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Tellis v. LeBlanc

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana

April 19, 2018

ANTHONY TELLIS, ET AL.
v.
JAMES M. LEBLANC, ET AL.

          RULING

          JUDGE SHELLY D. DICK UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Transfer Venue[1] filed by Defendants, James M. LeBlanc, Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (“Secretary LeBlanc”), Jerry Goodwin (“Warden Goodwin”), Warden of David Wade Correction Center, Col. Lonnie Nail, Doctor Gregory Seal, Deborah Dauzat (“Asst. Warden Dauzat”), Assistant Warden of David Wade Correction Center, Aerial Robinson, Johnie Adkins, and Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (“DOC”) (collectively “Defendants”). Plaintiffs, Anthony Tellis (“Tellis”), Bruce Charles (“Charles”) (collectively “Plaintiffs”), on behalf of themselves and all similarly situated prisoners at David Wade Correctional Center (“the putative class”), have filed an Opposition to Defendants' Motion.[2] For the following reasons, the Court finds that the motion should be granted, and this action shall be transferred to the Shreveport Division of the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana (“the Western District”).

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[3]

         The named Plaintiffs and the putative class are all inmates who have been or are currently incarcerated at David Wade Correctional Center (“WADE”). WADE is located in Homer, Louisiana, which is situated in the Western District of Louisiana. Plaintiffs filed this action in the Middle District of Louisiana alleging that WADE's policies and practices applicable to inmates result in violations of the Eighth Amendment, First Amendment, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, [4] and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.[5]In particular, Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief for the alleged extreme conditions and practices at WADE which create and/or exacerbate mental illness of inmates incarcerated at WADE.

         The extreme conditions complained of include policies on extended lockdown, lack of mental health care, use of “Policy 34”, [6] conditions of confinement, policies on suicide watch, and other allegedly egregious acts or omissions. Defendants bring the current Motion to transfer the case to the Western District of Louisiana arguing it is clearly the more convenient venue. In support, Defendants aver that (1) the majority, if not all of the parties are located in the Western District, (2) the Western District is the situs of all the material facts set forth in the complaint, (3) the Western District is the location of all the material evidence and witnesses, and (4) enforcement of the relief sought by Plaintiffs would occur exclusively in the Wester District.

         II. LAW AND ANALYSIS

         A. Standard for Venue Transfer

         A district court has the authority to transfer a case in the interest of justice to another district in which the action might have been brought, regardless of whether venue exists in the original forum.[7] If venue is proper in the original forum, the transfer may be made pursuant to Section 1404(a), which provides that, “[f]or 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.”

         It is undisputed that the Middle and Western Districts of Louisiana are districts in which this action initially could have been brought.[8] Therefore, the Court will consider whether this action should be transferred to another judicial district under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).

         The underlying premise of Section 1404(a) is that courts should prevent plaintiffs from abusing their privilege under Section 1391 by subjecting defendants to venues that are inconvenient under the terms of Section 1404(a).[9] “[W]hile a plaintiff has the privilege of filing his claims in any judicial division appropriate under the general venue statute, § 1404(a) tempers the effects of the exercise of this privilege.”[10] In determining whether to grant a transfer, the moving party bears the burden of showing “good cause, ” which the Fifth Circuit explained is satisfied when “the movant demonstrates that the transferee venue is clearly more convenient.”[11]

         The Fifth Circuit has adopted private and public interest factors for the determination of whether a Section 1404(a) venue transfer is for the convenience of the parties and witnesses and is in the interest of justice.[12] The private interest factors are: “(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.”[13] The public interest factors are: “(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.”[14]

         “[I]t is clear under Fifth Circuit precedent that the plaintiff's choice of forum is clearly a factor to be considered but in and of itself it is neither conclusive nor determinative. Generally, a plaintiff's choice of forum is given great deference; however, a plaintiff's choice of forum is given less deference when the plaintiff is not a resident of his choice of forum and when the operative facts of a case occurred in a different forum.”[15]

         B. Analysis of Private Interest Factors

         Having reviewed the record and the arguments of the parties, the Court finds that transfer of this action to the Western District of Louisiana furthers the convenience of the parties and the interests of justice. First, it is clear that the overwhelming majority of witnesses and evidence are located in the Western District. Both of the named Plaintiffs and the putative class members are incarcerated or were incarcerated at WADE. All but two of the Defendants, Secretary LeBlanc and the DOC, are located in or around the city of Homer, Louisiana. The Complaint alleges that Defendants Dr. Gregory Seal, Steve Hayden, Aerial Robinson, and Johnie Adkins, were all directly involved with the mental health care provided to the Plaintiffs and putative class members. All of these Defendants reside in or near Homer. These Defendants will be essential to this matter in determining whether adequate mental health care was provided to Plaintiffs and the putative class members. Additionally, all of the policies and procedures at issue were promulgated at WADE and carried out by WADE staff. The Complaint specifically alleges that Defendants, Warden Goodwin, Assistant Warden Dauzat, and Colonel Nail personally implement and ...


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