Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Howard University v. Watkins (Maryland U.S.D.C) (Not approved for publication)

Signed March 12, 2007. Memorandum opinion by Judge Deborah K. Chasanow (not approved for publication)

Upon consideration of the defendant Howard University's motions to dismiss or in the alternative to transfer, the judge deferred consideration of the grounds raised for dismissal and instead GRANTED the defendant's motion to transfer this case to the U.S.D.C. for the District of Columbia.

Watkins was an employee of and an Acting Dean for the plaintiff, Howard University ("Howard"). Allegedly as a result of Watkins' actions and failure to inform Howard about those actions, Howard was forced to settle an employment discrimination claim made by another employee for a total of $253,000, and sought compensation from Watkins for those damages. Jurisdiction was based on diversity, since Watkins was a resident of Maryland while Howard was located in the District of Columbia ("DC"). Watkins moved to dismiss or in the alternative for summary judgment, or for transfer to the District Court for DC.

The judge noted that although Watkins had raised a "host of issues challenging various aspects of the complaint," the motion to transfer presented a clear basis for deferring consideration of those issues until the forum non conveniens issue was resolved.

After reviewing the underlying principles, the judge found the threshold issue, whether the case might have been filed in the alternate jurisdiction, to have been met, since the plaintiff was located there, all the relevant events had occurred there including the suit that resulted in the claimed damages, and that the law of DC would apply. The judge next considered whether the relative inconvenience to the parties and witnesses and the promotion of the interests of justice would support or oppose the requested move. The factors to be considered are 1) the weight accorded the plaintiff's choice of venue, 2) witness convenience and access, 3) convenience of the parties, and 4) the interests of justice.

Little weight was accorded to Howard's choice of forum, since none of the events occurred there and Maryland had no connection to the matter at hand other than being Watkins' state of residence. Similarly, witness convenience and access favored transfer since all events and most witnesses were tied to DC, but only slightly since Maryland was physically so close. Convenience of the parties weighed in favor of transfer, since only Watkins was a resident in Maryland, and she had requested the transfer. Finally, the interests of justice weighed strongly in favor of transfer, since matters would be resolved under DC law, the prior case had been filed there, and there is a strong public interest in having local matters resolved locally. The judge further noted that there would be no undue delay, since the case is in its early stages, and consequently ordered the transfer of the matter to the District Court for DC.

The memorandum opinion is available in PDF format.

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