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LLC v. Craft

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 22, 2017

MCDONALD'S USA, LLC, Plaintiffs,
WILLIE T. CRAFT, Defendant.


          Amit P. Mehta United States District Judge

         Before the court is Plaintiffs McDonald's USA, LLC, and McDonald's Real Estate Company's Motion to Dismiss Defendant William T. Craft's Counterclaims, in which Plaintiffs seek dismissal of Defendant's claims for breach of contract, negligence, and failure to abate nuisance. See Answer & Countercl., ECF No. 10 [hereinafter Def.'s Answer & Countercls.]; Pls.' Mot. to Dismiss Countercls., ECF No. 18, Pls.' Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 18-1 [hereinafter Pls.' Mot. to Dismiss]. Plaintiffs assert that Defendant has not plausibly stated any cognizable claim for relief and, even if sufficiently pleaded, each claim is barred by the applicable statute of limitations. See Pls.' Mot. to Dismiss at 6. After thorough review of the parties' briefs, the court grants Plaintiffs' Motion and dismisses all of Defendant's counterclaims.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On November 22, 1974, W. T. Craft, Inc., entered into a Deed of Trust to purchase from Golden Arch Realty Corporation, a piece of property designated as “Lot 105 in Square 5094 in the subdivision made by Golden Arch Realty Corp.” Def.'s Answer & Countercls., Attach. 1, ECF No. 10-1 [hereinafter Def.'s Attach. 1], at 1-10 (Ex. A) [hereinafter Def.'s Ex. A]. That property was subdivided from a parcel of land owned by Golden Arch Realty Corp., Plaintiff McDonald's Real Estate Company's predecessor in interest. Compl., ECF No. 1 [hereinafter Pls.' Compl.], ¶ 12; Def.'s Answer & Countercls. ¶ 1. In 1989, the corporation of W. T. Craft, Inc., ceased to exist and Lot 105, Square 5094 was conveyed to Willie T. Craft, Sr., and Shirley Craft. Def.'s Answer & Countercls., Attach. 2, ECF No. 10-2 [hereinafter Def.'s Ex. F], at 10.[1] Today, Plaintiffs continue to own a restaurant on Lot 104, Square 5094-otherwise known as 4301 Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue, N.E. (“Plaintiffs' Property”).[2] See Def.'s Answer & Countercls. ¶ 1; Pls.' Compl. ¶¶ 6, 9.[3] Next door, at Lot 105, Square 5094-otherwise known as 4309 Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue, N.E. (“Defendant's Property”)-Willie T. Craft, Sr., and Shirley Craft own and operate a strip mall, in which three businesses are located. See Def.'s Answer & Countercls. ¶¶ 1, 3; Pls.' Compl. ¶¶ 3, 17. Defendant operates the dry cleaners in the strip mall on behalf of his father, Willie T. Craft, Sr. Def.'s Ex. F at 10. Defendant also oversees and is responsible for paying the water and sewer bills for all three businesses on the property. See id.; Def.'s Answer & Countercls. ¶ 3.

         A single water line, originating on Defendant's Property, services both Defendant's Property and Plaintiffs' Property. See Def.'s Attach. 1 at 11-13 (Ex. B), ¶ 3; Def.'s Answer & Countercls. ¶¶ 4, 5; Pls.' Compl. ¶¶ 10-11. Following the subdivision and sale of the original parcel of land, the parties intended to install separate water lines, but they never did so. See Def.'s Attach. 1 at 14-15 (Ex. C) [hereinafter Def.'s Ex. C], at 1. At some point in time, Willie T. Craft, Sr., informed Defendant that he had suspicions the water billing was not accurate due to Plaintiffs' restaurant's shared use of the water line. See Def.'s Ex. F at 10, 12.

