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William Penn Apts. v. District of Columbia Court of Appeals

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

April 14, 2014

WILLIAM PENN APARTMENTS, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COURT OF APPEALS, et al., Defendants

Page 12

For William Penn Apartments, L.P., Plaintiff: Victoria Toensing, DIGENOVA & TOENSING, Washington , DC.

For District of Columbia Court of Appeals, Superior Court of The The District of Columbia, Phyllis D. Thompson, HONORABLE ASSOCIATE JUDGE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COURT OF APPEALS in her official capacity, Corinne A. Beckwith, HONORABLE ASSOCIATE JUDGE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COURT OF APPEALS in her official capacity, Frank Q. Nebeker, HONORABLE SENIOR JUDGE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COURT OF APPEALS in his official capacity, Brook Hedge, HONORABLE SENIOR JUDGE SUPERIOR COURT OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA in her official capacity, Michael L. Rankin, HONORABLE ASSOCIATE JUDGE SUPERIOR COURT OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA in his official capacity, Defendants: Jonathan Hale Pittman, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL, Washington , DC.

For John S. Scherlis, William L. Scherlis, Defendants: Tillman James Finley, LEAD ATTORNEY, MARINO LAW, PLLC, Washington , DC.

Page 13

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

RICHARD W. ROBERTS, Chief United States District Judge.

Plaintiff William Penn Apartments (" WPA" ) brings suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against D.C. Court of Appeals Judges Phyllis D. Thompson, Corinne A. Beckwith, and Frank Q. Nebeker, and D.C. Superior Court Judges Brook Hedge and Michael L. Rankin (" judicial defendants" ),

Page 14

as well as John S. Scherlis and William L. Scherlis (" Scherlis defendants" ).[1] The defendants move under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, for failure to state a claim, and on Younger [2] abstention grounds. WPA's claim for § 1983 injunctive relief will be dismissed for failure to state a claim. However, the Rooker-Feldman [3] doctrine and Younger abstention do not bar WPA's claim for declaratory relief. Thus, the defendants' motions to dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

From 1994 to 2004, defendant John Scherlis leased three apartments from WPA. Compl. ¶ 27. In 2005, WPA brought a suit (the " landlord-tenant case" ) in D.C. Superior Court against Scherlis for non-payment of rent, obtained a default judgment against him, and evicted him from one of the apartments. Id. ¶ ¶ 48-54, 67.

In August 2008, the Scherlis defendants filed suit (the " damages case" ) in D.C. Superior Court against WPA and Cafritz Company, alleging wrongful eviction, negligence, breach of good faith, and trespass, and seeking $18.5 million in damages. Id. ¶ 69. Also, John Scherlis moved to vacate the 2005 default judgment in the landlord-tenant case. Id. ¶ 75. Judge Hedge consolidated the landlord-tenant and damages cases and vacated the 2005 default judgment in the landlord-tenant case. Id. ¶ ¶ 95, 102. WPA appealed, and the D.C. Court of Appeals sua sponte remanded the case to the trial court. Id. ¶ ¶ 110, 123. The Court of Appeals' September 9, 2010 order stated tat " upon the entry of the order that resolves all matters in the consolidat[ed cases], if any party remains aggrieved, then they [sic] may file a notice of appeal." Id. ¶ 123 (emphasis omitted). On remand, Judge Hedge granted partial summary judgment to the Scherlis defendants in the damages case. Id. ¶ ¶ 125-26. WPA filed an application for review of Judge Hedge's grant of partial summary judgment in the damages case, which the D.C. Court of Appeals denied. Id. ¶ ¶ 131, 135. WPA appealed the order vacating the default judgment in the landlord-tenant case. Id. ¶ 146. Judges Thompson, Beckwith, and Nebeker dismissed the appeal. Id. ¶ 154. WPA moved for reconsideration, which Judges Thompson, Beckwith, and Nebeker denied. Id. ¶ 159. In October 2012, Judge Rankin denied WPA's request to refer the damages litigation to Judge Hedge and ordered the case to proceed. Id. ¶ ¶ 160, 188.

WPA asserts that procedural and legal errors infected the entire litigation process in the landlord-tenant and damages cases and that the judicial defendants committed multiple due process violations. See id. ¶ ¶ 113, 136, 143-44, 169. WPA claims that Judge Hedge erred by failing to dismiss the damages case, allowing the Scherlis defendants to move to vacate the default judgment in the landlord-tenant case, and vacating the default judgment in the landlord-tenant case. Id. ¶ ¶ 166-71. WPA further claims that Judges Thompson,

Page 15

Beckwith, and Nebeker denied WPA due process by declining to hear WPA's interlocutory appeal of Judge Hedge's order vacating the default judgment in the landlord-tenant case. Id. ¶ ¶ 174-76. WPA also alleges that Judges Thompson, Beckwith, and Nebeker violated its due process rights by denying its motion for reconsideration. Id. ¶ ¶ 181-84. Finally, WPA alleges that Judge Rankin denied WPA due process by failing to transfer the damages case to Judge Hedge to " clarify her language for appeal" of her summary judgment order and proceeding with the damages case. Id. ¶ ¶ 186-88.

WPA brought this suit in federal court seeking a declaration that Judges Thompson, Beckwith, and Nebeker's failure to hear the appeal in the landlord-tenant case deprived WPA of due process and an injunction to prohibit Judge Rankin and the Scherlis defendants from proceeding in the damages case until the D.C. Court of Appeals decides the appeal in the landlord-tenant case. Id. at 35. The defendants move to dismiss the complaint under Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), contending that WPA's suit is barred under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and that the judicial defendants are immune from claims for injunctive relief. Scherlis Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss at 3-7; Judicial Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Compl. at 7-11. The judicial defendants also argue that Younger abstention precludes federal adjudication. Judicial Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Compl. at 11-13. WPA opposes the defendants' motions arguing that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not apply to state court interlocutory decisions, that the judicial defendants are ...


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