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Thanos v. District of Columbia

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

December 31, 2014

GEORGE S. THANOS, APPELLANT,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, APPELLEE, AND 12-CV-350 & 12-CV-411 DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, CROSS-APPELLANT,
v.
GEORGE S. THANOS, CROSS-APPELLEE, & VIP THERAPY, INC., ET AL., CROSS-APPELLEES

Argued: January 22, 2014.

Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (CAB 6897-08 & CAB 856-11). (Hon. Brook Hedge, Trial Judge).

Thomas T. Heslep, for appellant/cross-appellee.

Stacy L. Anderson, Assistant Attorney General, with whom Irvin B. Nathan, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Todd S. Kim, Solicitor General, and Donna M. Murasky, Deputy Solicitor General, were on the brief, for appellee/cross-appellant District of Columbia.

Nathan Baney for cross-appellees VIP Therapy, Inc., and Deborah Poindexter. J. Chapman Peterson was on the brief for cross-appellees VIP Therapy, Inc., and Deborah Poindexter.

Before BECKWITH and EASTERLY, Associate Judges, and BELSON, Senior Judge.

OPINION

Page 1085

Beckwith, Associate Judge :

At the conclusion of a one-day trial, the trial court in this case found that property owned by appellant George Thanos and leased by VIP Therapy, Inc. (VIP), constituted a prostitution-related nuisance pursuant to the Drug or Prostitution-Related Nuisance Abatement Act, D.C. Code § 42-3101 et seq. (2012 Repl.).[1] The court issued a permanent injunction and assessed attorney's fees and costs against Mr. Thanos, VIP, and VIP's owner, Deborah Poindexter, but denied the District's request for income disgorgement and damages. Mr. Thanos appeals the issuance of the permanent injunction and imposition of attorney's fees and the District cross-appeals the denial of its request for income disgorgement. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm the court's permanent injunction and attorney's fees rulings and we reverse the trial court's conclusion that it did not have authority to order income disgorgement and remand for further proceedings on that count.

I. Background

Since 1986, George Thanos owned a four-story building on Connecticut Avenue, N.W., and ran a dry-cleaning business out of the first floor of that building. He rented out the three upper floors to a variety of tenants. In 2001, a Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) investigation revealed that the fourth floor tenant, Supra Spa, was operating as a prostitution front. Mr. Thanos met with District government representatives and expressed unwillingness to assist MPD in investigating the alleged prostitution problem in his building, indicating, among other things,

Page 1086

that he felt like MPD was asking him to " spy" on his tenants. The investigation was not pursued any further at that time. As Detective Mark Gilkey--a supervising manager in the MPD Prostitution Enforcement Unit--later explained at trial, MPD shifted its investigatory focus to " street" prostitution for a period of several years following Mr. Thanos's initial contact with the department.

Seven years later, Mr. Thanos and his fourth floor tenants once again came to MPD's attention when officers made two prostitution-related arrests at that location.[2] On May 23, 2008, the District obtained a preliminary injunction against Supra Spa precluding it from doing any business on the property until it obtained a certificate of occupancy and a basic business license. In July, MPD made two more prostitution-related arrests at Supra Spa.[3]

The District contacted Mr. Thanos in August 2008 to put him on notice that he once again had a prostitution-related nuisance on the fourth floor of his building. See D.C. Code 42-3103 (b). The letter informed Mr. Thanos of his responsibilities under the Drug or Prostitution-Related Nuisance Abatement Act and explained that the District could file suit against Mr. Thanos if he failed to abate the nuisance. See D.C. Code 42-3102. Although Mr. Thanos took no action, Supra Spa vacated the premises that August. Because the District had not yet received a reply from Mr. Thanos, the District filed a complaint against him seeking an injunction ordering Mr. Thanos to evict Supra Spa as a tenant. Mr. Thanos sent a letter, dated September 22, 2008, informing the District that Supra Spa had vacated the premises and that the man who was currently leasing the space would be responsible for disposing of any items left behind by Supra Spa. Mr. Thanos later explained at trial that the new tenant, Don Gardner, was sleeping on the fourth floor to protect the premises from former Supra Spa customers who banged on the door at night attempting to gain entry. Mr. Gardner was paying Mr. Thanos one dollar per month in rent.

On November 28, 2008, Mr. Thanos leased the fourth floor of his building to VIP, another massage provider.[4] VIP opened for business in April 2009. MPD began receiving complaints shortly thereafter from community members and nongovernmental organizations indicating that prostitution was once again occurring on Mr. Thanos's premises. Officers made four more prostitution-related arrests on June 30, 2009, including VIP's owner, Deborah Poindexter.[5]

On July 17, 2009, the court granted the District's motion for leave to amend its complaint against Mr. Thanos to add Ms. Poindexter and VIP as defendants and to incorporate new facts. A trial on the District's request for injunctive relief was set for March 22, 2010. Two more prostitution-related arrests were made on October

Page 1087

28, 2009, while the matter was ...


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