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JENKINS v. WASHINGTON CONVENTION CENTER

August 12, 1999

ANISE JENKINS, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
WASHINGTON CONVENTION CENTER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kollar-kotelly, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This case arises out of a dispute about the propriety of a taxation scheme in the District of Columbia enacted in order to finance the building of a new convention center in the District. Anise Jenkins and numerous other named plaintiffs who paid the contested sales and use tax, as well as Planet Vox, Inc., a business incorporated in the District, bring this suit against the Washington Convention Center Authority and the District of Columbia seeking return of their money or damages. Plaintiffs contend that, during certain specified months, the Mayor of the District of Columbia collected the tax pursuant to an expired tax law, thereby engaging in an ultra vires act, depriving them of property without due process, taking their private property for public use without just compensation, and effecting a conversion. Pending before this Court are the Defendants' Motions to Dismiss and for Judgment on the Pleadings. For the reasons set forth below, the Court concludes that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear Plaintiffs' claim, and therefore grants the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.

I. BACKGROUND

In the weeks preceding this deadline, and in the months that followed it, the District sought and passed emergency legislation in order to delay the deadline for WCCA's submission of its financial report.*fn1 The District Control Board passed two emergency acts in all; finally, in June 1998, it enacted new legislation repealing the provision of the 1994 Act that called for the expiration of taxing authority. Plaintiffs, challenge several aspects of this legislation, including the legitimacy of the Second Emergency Act and the effective date of the repeal.

Plaintiffs have asserted two claims against Defendants under District law. See Compl. ¶¶ 72, 75. Plaintiffs first allege that Defendants' collection of Plaintiffs' money under claim of entitlement pursuant to the 1994 Act was ultra vires — that the Mayor and his subordinates had no power to collect taxes without legislative authority. See Compl. ¶ 72. Plaintiffs also suggest that the taking of the tax moneys for the convention center amounted to conversion under District law. Compl. ¶ 75.

Plaintiffs raise two related claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Compl. ¶¶ 73-74. First, Plaintiffs contend that the taking of their money under this taxation scheme by District officials in the absence of proper legislative authority violated their constitutional rights by depriving them of property without the legislative process to which they were due. Compl. ¶ 73. In addition, Plaintiffs suggest that Defendants are liable to them under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for taking their property without just compensation in violation of the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment. Compl. ¶ 74.

Defendant WCCA moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(2), and for judgment on the record pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c); Defendant District of Columbia joined in these motions. See Defendants' Joint Reply in Further Support of Their Motions to Dismiss and for Judgment on the Pleadings. The Defendants predicate their Motion to Dismiss, in relevant part, on the Federal Tax Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1341 ("FTIA"), as well as on a similar provision of the District of Columbia Code, the District of Columbia Tax Injunction Act, D.C.Code § 47-3307 ("DCTIA").

II. DISCUSSION

In deciding whether subject matter jurisdiction exists in the instant case, the Court looks first to the scope and application of the Federal Tax Injunction Act, a statute that aims to insulate state tax administration from unwarranted federal intervention. This 1937 statute provides that "[t]he district courts shall not enjoin, suspend or restrain the assessment, levy or collection of any tax under State law where a plain, speedy and efficient remedy may be had in the courts of such State." 28 U.S.C. § 1341. Congress fashioned the FTIA to codify common law principles of comity and federalism in the domain of taxation. See Fair Assessment in Real Estate Ass'n, Inc., v. McNary, 454 U.S. 100, 102, 102 S.Ct. 177, 70 L.Ed.2d 271 (1981). In McNary, a taxpayers' association challenged the property tax assessment practices in St. Louis County, Missouri. See id. at 105-106, 102 S.Ct. 177. The Supreme Court commented upon the serious effects posed by federal court intervention into disputes over state taxes, noting that "[i]t is upon taxation that the several States chiefly rely to obtain the means to carry on their respective governments, and it is of the utmost importance to all of them that the modes adopted to enforce the taxes levied should be interfered with as little as possible." Id., citing Dows v. City of Chicago, 11 Wall. 108, 78 U.S. 108, 20 L.Ed. 65 (1870). Since nothing in the FTIA or its judicial construction directly addresses the application of the Act to the District of Columbia, the Court must decide if this Act or its District of Columbia counterpart (the District of Columbia Tax Injunction Act) precludes federal jurisdiction on the substance of Plaintiffs' claims against the District.

A. Does the Federal Tax Injunction Act apply to the District of Columbia?

1. The District as a local sovereign

The threshold question before the Court in this regard is whether or not the District of Columbia falls within the purview of the category "State" as it operates in the FTIA. Although no settled law exists on precisely this question, cases addressing legislation with a similar ambit suggest that the FTIA does apply to the District. The Supreme Court has held that whether the District "constitutes a `State or Territory' within the meaning of any particular statutory or constitutional provision depends upon the character and aim of the specific provision involved." District of Columbia v. Carter, 409 U.S. 418, 420, 93 S.Ct. 602, 34 L.Ed.2d 613 (1973), reh'g denied, 410 U.S. 959, 93 S.Ct. 1411, 35 L.Ed.2d 694 (1973). In Carter, the Court evaluated the status of the District under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; it enumerated several factors to consider in determining whether the District is a state or territory for the purposes of a statutory provision, including "the words themselves . . . the context, the purposes of the law, and the circumstances under which the words were employed." Id. at 420, 93 S.Ct. 602, citing Puerto Rico v. Shell Co. (P.R.), Ltd., 302 U.S. 253, 258, 58 S.Ct. 167, 82 L.Ed. 235 (1937). As an illustration of this analysis, the Court pointed to the fair housing standards of 42 U.S.C. § 1982, observing that "it would be anomalous indeed if Congress chose to carve out the District of Columbia as the sole exception to an act of otherwise universal application." Id. Indeed, the Court continued, "this is all the more true where, as here, the legislative purposes underlying [the law] support its applicability in the District." Id.

In addition, courts have generally indicated that the District of Columbia resembles a state within the framework of a comity analysis. See Silverman v. Barry, 727 F.2d 1121, 1123, n. 4 (D.C.Cir. 1984) (assuming, "as this court has on other occasions that the abstention rules apply in the District with the same force as they do where a state sovereign is involved."). Cf. Shook v. District of Columbia Fin. Responsibility & Management Assistance Auth., 132 F.3d 775, 776 (D.C.Cir. 1998) (comparing the District Charter created under the Home Rule Act "in certain respects to a state constitution."). Congress itself drew an explicit parallel between the jurisdictional balance of federal and local courts in the District of ...


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