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Wheeler v. United States

United States District Court, Southern District of Indiana, Terre Haute Division

February 24, 2015

JAMES LEE WHEELER, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

ENTRY GRANTING MOTION TO TRANSFER

Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge United States District Court

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 damages.[1]

II. Standard

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).

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).

III. Discussion

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 action.

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 ...


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