United States District Court, D. New Mexico
PUEBLO OF JEMEZ, a federally recognized Indian tribe, Plaintiff,
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant and NEW MEXICO GAS COMPANY, Defendant-in-Intervention.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. BRACK, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on the Pueblo of Jemez's
Motion and Memorandum in Support of Motion for Intra-Division
Transfer of Trial to Albuquerque, New Mexico (Doc. 189),
filed on March 9, 2018, and the United States' Opposed
Motion for Leave to File Surreply to Plaintiffs Motion for
Intra-Di strict Transfer of Trial to Albuquerque, New Mexico
(Doc. 200), filed on April 16, 2018. Having considered the
submissions of counsel and relevant law, the Court will
DENY the Pueblo of Jemez's Motion for
Transfer and DENY AS MOOT the United
States' Motion for Leave to File Surreply.
2012, the Pueblo of Jemez (Plaintiff) filed suit against the
United States (Defendant) in federal court "under the
federal common law and the Quiet Title Act (QTA), 28 U.S.C.
§ 2409a, et seq., seeking to quiet its
allegedly unextinguished and continuing aboriginal title to
the lands of what is now the Valles Caldera National
Preserve." Pueblo of Jemez v. United States,
790 F.3d 1143, 1146 (10th Cir. 2015), Plaintiff now
"moves for an intra-division transfer of the trial
location in this matter" from Las Cruces, New Mexico, to
Albuquerque, New Mexico. (See Doc. 189 at 1.) The
parties estimate the trial will require two to three weeks
(Doc. 91 at 26), and the Court has scheduled a bench trial to
take place October 29 through November 16, 2018 (Doc. 100).
Mexico constitutes one judicial district." 28 U.S.C.
§111. When deciding a motion for an intra-district
transfer, courts consider the factors relevant to a transfer
of venue under 27 USC. § 1404(a). SeeEEOCv. BokFin.
Corp., No. Civ. 11-1132 RB/LAM, 2014 WL 11829318, at *1
(D.N.M. Jan. 3, 2014) (citing Four Corners Nephrology
Assocs., P.C v. Mercy Med Ctr. of Durango, 464 F.Supp.2d
1095, 1098 (D. Colo. 2006)). The factors "include: (1)
the plaintiffs choice of forum; (2) the convenience of the
witnesses, (3) the accessibility of witnesses and other
sources of proof; (4) the possibility of obtaining a fair
trial; and (5) all other considerations of a practical nature
that make a trial easy, expeditious and economical."
Four Corners Nephrology Assocs., P.C, 464 F.Supp.2d
at 1098 (citing Chrysler Credit Corp. v. Country
Chrysler, Inc., 928 F.2d 1509, 1516 (10th Cir. 1991)
(subsequent citations omitted)); see also Bok Fin.
Corp., 2014 WL 11829318, at *1. "The party seeking
transfer has the burden of proving that the existing forum is
inconvenient." Id. (citing Scheldt v.
Klein, 956 F.2d 963, 965 (10th Cir. 1992) (subsequent
argues that transferring this trial to Albuquerque will
"preserve limited resources, " improve convenience
and accessibility for fact witnesses, "facilitate the
efficient presentation of testimony from expert witnesses[, ]
.. . provide efficiency in travel for the Parties'
counsel[, ] and be in the interest of justice given the
location of the land at issue in this case." (Doc. 189
at 1.) Defendant opposes the motion if it means that the case
would be transferred to a different judge or the trial would
be delayed. (See Doc. 194.)
Choice of Forum
contends that it "originally filed this action to be
heard in Albuquerque (Doc. 189 at 4.) The mere filing of an
action in a certain courthouse in this District, however,
does not ensure that the action will remain with a judge in
that courthouse. The District of New Mexico employs "a
random case-distribution system[, ]" which means that
cases filed in this District may be assigned to a United
States District Judge in any one of our courthouses. See,
e.g., United States v. Rodella, No. CR 14-2783 JB, 2014
WL 4792598, at * 11 (D.N.M. Sept. 15, 2014). Local Rule 73.1
provides for the allocation of civil case assignments to
United States Magistrate Judges, in addition to United States
District Judges. See D.N.M. LR-Civ. 73.1(a). This
case was, in fact, originally assigned to an
Albuquerque-based magistrate judge to conduct dispositive
proceedings. (See Doc. 3.) The parties did not
consent to the magistrate judge, and the case was then
reassigned to me, a Las Cruces-based district judge.
(See Doc. 12.) Because of the District's random
case-distribution system, however, this action could have
been assigned to me at the outset. See BokFin.
Corp., 2014 WL 11829318, at * 1.
of the Witnesses and Accessibility of Witnesses and Other
Sources of Proof
asserts that most, if not all, of the fact witnesses, expert
witnesses, parties, and attorneys live in or near either
Albuquerque (220 miles north of Las Cruces) or the Jemez
Pueblo (270 miles north of Las Cruces). (See Docs.
189 at 4-6; 189-1.) Plaintiff also argues that there are
unique circumstances in this case, as many of the fact
witnesses are tribal members with "critical religious
societal positions, " are elderly, and/or are in feeble
health, and travel would pose an increased burden on both
individuals and the Pueblo itself in terms of time and money.
(See Docs. 189 at 4-6; 198 at 4-5, 7-9.)
acknowledges that of the six fact witnesses it identifies as
"essential, " five are able to travel to Las Cruces
for the trial ("but with substantial burden of time and
expense"), and one has not disclosed whether travel is
possible. (See Doc. 189-1.) Both parties have also
indicated that they are open to flexible and creative
solutions, including live testimony via videoconference.
(See Docs. 194 at 6; 198 at 8.)
Plaintiff asserts that it "intends to request that the
Court take some evidence in the Valles Caldera National
Preserve itself, which is the site of the aboriginal title
claim at issue in this case." (Doc. 189 at 6.) Plaintiff
does not specify what that evidence will include, nor does