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Youngin's Auto Body v. District of Columbia

May 13, 2010

YOUNGIN'S AUTO BODY C/O JAMES GEE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

The plaintiff, Youngin's Auto Body, brings this action against the defendant, District of Columbia, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2006), alleging that the defendant violated the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution by wrongfully depriving the plaintiff of its business license. Complaint ("Compl.") ¶¶ 15-21. The plaintiff further contends that Defendant District of Columbia's legislative and regulatory scheme governing tow truck operators is preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act, 49 U.S.C. § 14501 (2006). Id. ¶¶ 22-31.*fn1 Currently before the Court is the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss ("Def.'s Mot.") under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), asserting that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this case.*fn2 The plaintiff opposes the defendant's motion.*fn3 Plaintiff's Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Opposition to Defendant District of Columbia's Motion to Dismiss ("Pl.'s Opp'n"). For the reasons set forth below, the defendant's motion must be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Youngin's Auto Body ("Youngin's") is a towing services and auto body business that operated in the District of Columbia ("District") for close to twenty years. Compl. ¶ 1. Between November 2006 and March 2007, the District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs ("DCRA")-the agency charged with executive oversight and enforcement of matters involving the District's towing and storage companies-investigated Youngin's for violations of the District's towing regulations. Id. ¶¶ 2-3. Following this investigation, on April 27, 2007, the DCRA issued to Youngin's a Notice to Revoke Basic Business License for towing services and storage, id. ¶ 6, based on five charges brought against Youngin's: (1) failure to provide a printed copy of the "Owner's Bill of Rights," (2) failure to promptly release a vehicle after receiving payment and proof of ownership, (3) failure to obtain a control number from the Department of Public Works prior to the release of a vehicle, (4) requiring cash payment for towing and storage, rather than accepting credit cards, and (5) overcharging for storage of a vehicle, id. ¶ 5.

On July 20, 2007, the DCRA moved for a Temporary Restraining Order from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia to enjoin Youngin's operation pending a Final Order from the District's Office of Administrative Hearings ("OAH"). Id. ¶ 7. Youngin's consented to the issuance of the Temporary Restraining Order, and, effective July 26, 2007, it ceased operation of its towing and storage service. Id. ¶¶ 7-8. Following an evidentiary hearing conducted by an Administrative Law Judge, the OAH granted the DCRA's petition for revocation of Youngin's business license on October 4, 2007. Id. ¶¶ 7, 9. The OAH thereafter denied Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration and Stay of Enforcement of Final Order on November 16, 2007. Id. ¶ 10.

The plaintiff appealed the OAH's ruling to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals on November 6, 2007. Id. ¶ 11. In its appeal, Youngin's argued that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act, 49 U.S.C. § 14501, preempted the District's authority to regulate Youngin's storage and towing operations. Id. On April 15, 2009, the Court of Appeals affirmed the OAH ruling, id., but specifically declined to address the preemption claim since the plaintiff failed to raise this issue before the OAH. Youngin's Towing & Auto Body, Inc. v. D.C. Dep't of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs, No. 07-AA-1210, slip op. at 2 (D.C. Apr. 15, 2009) (per curiam). The court explained that it only considers issues that were not presented to the administrative agency in "extraordinary circumstances," and that no such circumstances were present, because "[w]hatever the merit of Youngins' [sic] preemption argument, it certainly is not readily apparent that the regulations in issue.are pre-empted by federal law." Id. And the court went on to note that "with a few exceptions, courts in other jurisdictions that have considered similar regulations generally have concluded that the regulations are not pre-empted." Id. (footnote omitted). The plaintiff then filed its complaint in this action asserting the following claims against Defendant District of Columbia: (1) "[u]nconstitutional [s]eizure in [v]violation of the Fourth, Fourteenth, and Fifth Amendments" (Count I), and (2) "[the] District [l]acked [j]urisdiction, [a]uthority, and [p]ower to [r]evoke [p]laintiff's [b]usiness [l]icense" (Count II). See generally Compl. The plaintiff seeks an award of monetary damages, attorneys fees and costs, and it also asks this Court to "enter [a] declaratory judgment and injunctive relief against Defendant District of Columbia, declaring its regulation of certain towing actions to be illegal and enjoining the District from [its] arbitrary and capricious application and unauthorized enforcement [of DC Code § 47-2851 and Title 16, Chapter 4, of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations ("DCMR"), 16 DCMR § 402, which regulates the towing of motor vehicles,] are pre-empted by 49 USC § 14501" (Count III). Id. ¶ 31.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

