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Braun v. U.S. Department of The Interior

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

February 13, 2018

JASON BRIAN BRAUN, Plaintiff,
v.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          TIMOTHY J. KELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Jason Brian Braun, proceeding pro se, is a former employee of the Department of the Interior (“DOI”) who was based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. After his employment ended in 2010, Braun brought administrative claims that he had been subject to employment-related misconduct, including discrimination based on disability. Those claims were heard by an administrative judge, who granted summary judgment for the agency. DOI adopted the administrative judge's decision. Braun subsequently appealed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the “EEOC”), which affirmed the dismissal. Braun has brought suit against DOI, the Secretary of the Interior, [1] and the EEOC, alleging misconduct in his employment and the post-employment administrative proceedings.

         Defendants have moved to dismiss Braun's claims against the EEOC for failure to state a claim. They also ask the Court either to dismiss the claims against DOI and the Secretary of the Interior for improper venue, or to transfer them to the District of New Mexico. See ECF No. 17. For reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted. Braun's claims against the EEOC will be dismissed with prejudice. In addition, the Court agrees that this District is not a proper venue for Braun's remaining claims against DOI and the Secretary of the Interior. Therefore, the case will be transferred to the District of New Mexico.

         I. Background

         Braun's Complaint appears to assert claims against DOI and the Secretary of the Interior under various federal statutes and regulations, including: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”); the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Rehabilitation Act”), and specifically 29 U.S.C. § 791; the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (“CSRA”), specifically 5 U.S.C. §§ 2301(b) and 2302; 5 U.S.C. § 2108; 5 U.S.C. § 3330;[2] 5 U.S.C. § 7203; the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990; criminal statutes dealing with false statements (18 U.S.C. § 1001), perjury (18 U.S.C. § 1621), and improper disclosure of confidential information (18 U.S.C. § 1905); two executive orders, Executive Order 12, 674 and Executive Order 13, 518; and 5 C.F.R. § 2635.100(11) and (13). See ECF No. 1 (“Compl.”) at 3.

         Braun also asserts claims against the EEOC for violations of its procedures (namely, EEOC Management Directive 110, the EEOC Judges' Handbook, and 29 C.F.R. § 1614.109(a) and (g)); violations of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 7(b)(1)(A)-(C); and for criminally obstructing an agency proceeding, 18 U.S.C. § 1505. See Compl. at 3.

         Braun alleges that he is a veteran with disabilities arising from his military service. See Id. at 4-5. In December 2009, DOI posted a job announcement for an Audiovisual Specialist in Albuquerque. Id. at 4. Braun claims that the job posting was fraudulent because it inaccurately described the position. Id. According to Braun, once he arrived at his new job, he was improperly trained in his unexpected new duties and “set[] up” to fail. Id. at 5. He further alleges that DOI made no effort to accommodate his disabilities and that he was subjected to harassment and a hostile work environment, which included being berated in front of other employees. See Id. at 4-6. He alleges he was terminated on November 23, 2010. Id. at 6.

         After his employment ended, Braun sought administrative relief for this alleged misconduct.[3] Braun's claims were heard by an administrative judge, who granted summary judgment in favor of DOI on April 14, 2014. See Transfer Mot. at 77. On May 5, 2014, DOI adopted the administrative judge's decision and determined that no discrimination had occurred. See Id. at 70. Braun subsequently appealed to the EEOC, which affirmed the DOI's order on July 13, 2016. See Id. at 21-25. The EEOC denied reconsideration on September 20, 2016. See Id. at 9-11.

         Braun was dissatisfied with the EEOC's handling of the case, and wrote several letters expressing his dissatisfaction to representatives in Congress. See Id. at 27-55. In particular, Braun complained that the administrative judge had failed to rule on his motions, tampered with evidence, and obstructed justice. See, e.g., id. at 48. At one point, Braun reported his concerns to Federal Bureau of Investigation, which, according to Braun, failed to take them seriously. See Id. at 51-52. Braun makes similar allegations in the Complaint, including that the administrative judge and the EEOC ignored his arguments, improperly limited his discovery requests, obstructed and slow-walked his case, and “gave the unwavering impression to the Plaintiff that they were protecting the U.S. Department of the Interior by its [sic] lack of action, lack of ethics and attitude.” Compl. at 7-8.

         Defendants have moved to dismiss the claims against the EEOC for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See ECF No. 17. Defendants also argue that venue is improper with respect to the remaining claims against DOI and the Secretary of the Interior, and that these claims should either be dismissed or transferred to the District of New Mexico pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3) and 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a). See ECF No. 17. Defendants have submitted a declaration from a DOI employee stating that Braun was employed in New Mexico and that his Official Personnel Folder was “located” in Herndon, Virginia, until 2011, when it was sent to the National Archives in Valmeyer, Illinois. See ECF No. 17-1 (“Carruthers Decl.”).

         The Court also ordered the parties to make a supplemental submission on whether venue would be proper in the Eastern District of Virginia. In their submission, Defendants argue that venue cannot lie in the Eastern District of Virginia. They further assert that at least two important witnesses are located in the District of New Mexico, and urge the Court to transfer the action there. See ECF No. 37 at 1-2. Braun has filed two responses to the Court's order. In the first, Braun states that his preference is to continue litigating the case in this Court, but that the Eastern District of Virginia would also be a convenient venue for him. See ECF No. 38 at 4-6. In the second, Braun provides additional reasons why the Eastern District of Virginia would be a proper forum. ECF No. 42. Specifically, Braun argues that records relating to his employment were located in Virginia when he brought his administrative claims, which, he asserts, means that venue is proper there under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3). See ECF No. 42 at 3-4.

         II. Legal Standard

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) “tests whether a plaintiff has properly stated a claim.” BEG Invs., LLC v. Alberti, 85 F.Supp.3d 13, 24 (D.D.C. 2015). “A court considering such a motion presumes that the complaint's factual allegations are true and construes them liberally in the plaintiff's favor.” Id. Nonetheless, the complaint must set forth enough facts to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). “[A]lthough a pro se complaint ‘must be construed liberally, the complaint must still present a claim on which the Court can grant relief.'” Untalasco v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 249 F.Supp.3d 318, 322 (D.D.C. 2017) (quoting Budik v. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Med. Ctr., 937 F.Supp.2d 5, 11 (D.D.C. 2013)).

         If venue is improper, the court must either dismiss the action or, “if it be in the interest of justice, transfer such case to any district . . . in which it could have been brought.” 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a). While “‘the defendant must present facts that will defeat the plaintiff's assertion of venue'” to prevail on a Rule 12(b)(3) motion, “the burden remains on the plaintiff to establish that venue is proper.” Slaby v. Holder, 901 F.Supp.2d 129, 132 (D.D.C. 2012) (quoting Wilson v. Obama, 770 F.Supp.2d 188, 190 (D.D.C. 2011)). Even though pro se plaintiffs' pleadings must be liberally construed, the Court “cannot relieve [them] of this burden merely because they are acting without the benefit of counsel.” King v. Caliber Home Loans, Inc., 210 F.Supp.3d 130, 134 (D.D.C. 2016). “In reviewing such a motion, the Court ‘accepts the plaintiff's well-pled factual allegations regarding venue as true, draws all reasonable inferences from those allegations in the plaintiff's favor and resolves any factual conflicts in the plaintiff's favor.'” Slaby, 901 F.Supp.2d at 132 (quoting Wilson, 770 F.Supp.2d at 190). “The ...


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