United States District Court, D. Columbia
December 12, 2005.
ROSE RUMBER et al., Plaintiffs,
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICARDO URBINA, District Judge
GRANTING THE DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS
This matter comes before the court on the defendants' motion to
dismiss. The plaintiffs, owners and tenants of properties known
as the "Skyland Area," contend that legislation authorizing the
defendants, the District of Columbia ("D.C.") and the National
Capital Revitalization Corporation ("NCRC"), to exercise eminent
domain over their property is unconsitutional and that the
defendants are therefore unauthorized to take such action. The
defendants assert that they have not yet taken any property from
the plaintiffs and have filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds
that the plaintiffs' claims are not ripe. Because the court
concludes that the plaintiff's claims are not ripe, the court
lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over this case. For this
reason, the court grants the defendants' motion to dismiss. II. BACKGROUND*fn1
Beginning in 2004, D.C. enacted a series of bills pertaining to
the eminent domain power of the NCRC with regard to the Skyland
Shopping Center area in Southeast, D.C. 3d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 2-4.
This legislation authorizes the NCRC to acquire property by
eminent domain, when such action has been approved by at least
two-thirds of the D.C. Council, to assist the NCRC in achieving
revitalization goals. D.C. Official Code § 2-1219.19. On April 5,
2005, the D.C. Council approved the National Capital
Revitalization Corporation Eminent Domain Clarification and
Skyland Eminent Domain Approval Amendment Act of 2004 ("Skyland
Act"), D.C. Legisl. 15-286 (Act 15-679). With the passage of this
bill, the NCRC is authorized to exercise eminent domain power to
acquire and redevelop the Skyland Shopping Center. 3d Am. Compl.
On July 13, 2004, the plaintiffs brought suit to enjoin the
defendants from commencing eminent domain proceedings. See
generally Compl. Three amended complaints later, the plaintiffs
seek a declaratory judgment that the legislation constitutes an
unlawful taking of their property in violation of the
Fifth Amendment's takings and equal protection provisions, 3d Am.
Compl. ¶¶ 104-138, and that the D.C. Council acted beyond its
authority in passing the legislation, 3d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 139-141.
On June 15, 2005, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the
plaintiffs' third amended complaint on the grounds that, inter
alia, the plaintiffs' claims are not ripe. Defs.' Mem. of P. &
A. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss 3d Am. Compl. ("Defs.' Mot. to
Dismiss") at 1-2. The defendants assert that because they have
not yet exercised eminent domain power, none of the plaintiffs' rights have been violated.
Id. The court now turns to the defendants' motion.
A. Legal Standard for a Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule
Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and the law
presumes that "a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction."
Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377
(1994); St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co.,
303 U.S. 283
, 288-89 (1938); see also Gen. Motors Corp. v. Envtl. Prot.
Agency, 363 F.3d 442
, 448 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (noting that "[a]s a
court of limited jurisdiction, we begin, and end, with an
examination of our jurisdiction").
Because "subject-matter jurisdiction is an `Art. III as well as
a statutory requirement[,] no action of the parties can confer
subject-matter jurisdiction upon a federal court.'" Akinseye v.
Dist. of Columbia, 339 F.3d 970, 971 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (quoting
Ins. Corp. of Ir., Ltd. v. Compagnie des Bauxite de Guinea,
456 U.S. 694, 702 (1982)). On a motion to dismiss for lack of
subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), the
plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the court has
subject-matter jurisdiction. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife,
504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992). The court may dismiss a complaint for
lack of subject-matter jurisdiction only if "it appears beyond
doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of
his claim which would entitle him to relief." Empagran S.A. v.
F. Hoffman-Laroche, Ltd., 315 F.3d 338, 343 (D.C. Cir. 2003)
(quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)).
Because subject-matter jurisdiction focuses on the court's
power to hear the claim, however, the court must give the
plaintiff's factual allegations closer scrutiny when resolving a Rule 12(b)(1) motion than would be required for a Rule 12(b)(6)
motion for failure to state a claim. Macharia v. United States,
334 F.3d 61, 64, 69 (D.C. Cir. 2003); Grand Lodge of Fraternal
Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185 F. Supp. 2d 9, 13 (D.D.C.