         In October 2012, Defendant first reported to D.C. Water & Sewer (“D.C. Water”) that he believed he was being erroneously charged for water supplied to and used by Plaintiffs' restaurant. Def.'s Attach. 1 at 23-26 (Ex. E) [hereinafter Def.'s Ex. E], at 2; Def.'s Ex. F at 10-11.[4] D.C. Water investigated the claim, determined the meter vault was in disrepair, and informed Defendant that he was responsible for making the necessary repairs. Def.'s Ex. E at 2. From March 2012 until November 2013, D.C. Water sent Defendant “estimated bills . . . reasonabl[y] based on the number and types of business[es] in [Defendant's] side of the property.” Def.'s Ex. E at 2; accord Def.'s Ex. F at 11. D.C. Water confirmed for Defendant on April 9, 2013, that Defendant's Property and Plaintiffs' Property shared a single water line. Def.'s Ex. F at 11. After Defendant made the necessary repairs and a new meter vault was installed in November 2013, D.C. Water gave Defendant “a significant financial adjustment of more than $8, 900 to compensate him for water [D.C. Water] could estimate was registered at his meter and was subsequently billed to and paid by [Plaintiff] for the period March 27, 2013 to January 29, 2014.” Def.'s Ex. E at 2.[5]Beginning in January 2014, D.C. Water provided Defendant, as a courtesy, a special accounting arrangement in which it adjusted Defendant's bill to account for any water billed to Plaintiffs from Defendant's account and separately billed Plaintiffs for their water usage. Def.'s Ex. E at 2-3.

         In late January 2015, Defendant sought a refund of $77, 237.04 from D.C. Water on the theory that he had been erroneously charged for Plaintiffs' water consumption between January 1974 and January 2014. See Def.'s Ex. F at 1. In a letter to Defendant's counsel, dated February 27, 2015, D.C. Water denied Defendant's claim, reminded Defendant that it remained Plaintiffs' and Defendant's responsibility to install a separate water line, and that D.C. Water would discontinue its courtesy accounting services in May 2015. See Def.'s Ex. E at 2-3. Following an administrative hearing on March 1, 2016, D.C. Water concluded that it was not legally responsible for refunding Defendant any overpayments. Def.'s Ex. F at 13-14. The Hearing Officer's written explanation stated that Defendant had two years under D.C. law to bring such a refund claim and because Defendant “knew with certainty that his property and [Plaintiffs'] property were on the same water line and that [Defendant] was paying for [Plaintiffs'] water usage as of April 2013, ” his refund claims were time barred. Def.'s Ex. F at 12-13. Moreover, the Hearing Officer noted, Defendant and his father had been aware of the problem prior to D.C. Water identifying it; D.C. Water's reaction to the problem had far exceeded its legal obligations; and any recourse Defendant sought needed to be against Plaintiffs, not D.C. Water. See Id. at 13.

         Neither party has undertaken the time and expense to install a separate water line, despite D.C. Water's suggestion to do so. Def.'s Ex. F at 11. D.C. Water extended its courtesy billing practice until June 2015. Id. At some point prior to March 2016, the parties reached an agreement that Plaintiffs would pay Defendant for the restaurant's water consumption. See id.

         The present dispute arose when Defendant threatened to shut off the water to Plaintiffs' property on the theory that Plaintiffs owe Defendant money for water that has been inappropriately billed to him. See generally Pls.' Compl. (seeking injunctive relief in the form of a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction preventing Defendant from shutting off Plaintiffs' water access, as well as a judicial determination of the rights and responsibilities of the parties over the real property and its water supply). The court granted Plaintiffs' Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order, see Order, ECF No. 6, and Motion for a Preliminary Injunction, see Order, ECF No. 14. Defendant both moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint and filed an Answer with three counterclaims. See Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 9; Def.'s Answer & Countercls. The court denied Defendant's Motion to Dismiss on March 1, 2017. See Mem. Op. & Order, ECF No. 16.

         The court now reviews Defendant's Counterclaims, which Plaintiffs have moved to dismiss. See Pls.' Mot. to Dismiss.


         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when “the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id.

         In determining the plausibility of a claim, the court must accept the plaintiff's factual allegations as true and “construe the complaint ‘in favor of the plaintiff, who must be granted the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.'” Hettinga v. United States, 677 F.3d 471, 476 (D.C. Cir. 2012) (quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979)). The court need not accept as true either “a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation, ” Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986), or “inferences . . . unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint, ” Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). The factual allegations in the complaint need not be “detailed”; however, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure demand more than “an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. If the facts as alleged fail to establish that the plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief can be granted, then a court must grant the defendant's Rule 12(b)(6) motion. See Am. Chemistry Council, Inc. v. U.S. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 922 F.Supp.2d 56, 61 (D.D.C. 2013).

         III. ...

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