districts.
First, in order for transfer to be appropriate under § 1404(a), venue must be proper in both
the transferor and transferee districts. The parties agree that venue is proper in this district, and the
United States argues that venue is proper in the Northern District of Ohio. However, Wheeler does
not address in his brief in opposition whether venue is proper in the Northern District of Ohio.
Venue is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1391(e). Section 1391(e) provides that:
A civil action in which a defendant is an officer or employee of the United States
or any agency thereof acting in his official capacity . . . may, except as otherwise
provided by law, be brought in any judicial district in which (1) a defendant in the
action resides, (2) a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the
claim occurred, . . . or (3) the plaintiff resides if no real property is involved in the
Venue is proper in the Northern District of Ohio because a substantial part of the events
giving rise to this claim occurred in Ohio. More specifically, the criminal conviction and forfeiture
action that is the basis of the amended complaint in this action occurred in Ohio. Thus, venue is
proper in both districts.
B. Convenience of Parties and Witnesses
Either forum, Southern District of Indiana or Northern District of Ohio, would be
inconvenient for one party or the other. Merely shifting inconvenience from one party to another
does not warrant transfer. E.g., Moore v. AT & T Latin Am. Corp., 177 F.Supp.2d 785, 789 (N.D.
Ill.2001), citing Promatek Med. Sys., Inc. v. Ergometrics, Inc., 1990 WL 19491, at *4 (N.D. Ill.
Feb.15, 1990); accord, Educational Visions, Inc. v. Time Trend, Inc., 2003 WL 1921811, at *7
(S.D. Ind. April 17, 2003) (denying motion to transfer that would have merely shifted
inconvenience between parties). Wheeler’s choice of forum is here, and the property in question
is located in Indiana. Any potential state law concerns will involve Indiana law.
In contrast, the underlying criminal conviction in this action that resulted in the forfeited
Indiana property occurred in the Northern District of Ohio. Additionally, the order partially
vacating the preliminary order of forfeiture was issued by the District Court for the Northern
District of Ohio. See United States v. Wheeler, 3:03-cr-739-DAK-1, dkt. 2120. Based on the
familiarity of that court with this action, both the criminal matter and the forfeiture order, the
convenience of the parties weighs in favor of transferring.
Both parties argue that the availability of non-party witnesses and evidence weighs in their
favor. Wheeler states that his non-party witnesses reside in this district. The United States asserts
that the “majority of the individuals with the most material knowledge of these events are located
in Ohio.” However, other than generic statements that each party’s witnesses are located in the
desired venue, neither party actually identified a potential witness nor their location. As such, the
Court is not able to conclude that this factor weighs in favor of venue in either district.
C. Interests of Justice
According to the United States, other than the forfeited properties, the evidence in this
action is all located in Ohio. While the United States asserts the evidence could be transferred to
this district, the location of all of the evidence in Ohio weighs in favor of transferring.
Additionally, while Indiana is Wheeler’s choice of forum, his location at the Federal
Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Indiana, is subject to the Bureau of Prisons. His status as
an inmate in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons weighs in favor of transferring this action to
Ohio. Wheeler’s location is not dependent on him, but the Bureau of Prisons. If he were to be
transferred out of this Court’s venue, this matter would necessarily need to be transferred to Ohio.
Transferring this action to the Northern District of Ohio now, where venue is proper, rather than
at some point down the road serves the interests of justice.
For these reasons, the Court finds that the gain in convenience to the defendants outweighs
the loss of convenience to Wheeler, and that the transfer is in the interest of justice. Accordingly,
the defendant’s motion to transfer [dkt. 15] is granted. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) the above
action is now TRANSFERRED to the Northern District of Ohio.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
James Lee Wheeler, #01227-017
Terre Haute Federal Correctional Facility
P.O. Box 33
Terre Haute, Indiana 47808
Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge
United States District Court
Southern District of Indiana
Electronically registered counsel
NOTE TO CLERK: PROCESSING THIS DOCUMENT REQUIRES ACTIONS IN ADDITION TO DOCKETING AND DISTRIBUTION.
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?