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MOBIL CORP. v. SEC

October 14, 1982

MOBIL CORPORATION, MOBIL OIL CORPORATION, and WILLIAM P. TAVOULAREAS, Plaintiffs,
v.
SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION, JOHN S. R. SHAD, CHAIRMAN, JOHN R. EVANS, BEVIS LONGSTRETH, PHILIP A. LOOMIS, JR., BARBARA S. THOMAS, COMMISSIONERS, and EDWARD A. WILSON, FOIA OFFICER, Defendants, and THE WASHINGTON POST COMPANY, Applicant for Intervention


Kevin Thomas Duffy, D.J.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: DUFFY

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

KEVIN THOMAS DUFFY, D.J.:

 On June 25, 1982, a complaint was filed by Mobil Corporation, Mobil Oil Corporation, and Mobil's President William P. Tavoulareas (collectively "Mobil") seeking to overturn a decision by the Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC") ordering the disclosure of certain Mobil documents pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") request by the Washington Post Company ("Post").

 The Post has moved to intervene in this action to oppose the reversal of the SEC's disclosure determination. Neither party opposes this part of the Post's application to intervene. The Post also has filed a cross-claim against the SEC to obtain a reversal of the part of the SEC's original FOIA determination that had denied disclosure of certain documents. Both Mobil and the SEC have opposed the cross-claim on jurisdictional and procedural grounds.

 On September 13, 1982, the parties were notified by letter that I was considering a transfer of this case to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. I requested all parties' views on the motion, including the applicant for intervention, the Post. All parties responded in writing to my letter. The SEC supported the transfer, and Mobil opposed the motion. Curiously, despite the strength of the jurisdictional attack on the Post's cross-claim, the Post opposes the transfer motion.

 I conclude for the reasons set forth below, that transfer of this case to the District of Columbia District Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) (1976) is appropriate.

 FACTS

 On August 3, 1981, the Post filed a FOIA request with the SEC seeking documents relating to an SEC private investigation of the relationships among Mobil Corporation, Mobil Oil Corporation and Mobil's President William P. Tavoulareas, the plaintiffs in the instant action, and Saudi Maritime Company ("Samarco"), Atlas Maritime Company ("Atlas"), and Peter W. Tavoulareas, William's son and a principal of Atlas. The SEC's investigation focused on the participation of Mobil in the organization of Samarco and Atlas, and in Samarco's retainer of Atlas to manage a fleet of oil tankers. During the investigation, plaintiffs and certain other persons had furnished documents and testimony to the SEC pursuant to SEC subpoenas.

 When the completed SEC investigation did not result in an enforcement proceeding against any of the investigation's targets for violation of the federal securities laws, the Post filed its FOIA request. Mobil objected to disclosure of the documents, requesting confidential treatment. The SEC, however, eventually determined that most of the documents could be released, except for some that Mobil claimed would cause it substantial injury upon disclosure.

 I.

 Section 1404(a) provides that "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." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) (1976). The transfer may be made upon motion by either party or by the court sua sponte. See, e.g., Starnes v. McGuire, 168 U.S. App. D.C. 4, 512 F.2d 918 (D.C. Cir. 1974); I-T-E Circuit Breaker Co. v. Becker, 343 F.2d 361 (8th Cir. 1965). The parties should be provided notice and an opportunity to be heard when transfer is proposed sua sponte by the court. Starnes v. McGuire, supra; Nat'l Acceptance Co. v. Wechsler, 489 F. Supp. 642 (N.D. Ill. 1980); Riordan v. W.J. Bremer, Inc., 466 F. Supp. 411 (S.D. Ga. 1979). My September 13, 1982 letter to all parties and the written responses constitute sufficient notice and opportunity to be heard.

 The threshold question in this case is whether the district to which the case is transferred is one "where it might have been brought." None of the parties claim that this action could not have been brought in the District of Columbia. It is worth noting that federal question subject matter jurisdiction is still proper in the transferee forum. Venue also is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b) since the claim arose in the District of Columbia, and the defendant SEC "resides" there. Finally, personal jurisdiction is valid over all parties including Mobil. Therefore, I will turn to whether this action should be transferred according to the standard set out in section 1404(a).

 II.

 Section 1404(a) is not merely a codification of the doctrine of forum non conveniens. Norwood v. Kirkpatrick, 349 U.S. 29, 32, 99 L. Ed. 789, 75 S. Ct. 544 (1955). Rather, this section is designed to give the trial court broader discretion to transfer the action than it held under that doctrine. Section 1404(a) analysis proceeds along two lines. First, the private interest of the parties should be ...


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