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Bellinger v. Bowser

United States District Court, District of Columbia

December 15, 2017

FRANCEL BELLINGER et al., Plaintiffs,
MURIEL BOWSER et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiffs have filed suit against various District of Columbia public officials, alleging that they have unlawfully failed to provide Capitol View Library, which serves a predominantly black neighborhood, with the same renovations and related services provided to other public library branches that serve predominately white neighborhoods. Before the Court is Plaintiffs' Amended Motion for a Preliminary Injunction, which requests that the Court order Defendants to provide additional resources to Capitol View Library, make changes to its renovation plans, and enjoin its re-opening, which is scheduled for December 18, 2017. See ECF No. 19-1 (“Am. Mot.”). There is little doubt that Plaintiffs are dissatisfied with the way in which Capitol View Library's renovation has proceeded. That is unfortunate, but it is not a basis to grant their motion. The Court finds that they are not likely to succeed on the merits of their claims here, nor will they suffer irreparable injury absent the injunctive relief sought. Moreover, the balance of the equities and the public interest weigh against the relief. Accordingly, Plaintiffs' motion is DENIED.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         The District of Columbia Public Library (“DCPL”) is a free public library system that was created by Congress in 1896. See ECF No. 24 (“Def. Opp.”) at 2; D.C. Code § 39-101. DCPL is administered by a nine-member Board of Trustees, and consists of a central library and twenty-five branch libraries in neighborhoods throughout the District of Columbia. Def. Opp. at 2; D.C. Code §§ 39-101, 39-104. The central library and all branch libraries are open to all residents of the District of Columbia, regardless of the neighborhood in which they reside. Def. Opp. at 30; D.C. Code § 39-103. Capitol View Library is a DCPL branch library located in Ward 7 that serves a predominantly black neighborhood. Am. Mot. at 3; Def. Opp. at 2. Decisions related to DCPL's capital and operations funding are made by the Mayor and the Council of the District of Columbia (the “Council”) through the District of Columbia's annual budget process. See Am. Mot. at 4; Def. Opp. at 3; D.C. Code § 39-106.

         Since Fiscal Year (“FY”) 2008, this process has authorized funding for renovations at eighteen full-service DCPL branch libraries throughout the District of Columbia. See Def. Opp. at 3. Renovations for two additional DCPL branch libraries were separately funded through another budget mechanism. Id. By early November 2017, renovations had been completed at fifteen of these DCPL branch libraries. Id. Five of these projects, including the renovation of Capitol View Library, are still in progress. Id.

         In the FY 2015 budget, Capitol View Library's renovation was initially allocated $10.5 million in funding, but that amount was reduced to $4.5 million in the FY 2016 budget due to the overall reduction of the DCPL capital budget. Am. Mot. at 4; Def. Opp. at 5. However, in the FY 2018 budget, the Council increased this project's funding to $7.2 million, by adding $2 million for “exterior improvements” and $700, 000 “to provide an interim library space.” Def. Opp. at 6. The project's overall budget has since increased to approximately $7.9 million, after DCPL added $726, 000 to the project from other sources. Id.

         Capitol View Library closed for interior renovations on February 25, 2017. See Am. Mot. at 3-4; Def. Opp. at 7. When libraries are closed for renovations, DCPL must determine whether it will provide interim library services for the community during the closure. See Def. Opp. at 4; ECF No. 27-7 (“Reyes-Gavilan Decl.”) ¶ 3. Interim library services can range from placing DCPL librarians at other sites in the community-for example, at schools-to providing interim facilities capable of offering basic library services on a temporary basis. Reyes-Gavilan Decl. ¶ 4. DCPL considers the renovation's scope and budget when deciding whether to provide interim services, because the cost of those services comes out of the renovation's budget. Id. ¶ 5. When deciding whether to provide an interim facility as part of those services, DCPL also considers the length of planned closure and the library's proximity to other branches. Id. ¶ 6. DCPL generally provides an interim facility for library closures lasting longer than one year and where there is no other DCPL branch library within a mile. Id. In this case, DCPL provided interim services by assigning Capitol View Library staff members to nearby libraries, visiting neighborhood schools, and conducting outreach to daycare and early learning facilities. See Def. Opp. at 7; Reyes-Gavilan Decl. ¶ 7. DCPL attempted to open an interim library facility at a local church, albeit unsuccessfully. Reyes-Gavilan Decl. ¶ 7; see Am. Mot. at 7.

         DCPL also commonly provides what is known as “opening day collection” funding for DCPL branches that re-open after being closed for renovation. See Def. Opp. at 4; Reyes-Gavilan Decl. ¶ 8. This funding is designed to cover the one-time costs associated with “refreshing” a library's existing collection. Reyes-Gavilan Decl. ¶ 8. Generally, the shorter the closure, the less dated the materials are upon the library's re-opening, and the less “refreshing” its books and materials require. Id. ¶ 9. The amount of this funding is also tied to the number of items the specific library circulates. Id. ¶ 10. Capitol View Library, which circulated 33, 416 items in FY 2015 and was scheduled for a nine-month closure, received an allocation of $50, 000 for that purpose. Id. ¶ 11; Am Mot. at 9-10.

         The interior renovations at Capitol View Library are now substantially complete. See Def. Opp. at 7. Accordingly, DCPL plans to re-open the library to the public on December 18, 2017. Id.; Reyes-Gavilan Decl. ¶ 13. Afterward, DCPL plans for Capitol View Library to undergo the design phase for exterior renovations, and to close the library again in the spring of 2018 to implement those renovations. Reyes-Gavilan Decl. ¶ 13. When Capitol View Library closes again, DCPL plans to open an interim library facility on the grounds of J.C. Nalle Elementary School, pursuant to an already-executed interagency Memorandum of Agreement. Id. ¶ 13; ECF No. 27-21.

         B. Procedural Background

         Plaintiffs filed suit on November 6, 2017, and simultaneously filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. See ECF No. 1; ECF No. 4. On November 20, the Court held a teleconference with the parties and established a briefing schedule for Plaintiffs' anticipated amended motion for injunctive relief. On November 21, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint. ECF No. 20 (“Am. Compl.”). On November 22, they filed the amended motion for a preliminary injunction, mooting their original motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. Am. Mot.

         On November 29, Defendants Yvette Alexander, Vincent Gray, and David Grosso (the “Council Defendants”) filed an opposition to Plaintiffs' amended motion and moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' amended complaint. See ECF No. 23-1 (“Cncl. Def. Opp.”). That same day, Defendants Muriel Bowser, Richard Reyes-Gavilan, and Gregory McCarthy (the “Executive Defendants”) also filed an opposition to Plaintiffs' amended motion. See Def. Opp. On December 7, Plaintiffs filed a reply to each of these oppositions. See ECF No. 33 (“Reply to Def. Opp.”); ECF No. 34 (“Reply to Cncl. Def. Opp.”). On December 13, Plaintiffs filed a notice attaching supplemental exhibits in support of their motion. See ECF No. 37. On December 14, Executive Defendants moved to file a surreply. See ECF No. 38 (“Def. Surrep.”). That same day Council Defendants filed a reply in support of their motion to dismiss, and the Court held a hearing on the motion. See ECF No. 39. On December 15, the Court granted Executive Defendants leave to file their surreply.

         II. Legal Standard

         A preliminary injunction is “an extraordinary remedy that may only be awarded upon a clear showing that the plaintiff is entitled to such relief.” Winter v. Nat. Res. Def. