June 3, 2005 – Moving swiftly, a federal judge in Alexandria, Va., ruled that a bank's case against Vitelco for allegedly failing to repay a $4 million loan must be argued in Virginia, and cannot be transferred, as Vitelco had requested, to the federal courts in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The bank is the Virginia-based Rural Telephone Finance Corporation, a non-profit institution specializing in making loans to rural utilities.
Judge James C. Cacheris of the Eastern District of Virginia sent his decision down on June 1 on the motion to change venues, which had been argued before him on May 20.
Jonathan Siegfried, RTFC's New York-based lawyer, had argued the $4 million case was different from, and simpler than, a group of three cases between RTFC and Innovative Communication Corp., Vitelco's parent company, now before the federal courts in the U.S.V.I. One of these cases, involving RTFC's attempt to recapture $530 million lent to ICC, had been moved to the V.I. federal courts last year by a different Alexandria-based federal judge, Claude M. Hilton.
Judge Cacheris issued a 22-page decision in which he denied the Vitelco motion to dismiss on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction as well as denying the motion to change the venue. In his decision he said that the variable of witness convenience "appears to be a neutral factor."
On the other hand he ruled that the plaintiff's preference of a venue "is entitled to substantial weight" and that in the matter of "interest of justice" the RTFC arguments prevailed. "The interest of justice factors" the judge wrote "include the court's familiarity with the applicable [state] law, docket conditions . . . " and other factors.
As to the first point, the judge pointed out that the case will be decided on Virginia civil law; regarding docket conditions, he wrote: "Finally, judicial economy would be likely be less well served in any forum other than this one which uses the 'Rocket Docket'."
The Eastern District of Virginia's pattern of rapid decisions on matters before it, is well known in legal circles. In fact, in this case, Vitelco was given 10 days to respond to the judge's June 1 decision.
The judge's mention of the "Rocket Docket" was the only reference, indirect though it was, to Siegfried's description of how the other RTFC-ICC cases had not been moving forward in the federal courts in the islands. (See "Vitelco Seeks to Transfer Latest RTFC Case to the V.I ").
Siegfried told the Virginia court on May 20 that the Virgin Islands' U.S. District Court Judge, Curtis Gomez, had not replied to a request to recuse himself from the case, and that no hearings on the case had been scheduled until September.
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