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District Of Columbia, Department Of Public Works v. L.G. Industries

August 31, 2000

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS, DEPARTMENT OF CONSUMER AND REGULATORY AFFAIRS, APPELLANTS,
v.
L.G. INDUSTRIES, INC. USA WASTE OF DC, INC., APPELLEES.



Before Schwelb and Farrell, Associate Judges, and Pryor, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Pryor, Senior Judge

Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (Hon. Steffen W. Graae, Motions Judge)

Argued June 15, 2000

Appellants District of Columbia, District of Columbia Department of Public Works, and District of Columbia Department of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) (collectively "the District"), appeal an order of the Superior Court enjoining them from pursuing administrative proceedings against appellees L.G. Industries, Inc. (LGI) and USA Waste of the District of Columbia while appellees' suit against the District is pending in Superior Court. *fn1 Appellants contend that the court either did not have jurisdiction to issue the injunction or, if it had jurisdiction, should not have exercised its jurisdiction in this case. Appellants also contend that the court failed to consider adequately the required criteria before issuing the injunction, an extraordinary remedy. Because we agree with appellants that the trial court should not have exercised its jurisdiction in this case to stay the administrative proceedings, we reverse.

I.

A. Pretrial Proceedings

On June 16, 1994, LGI filed an application for a certificate of occupancy for premises at 1140 Third Street, Northeast, Washington, D.C. In the application, it stated that the proposed business use would be "Shipping, Freight & Cargo, Transfer Station, Warehousing and Trucking." The application did not mention that LGI proposed to operate a solid waste or trash transfer facility. A certificate of occupancy was issued on July 14, 1994, for "Shipping, Freight & Cargo, Transfer Station, Warehouse and Trucking (Not sexually oriented)."

On December 18, 1995, the District enacted Act 11-177, the Solid Waste Facility Permit Act of 1995, which became effective February 27, 1996. See D.C. Code § 6-3451 et seq. (1996 Supp.). LGI filed suit on January 19, 1996, challenging as unconstitutional and otherwise illegal the laws and regulations establishing the solid waste permit program and the fees applicable to solid waste transfer stations. *fn2 In its answer, filed March 22, 1996, the District denied LGI's assertion that it was licensed by the District to operate a solid waste and recyclable material transfer facility, and included a counterclaim requesting a declaratory judgment that LGI's certificate of occupancy did not permit it to operate a trash transfer facility. LGI answered the District's counterclaim on April 15, 1996. A scheduling order entered on April 19, 1996, placed the case on a pretrial track which allowed for discovery to take place over the summer.

Pursuant to the Act and its implementing regulations, LGI filed an application for a solid waste facility permit on June 9, 1996. On July 16, 1996, LGI filed a consent motion for leave to transfer the case to a slower litigation track. LGI stated in the motion that it expected to receive an interim permit, and that it expected the District to issue final regulations shortly, and suggested that the discovery period should be extended beyond those events. The motions court granted the motion, thus extending the discovery period until October. LGI served several written discovery requests on the District over the summer. On August 2, 1996, DCRA issued LGI a Solid Waste Handling Facility Interim Permit, subject to LGI's applying within thirty days for a certificate of occupancy describing the use of the facility as a solid waste handling facility. On September 3, 1996, LGI filed such an application under protest, claiming that it should not be required to apply for a certificate of occupancy because it already held a valid certificate of occupancy. DCRA's Building Land Regulations Administration (BLRA) denied the application because it would require a special exception under the zoning regulations, which only the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) could grant. On February 21, 1997, LGI filed an appeal with the BZA, asserting, inter alia, that "LGI is operating lawfully by right under a valid CO at its existing facility and that CO has never been found invalid." LGI therefore asked the BZA to "declare that LGI's existing solid waste transfer station is grandfathered from any and all requirements" that "might [be] adopt[ed] pursuant to its pending special exception case."

On October 2, 1996, LGI filed motions in the Superior Court action for partial summary judgment and for a preliminary injunction; both pleadings addressed the $4 per ton tipping fee imposed by the Act. On December 19, 1996, the motions court granted another consent motion to modify the scheduling order, calling for discovery to continue into February 1997. In a status report to the court, the District listed, as a significant issue, "Whether LG has a valid certificate of occupancy to operate a solid waste facility." The District also noted that "The parties are in the intermediate stage of discovery." In response, the court extended discovery until April 24, 1997.

The motions court denied LGI's motions for partial summary judgment and for preliminary judgment on April 23, 1997. *fn3 On April 29, 1997, the case was certified to the Civil I calendar. In a status report filed on May 22, 1997, LGI stated, "Based upon its counterclaim, LGI believes the District intends to submit the following legal issues: (a) Whether LGI possesses an appropriate certificate of occupancy to operate a transfer station . . . ." On May 15, 1997, following the denial of LGI's motion for preliminary injunction, the District sent LGI a letter demanding payment for the solid waste facility charge due under the Act. On June 9, LGI filed a second motion to enjoin the District from enforcing this demand for payment.

On October 24, 1997, LGI filed a verified first amended complaint. In its motion for leave to file the amended complaint, LGI stated, "By the amended complaint, LGI . . . seeks to narrow to one its causes of action in order to focus on the critical issue in this case, which is the constitutionality, legality and enforceability of the $4 per ton fee." LGI served additional discovery requests on the District on October 29, 1997.

On May 4, 1998, this case was consolidated with a second action LGI had filed on January 21, 1997, challenging final regulations issued by DCRA relating to the regulation of operators of solid waste transfer stations. In a status report filed pursuant to the consolidation order, LGI listed as a significant legal issue "Whether plaintiff is operating under a valid Certificate of Occupancy." LGI also stated, "Little discovery has been done." In its status report, filed pursuant to the consolidation order, the District listed as a significant legal issue "Whether plaintiff has a valid certificate of occupancy to operate a solid waste facility." In the same pleading the District requested leave to file a late answer to the first amended complaint. ...


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