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D.C. Professional Taxicab Drivers Association, et al v. District of Columbia

July 30, 2012

D.C. PROFESSIONAL TAXICAB DRIVERS ASSOCIATION, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL. , DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Beryl A. Howell

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Two associations, representing approximately 630 taxicab drivers in the District of Columbia, brought this lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court against the District and various municipal officials*fn1 (collectively, "the defendants"), alleging multiple grievances with the regulation of the local taxicab industry since the transition from a "zone" to a meter fare system in 2008. Specifically, in the twelve-count complaint, the plaintiffs allege nine separate violations of the D.C. Taxicab Commission Establishment Act ("the Act"), D.C. CODE § 50-302, et seq., for which they seek declaratory relief, see FirstAmended Complaint ("Am. Compl."), ECF No. 1, Ex. 2, Counts I-IX, XII,*fn2 and two federal constitutional claims, which provided the basis for the defendants' removal of the case to this Court. Defs.' Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1, at 2.
Pending before the Court is the defendants' motion to dismiss the plaintiff's First Amended Complaint, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Following the plaintiffs' voluntary dismissal of one of their federal constitutional claims,*fn3 the only federal claim remaining in the case is that the District of Columbia Taxicab Commission's ("DCTC") "Policy of Encouraging Unlawful Traffic Stops and Inspections by Hack Inspectors and Law Enforcement Officers," violates the Fourth Amendment. Am. Compl., Count XI. Since the Court finds that Count XI must be dismissed as moot, no federal claims remain in this case. The defendants' Motion to Dismiss will therefore be granted in part and denied in part, and the Court will remand the remaining non-federal claims to the D.C. Superior Court, where the plaintiffs initially filed this action.

I. BACKGROUND

In 2005, Congress passed the District of Columbia Omnibus Authorization Act, which included a short provision sponsored by Senator Carl Levin requiring "all taxicabs licensed in the District of Columbia to charge fares by a metered system" within one year of the date of passage. Am. Compl. ¶ 17 (quoting Pub. L. No. 109-356, Sec. 105 (codified at D.C. CODE § 50-381 (2010))). The provision further provided that the Mayor of the District of Columbia could choose to opt out of moving to a metered system. Id. ¶¶ 17-18. On October 17, 2007, then-Mayor Adrian Fenty issued Mayor's Order No. 2007-231 "to immediately implement the new time and meter distance system." Id. ¶ 18. The Mayor delegated "implementation authority" to then-DCTC Chairman Leon Swain, who subsequently issued rules implementing the current meter fare system to replace the system of calculating fares by "zones." Id. ¶ 18.

The gravamen of the plaintiffs' complaint is that the current metered fare system has resulted in arbitrarily low fares, which "are significantly lower than surrounding jurisdictions in Virginia and Maryland, lower than the inter-jurisdictional rates set by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Commission ("WMATC") and are among the lowest of major U.S. cities. Id. ¶ 22. In particular, the plaintiffs allege that rates have remained unchanged since 2008 and taxicab driver income has "fall[en] by as much as 30%." Id. ¶ 3. As a consequence, the plaintiffs allege that taxicab drivers must work longer hours to make their previous wages, often to the detriment of their health and their families. Id. ¶ 5; see also ¶ 4 ("The current rate structure is breaking families, forcing drivers to spend increased time away from their spouses and children, as well as putting hundreds of middle class families under increasing financial strain."). Efforts by the plaintiffs to obtain relief from the DCTC and other governmental authorities have been unavailing, leaving the plaintiffs to turn to the Court as the "last line of defense." Id. ¶ 6.

The plaintiffs allege that the defendants have violated the D.C. Taxicab Commission Establishment Act, D.C. CODE § 50-302 et seq., in multiple ways, including by the Mayor improperly asserting unilateral authority over the taxicab industry, improper composition of the DCTC, the DCTC failing to conduct a rate study and to set reasonable and fair rates, and the DCTC's elimination of hard copies of DCTC licenses.*fn4 As noted, the plaintiffs also assert one federal constitutional claim that the DCTC's policy of encouraging unlawful traffic stops and inspections by hack inspectors and law enforcement officers violates the drivers' Fourth Amendment rights. Id. ¶¶ 157-160 (Count XI). In support of this single federal claim, the plaintiffs allege that hack inspectors, who are "the [non-police] public safety officials charged with inspecting taxicabs and enforcing taxicab regulations . . . have committed numerous systematic abuses against the District's taxicab drivers, including racial profiling, unlawful searches, and improper ticketing." Id. ¶ 84. The plaintiffs claim that "[u]pon information and belief, in recent months, officials with the [DCTC] have instructed hack inspectors and law enforcement officers that they may pull over and inspect taxicabs without probable cause or reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing." Id. ¶ 88.