2001). Moreover, the court is not limited to the allegations
contained in the complaint. Hohri v. United States,
782 F.2d 227, 241 (D.C. Cir. 1986), vacated on other grounds,
482 U.S. 64 (1987). Instead, to determine whether it has jurisdiction over
the claim, the court may consider materials outside the
pleadings. Herbert v. Nat'l Acad. of Scis., 974 F.2d 192, 197
(D.C. Cir. 1992).
B. The Court Lacks Subject-Matter Jurisdiction
The plaintiffs' principle argument in challenging the
implementation and enforcement of the Skyland Act is that D.C.
improperly delegated eminent domain power to the NCRC by enacting
unconstitutional legislation. 3d Am. Compl. ¶ 5. Therefore, the
plaintiffs claim, "the enactment and execution of the
[legislation] constitute[s] an unconstitutional taking of their
property, in violation of the Fifth Amendment of the
United States Constitution." 3d Am. Compl. ¶ 5. The defendants counter
that the plaintiffs fail to show that this court has
subject-matter jurisdiction because there has not yet been a
taking by eminent domain and the case is therefore not yet ripe.
Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss at 4-5. The court now considers the matter
of ripeness to determine whether it has jurisdiction over the
1. Legal Standard for Ripeness
Article III of the Constitution limits the jurisdiction of
federal courts to cases or controversies. U.S. CONST.
ART. III, § 2, cl. 1. The case-or-controversy requirement reflects the
"common understanding of what it takes to make a justiciable
case." Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83,
102 (1998). Among the various doctrines developed by the courts
to test the fitness of controversies for judicial resolution is the
ripeness doctrine. Wyoming Outdoor Council v. U.S. Forest
Service, 165 F.3d 43, 48-49 (D.C. Cir. 1999).
The ripeness doctrine asks "whether the case has been brought
at a point so early that it is not yet clear whether a real
dispute to be resolved exists between the parties." 15 FED. PRAC.
3d § 101.70. Reflecting both constitutional and prudential
considerations, the doctrine "is designed to prevent the courts,
through avoidance of premature adjudication, from entangling
themselves in abstract disagreements over administrative policies
and also to protect the agencies from judicial interference until
an administrative decision has been formalized and its effects
felt in a concrete way by the challenging parties." Ohio
Forestry Ass'n, Inc. v. Sierra Club, 523 U.S. 726, 733 (1998)
(quoting Abbott Labs. v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136, 148-49 (1967));
see also Reno v. Catholic Soc. Servs., Inc., 509 U.S. 43, 57 n.
18 (1993) (stating that "[the] ripeness doctrine is drawn both
from Article III limitations on judicial power and from
prudential reasons for refusing to exercise jurisdiction").
Toward that end, a court must examine whether a dispute is fit
for judicial review and whether withholding court consideration
would cause hardship to the parties. Ohio Forestry Ass'n, Inc,
523 U.S. at 733; Wyoming, 165 F.3d at 48. To measure fitness,
the court looks to "whether [the issue] is purely legal, whether
consideration of the issue would benefit from a more concrete
setting, and whether the agency's action is sufficiently final."
Atl. States Legal Found. v. Envtl. Prot. Agency, 325 F.3d 281,
284 (D.C. Cir. 2003). If a claim "rests upon contingent future
events that may not occur as anticipated, or indeed may not occur
at all," it is not ripe for adjudication. Id. As for hardship,
the court looks to see whether the party can show that it will
suffer injury in the interim. Id. 2. The Plaintiff's Claims are Not Ripe
Although the court has previously addressed the matter, it
seems necessary to once again discuss the proper procedure for
challenging a condemnation. Mem. Op., May 31, 2005, at 8-10.
a. Procedures for Challenging a Condemnation
"[T]aking claims against the Federal Government are premature
until the property owner has availed itself of the process
provided" for just compensation. Williamson County Reg'l
Planning Comm'n v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, 473 U.S. 172,
195 (1985); see also Ruckelshaus v. Monsanto Co., 467 U.S. 986,
1016 (1984) (stating that "[e]quitable relief is not available to
enjoin an alleged taking of private property for a public use,
duly authorized by law, when a suit for compensation can be
brought against the sovereign subsequent to the taking"). Indeed,
if the defendants commence condemnation proceedings, the
plaintiffs will then have the opportunity to raise their
constitutional challenges in the state court. JMM Corp. v.