"On a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that the court has jurisdiction to entertain his claims." Green v. Stuyvesant, 505 F. Supp. 2d 176, 177 (D.D.C. 2007) (citations omitted). Because a motion for dismissal under "Rule 12(b)(1) presents a threshold challenge to the court's jurisdiction," Haase v. Sessions, 835 F.2d 902, 906 (D.C. Cir. 1987) (citations omitted), Rule 12(b)(1) requires dismissal of a complaint if the Court lacks jurisdiction over the subject matter of the dispute. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). The Court must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint when reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1). Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993). However, since the plaintiff has the burden of establishing the Court's jurisdiction, the "plaintiff's factual allegations in the complaint . . . will bear closer scrutiny in resolving a 12(b)(1) motion than in resolving a 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim." Grand Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185 F. Supp. 2d 9, 13-14 (D.D.C. 2001) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Moreover, the Court is not limited to the allegations set forth in the complaint, and "may consider materials outside of the pleadings." Jerome Stevens Pharms., Inc. v. FDA, 402 F.3d 1249, 1253 (D.C. Cir. 2005).

"The defense of res judicata is jurisdictional in character." Rizvi v. McClure, 597 F. Supp. 2d 63, 66 (D.D.C. 2009) (citing Stanton v. D.C. Ct. of Appeals, 127 F.3d 72, 77 (D.C. Cir. 1997)). Therefore, "a motion for dismissal based on res judicata properly falls under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1)." Id.

III. LEGAL ANALYSIS

A. Res Judicata

The defendant moves for dismissal on the grounds that the plaintiff's claims are barred by res judicata and should therefore be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). Def.'s Mem. at 5-6. Specifically, the defendant argues that the doctrine of claim preclusion bars this suit because it is an "improper attempt to re-litigate claims that were, or could have been, heard by the [OAH] and [the] D.C. Court of Appeals." Id. at 5-6. The plaintiff, on the other hand, contends that its claims are not barred by claim preclusion for several reasons.Pl.'s Opp'n at 4. First, the plaintiff alleges that its preemption claim is not barred because the D.C. Court of Appeals "expressly declined to address the Plaintiff's preemption claim." Id. Second, the plaintiff asserts that its § 1983 claim is not barred because "there is no reference in [the] Plaintiff's brief before the D.C. Court of Appeals regarding [the] Defendant's violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983." Id. at 5. Finally, the plaintiff contends that none of its claims are barred by claim preclusion because it did not have a "full and fair opportunity" to litigate the claims before the OAH or the D.C. Court of Appeals. Id. at 4-5.

"The preclusive effect of a judgment is defined by claim preclusion and issue preclusion, which are collectively referred to as res judicata."*fn4 Taylor v. Sturgell, 553 U.S. 880, __, 128 S.Ct. 2161, 2171 (2008) (internal quotation marks omitted and emphasis added). Under the doctrine of claim preclusion, "a final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised in that action." Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 94 (1980). The doctrine of issue preclusion (collateral estoppel), in contrast, bars "'successive litigation of an issue of fact or law [which was] actually litigated and resolved in a valid court determination essential to the prior judgment,' even if the issue recurs in the context of a different claim." Taylor, 128 S.Ct. at 2171 (citations omitted). By precluding parties from contesting matters they already had "a full and fair opportunity to litigate," the doctrines of claim and issue preclusion "relieve parties of the cost and vexation of multiple lawsuits, conserve judicial resources, and, by preventing inconsistent decisions, encourage reliance on adjudication." Allen, 449 U.S. at 94 (citations omitted). When a state court has adjudicated a claim or issue, these doctrines also serve to "promote the comity between state and federal courts that has been recognized as a bulwark of the federal system." Id. at 96 (citations omitted).

Federal courts must accord District of Columbia court judgments the same preclusive effect those judgments would be given by District of Columbia courts. See 28 U.S.C. § 1738 (2006); Kremer v. Chem. Constr. Corp., 456 U.S. 461, 466 (1982) ("Section 1738 requires federal courts to give the same preclusive effect to state court judgments that those judgments would be given in the courts of the State from which the judgments emerged."). Thus, "§ 1738 does not allow federal courts to employ their own rules of res judicata in determining the effect of state judgments." Kremer, 456 U.S. at 481-82 (emphasis added). Rather, § 1738 requires "a federal court to accept the rules chosen by the State from which the judgment is taken."*fn5 Id.; see also Smith v. District of Columbia, 629 F. Supp. 2d 53, 58 (D.D.C. 2009) (applying District of Columbia res judicata law in determining preclusive effect of Superior Court of the ...


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