Shortly after removing this case from the D.C. Superior Court, the defendants filed the pending motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). See Defs.' Mot to Dismiss ("Defs.' Mot."), ECF No. 8.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

On a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence.*fn5 FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(1); Mostofi v. Napolitano, No. 11-0727, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9563, at *4 (D.D.C. Jan. 27, 2012) (citing Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992)); Kim v. United States, No. 08-01660, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2094, at *8 (D.D.C. Jan. 9, 2012); Shekoyan v. Sibley Int'l Corp., 217 F. Supp. 2d 59, 63 (D.D.C. 2002). As the Supreme Court has explained "many times," the "district courts of the United States . . . are 'courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute.'" Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Servs., 545 U.S. 546, 552 (2005) (quoting Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)) (internal citations omitted); see also Micei Int'l v. Dep't of Commerce, 613 F.3d 1147, 1151 (D.C. Cir. 2010) ("[T]wo things are necessary to create jurisdiction in an Article III tribunal other than the Supreme Court . . . . The Constitution must have given to the court the capacity to take it, and an act of Congress must have supplied it.") (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). For this reason, a "federal district court's initial obligation is to ascertain its subject matter jurisdiction." Malyutin v. Rice, 677 F. Supp. 2d 43, 45 (D.D.C. 2009) (citation omitted), aff'd, No. 10-5015, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 13869 (D.C. Cir. July 6, 2010). When a court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, it must dismiss the case. See Ravulapalli v. Napolitano, 773 F. Supp. 2d 41, 48 (D.D.C. 2011); McManus v. District of Columbia, 530 F. Supp. 2d 46, 62 (D.D.C. 2007).

"When it appears that a district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over a case that has been removed from a state court, the district court must remand the case." Republic of Venezuela v. Philip Morris Inc., 287 F.3d 192, 196 (D.C. Cir. 2002) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c)). If "all federal-law claims are dismissed before trial, the balance of factors to be considered under the pendent jurisdiction doctrine-judicial economy, convenience, fairness, and comity-will point toward declining to exercise jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims." Shekoyan v. Sibley Int'l, 409 F.3d 414, 424 (D.C. Cir. 2005) (quoting Carnegie-Mellon Univ. v. Cohill, 484 U.S. 343, 350 n.7 (1988)).

In evaluating whether a complaint sufficiently states a claim for relief to withstand a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court must first ascertain whether the complaint contains "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief[,]" as well as grounds for the court's jurisdiction and the specific relief sought. FED. R. CIV. P. (8)(a). While "detailed factual allegations" are not required, the complaint must "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). In assessing whether a complaint is sufficient, the "court 'constru[es] the complaint liberally in the plaintiff's favor,' 'accept[ing] as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint.'" Aktieselskabet AF 21. Nov. 2001 v. Fame Jeans Inc., 525 F.3d 8, 15 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (citing Kassem v. Wash. Hosp. Ctr., 513 F.3d 251, 253 (D.C. Cir. 2008)); see also Atherton v. Dist. of Columbia Office of the Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681 (D.C. Cir. 2009).

III. DISCUSSION

As noted, the defendants removed the case to federal court on the basis of the two federal claims alleged in the plaintiff's Amended Complaint, only one of which, Count XI, remains: that the DCTC's policy of encouraging unlawful traffic stops and inspections by hack inspectors violates the Fourth Amendment. The defendants claim, however, that Count XI is now moot because the DCTC has issued General Order No. 1, which prohibits hack inspectors from stopping taxicabs without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. See ECF No. 8-1, Ex. 4 ("General Order No. 1, regarding Public Vehicle Enforcement Inspector Traffic Stop Protocol") ("General Order No. 1"). The Court agrees. Since ...


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