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Youngin's Auto Body C/O James Gee v. District of Columbia

March 17, 2011

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

AMENDED MEMORANDUM OPINION*fn1

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.*fn2 Currently before the Court is the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss ("Def.'s Mot.") under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) or 12(b)(6), asserting that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this case and that the defendant has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. 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 because the plaintiff failed to raise that 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

A motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests whether the complaint has properly stated a claim upon which relief can be granted. Wells v. United States, 851 F.2d 1471, 1473 (D.C. Cir. 1988). For a complaint to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires only that it provide a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Although Rule 8(a) does not require "detailed factual allegations," Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), a plaintiff is required to provide "more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation," Ashcroft v. Iqbal, __ U.S. __, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009), in order to "give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests," Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal citation, quotation marks and alteration omitted). Thus, while "detailed factual allegations are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, to provide the grounds of entitlement to relief, a plaintiff must furnish more than labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Hinson ex rel. N.H. v. Merritt Educ. Ctr., 521 F. Supp. 2d 22, 27 (D.D.C. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted).

In the final analysis, dismissal for failure to state a claim is "proper when . . . the court finds that [a] plaintiff[] has failed to allege all the material elements of [his] cause of action." Taylor v. FDIC, 132 F.3d 753, 761 (D.C. Cir. 1997).

III. LEGAL ANALYSIS

A. Res Judicata

"The preclusive effect of a judgment is defined by claim preclusion and issue preclusion, which are collectively referred to as res judicata." Taylor v. Sturgell, 553 U.S. 880, 891 (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 ...


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