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Lugo v. Geo Group, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Corpus Christi Division

May 5, 2017

CARLOS LUGO, Plaintiff,
v.
THE GEO GROUP, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER ON MOTION TO TRANSFER VENUE

          NELVA GONZALES RAMOS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending is Defendant The GEO Group, Inc.'s (GEO's) motion to transfer this case to the Abilene Division of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas (D.E. 5). Plaintiff Carlos Lugo (Lugo) responded (D.E. 9) and GEO replied (D.E. 13).[1] For the reasons discussed below, the motion is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         GEO owns and operates correctional facilities across the country, including the Big Spring Correctional Center in Big Spring, Texas, which is located in the Abilene Division of the Northern District of Texas. GEO employed Lugo as an assistant warden there in September 2012. In February 2016, GEO launched an investigation concerning whether Lugo had an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate. Lugo alleges that the complaining GEO employee, Loretta Murphy, fabricated the allegations because of racial animus. Lugo met with GEO management employees, Chris Monks and Patrick Sleffel, and informed them that he believed he was being treated unfairly because of his race. The next day, Lugo was placed on administrative leave without pay pending an investigation.

         A few months later, while Lugo was home in Jim Wells County, Texas, GEO's Director of Investigations, Priscella Miles (Miles), called him to set up a meeting. They met in San Antonio, where Miles works, and Miles asked Lugo to submit a written statement, which he drafted and emailed to GEO from his residence. GEO later terminated Lugo's employment.

         Lugo filed this action asserting race and age discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. GEO argues that the case should be transferred to the Abilene Division of the Northern District of Texas for the convenience of the parties and witnesses and in the interest of justice under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).

         DISCUSSION

         A. Applicable Law

         One of the specific venue provisions allows actions arising under Title VII to be brought “in any judicial district in the State in which the unlawful employment practice is alleged to have been committed.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3). However, Title VII's venue provision is tempered by 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), which “empowers a district court to transfer ‘any civil action' to another district court if the transfer is warranted by the convenience of parties and witnesses and promotes the interest of justice.” Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 616 (1964) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a)); see also In re Horseshoe Entm't, 337 F.3d 429, 435 (5th Cir. 2003) (per curiam) (holding that district court abused discretion by not transferring Title VII case under § 1404(a)).

         Section 1404(a) provides, “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 . . . .” There is no dispute that this case could have been filed in the Abilene Division of the Northern District of Texas. The movant has the burden of showing that an alternative forum is more appropriate for the action. See In re Volkswagen of Am., Inc., 545 F.3d 304, 315 (5th Cir. 2008) [hereinafter Volkswagen II] (en banc). To overcome the plaintiff's choice of venue, the movant must show good cause for the transfer, which exists when the transferee venue is clearly more convenient than the plaintiff's chosen venue. Id.

         Courts consider various private and public interest factors in determining whether a transfer is appropriate. Id. The private interest factors include: “(1) the relative ease of access to sources of proof; (2) the availability of compulsory process to secure the attendance of witnesses; (3) the cost of attendance for willing witnesses; and (4) all other practical problems that make trial of a case easy, expeditious, and inexpensive.” In re Volkswagen AG, 371 F.3d 201, 203 (5th Cir. 2004) [hereinafter Volkswagen I] (citing Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 241 n. 6 (1981)). The public interest factors include: “(1) the administrative difficulties flowing from court congestion; (2) the local interest in having localized interests decided at home; (3) the familiarity of the forum with the law that will govern the case; and (4) the avoidance of unnecessary problems of conflict of laws [or in] the application of foreign law.” Volkswagen II, 545 F.3d at 315 (quoting Volkswagen I, 371 F.3d at 203).

         B. Private Interest Factors

         1. Relative Ease of Access to Sources of Proof

         This factor is analyzed in light of the distance that documents, or other evidence, must be transported from their existing location to the trial. See Optimum Power v. Apple, Inc., 794 F.Supp.2d 696, 701 (E.D. Tex. 2011). GEO argues that all of Lugo's employment records were generated from and continue to be maintained in Big Spring, Texas (D.E. 5-1, p. 2). Big Spring is around 100 miles from Abilene and around 400 miles from Corpus Christi. Lugo argues that this case involves a minimal amount of documentary evidence, and that because of technological advancements, the location of his employment records is irrelevant as they can be transmitted electronically. See Sarmiento v. Producer's Gin of Waterproof, Inc., 439 F.Supp.2d 725, 732 (S.D. Tex. 2006) (“Unless the documents are so voluminous that their transport is a major ...


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