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In re $323

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

February 19, 2019

IN RE $323, 647.60 IN FUNDS BELONGING TO THE CALIFORNIA VALLEY MIWOK TRIBE

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO TRANSFER VENUE

         On January 14, 2019, Defendants-in-Interpleader, Yakima Dixie, Velma Whitebear, Antonia Lopez, Gilbert Ramirez, Jr., Antoinette Lopez, Michael Mendibles, and Iva Carsoner (Movants), purportedly on behalf of the California Valley Miwok Tribe (CVMT or Tribe)[1] filed the NOTICE OF MOTION AND MOTION TO TRANSFER VENUE (Doc. No. 9) and the attached MEMORANDUM OF POINTS AND AUTHORITIES IN SUPPORT OF MOTION TO TRANSFER VENUE (Doc. No. 9-1) (together, the Motion to Transfer). On January 22, 2019, Defendant-in-Interpleader, Silvia Burley, along with the General Council, [2] Rashel Reznor, Angelica Paulk, and Tristian Wallace (together the Burley Faction), purportedly on behalf of the Tribe, filed the OPPPOSITION TO THE MOTION TO TRANSFER VENUE (Doc. No. 13) (Opposition).[3] On February 5, 2019, the Movants filed the REPLY IN SUPPORT OF MOTION TO TRANSFER VENUE (Doc. No. 15) (Reply). Since all of the parties involved in the dispute that underlies this Interpleader Action reside in California, the Court will transfer this Interpleader Action to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California (E.D. Ca.) in the interest of justice and the convenience of the Movants, the Burley Faction, the Tribe, the potential members of the Tribe, and the BIA officials who will assist with the Tribe's reorganization.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The COMPLAINT IN INTERPLEADER (California Valley Miwok Tribe) (No. 90 CV 957, Doc. No. 1366; No. 18 CV 1194, Doc. No. 2) (Complaint) was originally filed in the class action, Ramah Navajo Chapter et al. v. Bernhardt, et al., No. 90 CV 957 JAP/KBM (Ramah). The amount of $323, 647.60 (the interpleaded funds), [4] owed to the CVMT as Class Member # 72 under the Ramah Final Settlement Agreement (No. 90 CV 957, Doc. No. 1306-1) (FSA), is held in the registry of the Court. Under the FSA, Plaintiffs-in-Interpleader were authorized to file an interpleader action in this Court if they become aware that “more than one individual or entity claims the right to act on behalf of a Class Member or to receive funds on behalf of that Class Member.” (FSA at 26.) In the Complaint, Plaintiffs-in-Interpleader alleged that they could not determine “who is entitled to execute the Claim Form for defendant-in-interpleader” CVMT and “to receive its share of the Net Settlement Amount, as identified in the [FSA][.]” (FSA at Compl. at 1-2.) The Court has now severed the original Interpleader Action, and the Court has dismissed and discharged the Plaintiffs-in-Interpleader. See ORDER SEVERING CALIFORNIA VALLEY MIWOK TRIBE INTERPLEADER ACTION AND DESIGNATING SEPARATE CAPTION AND CASE NUMBER (Doc. No. 1) and ORDER DISMISSING PLAINTIFFS-IN-INTERPLEADER (Doc. No. 18).

         Under the FSA, the Tribe can claim the interpleaded funds only through a governing body that can act on behalf of the Tribe. On December 30, 2015, Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) issued a decision stating that the BIA did not recognize either the Burley Faction's General Council or the Movants' Tribal Council as the lawful governing body of the CVMT. See Compl. Ex. A (the 2015 Decision). In short, there is no governing body that is authorized to act for the Tribe. The Movants and the members of the Burley Faction have been involved in a dispute over the Tribe's membership and its governance. The Pacific Regional Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is tasked with aiding in the Tribe's reorganization and in the development of a governing body.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW This Interpleader Action was brought under Rule 22, which provides, (1) Persons with claims that may expose a plaintiff to double or multiple liability may be joined as defendants and required to interplead. Joinder for interpleader is proper even though:

(A) the claims of the several claimants, or the titles on which their claims depend, lack a common origin or are adverse and independent rather than identical; or
(B) the plaintiff denies liability in whole or in part to any or all of the claimants.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 22(a)(1)(A) & (B).

         The Movants ask the Court to transfer this Interpleader Action arguing that since the Ramah FSA has been otherwise administered, there is no reason for this dispute to remain in the District of New Mexico. See, e.g., Spaeth v. Michigan State Univ. Coll. Of Law, 845 F.Supp.2d 48, 56-57 (D. D.C. Feb. 17, 2012) (granting defendant law schools' motion to sever claims into four new cases, each with a single law school defendant, and transferring each new case to the district where the law school defendant was located). Section 1404(a) of title 28 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 or to any district or division to which all parties have consented.

28 U.S.C.A. § 1404(a).

         The general venue statute governs this Rule 22 Interpleader Action. Anne E. Melley, Rule interpleader venue, 21 Fed. Proc., L.Ed. § 49:27 (citing State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Tashire, 386 U.S. 523 (1967)). The general venue statute provides that venue for a civil action is proper in “a judicial district in which any defendant resides, ” if all defendants reside in the state in which the district is located, or in “a judicial district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred, or a substantial part of property that is the subject of the action is situated[.]” 28 U.S.C. §§ 1391(b)(1), (b)(2).

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Venue in the ...


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