D.C., 378 F.3d 1117, 1121 (D.C. Cir. 2004). Put differently, the
court's review of this case on Fifth Amendment grounds is
premature until: (1) a taking occurs, and, (2) D.C. provides, or
fails to provide, compensation. Only then would this matter
The Takings Clause "does not prohibit the taking of private
property, but instead places a condition[, compensation,] on the
exercise of that power." First English Evangelical Lutheran
Church of Glendale v. County of Los Angeles, 482 U.S. 304, 314
(1987). Here, the defendants have not implemented a taking, and
the plaintiffs have not yet sought compensation. Williamson
County, 473 U.S. at 194-95. Furthermore, should the defendants
initiate condemnation proceedings, it is uncontested that D.C.
provides a mechanism through which property owners may seek
compensation. See e.g., D.C. Fed'n of Civic Assocs. v. Airis,
275 F. Supp. 533, 537 (D.D.C. 1967). In the event of a taking, if these procedures
adequately provide the plaintiffs with just compensation for the
loss of their property, then there would exist no real
controversy among the parties. Therein lies the precise caution
of the ripeness doctrine. That is, the court ought not intervene
here because there may be no real dispute between the parties. 15
FED. PRAC. 3d § 101.70. If the court were to interject itself
into the proceedings in the current stage, it would merely
preside over "abstract disagreements over administrative
policies," Ohio Forestry Ass'n, Inc., 523 U.S. at 733 (quoting
Abbott Labs., 387 U.S. at 148-49 (1967)), and would not allow
the D.C. Council its constitutionally-protected freedom from
judicial interference, Reno, 509 U.S. at 57 n. 18 (noting that
the ripeness doctrine is "drawn . . . from Article III
limitations on judicial power").
b. The Plaintiffs Will Not Suffer Undue Hardship
Although the plaintiffs' claims are unripe, the court may still
act if withholding judgment would result in undue hardship on the
plaintiffs. Ohio Forestry Ass'n, Inc., 523 U.S. at 733-34;
Wyoming, 165 F. 3d at 48. Hardship arises when the court, by
withholding judgment, creates adverse effects of a legal or
practical kind. Ohio Forestry Ass'n, Inc., 523 U.S. at 733-34.
For example, no legal hardship occurs when the court does not
"command anyone to do anything or to refrain from doing anything
. . . grant, withhold, or modify any formal legal license, power,
or authority; . . . subject anyone to any civil or criminal
liability[, or create] legal rights or obligations." Ohio
Forestry Ass'n, Inc. 523 U.S. at 733 (citing United States v.
Los Angeles & Salt Lake R. Co., 273 U.S. 299 (1927)).
Here, by granting the defendants' motion to dismiss for lack of
ripeness, the court does not change the legal rights of the
parties. The defendants may still exercise eminent domain or, conversely, they may refrain from doing so. In addition, the
plaintiffs may still object to the defendants' exercise of
eminent domain and seek just compensation in the event of a
taking. If the plaintiffs' property is condemned, and they do not
receive just compensation, they may then bring suit against the
Just as the parties will suffer no legal hardships by the court
withholding judgment, the plaintiffs will similarly endure no
practical hardship from the defendants' condemnation action
beyond the hardship caused by the taking itself. This type of
hardship, however, is insufficient to outweigh the state's power
of eminent domain. Kelo v. City of New London, Conn.,
125 S.Ct. 2655, 2668 (2005) (stating that although condemnation proceedings
engender hardship regardless of just compensation, this hardship
alone does not warrant a court's preclusion of the condemnation
proceeding). Accordingly, the plaintiffs cannot demonstrate that
they will suffer undue hardship following the dismissal of this
action and the commencing of any eminent domain action. Atl.
States Legal Found. v. Envtl. Prot. Agency, 325 F.3d 281, 284
(D.C. Cir. 2003).
Therefore, the court determines that the plaintiffs' claims are
unripe and that the plaintiffs can demonstrate no undue hardship
resulting from the court declining to exercise jurisdiction over
this case. The court, consequently, lacks subject-matter
jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' claims. IV. CONCLUSION
For the foregoing reasons, the court grants the defendants'
motion to dismiss. An order directing the parties in a manner
consistent with this Memorandum Opinion is issued this 12th day
of December 2005.
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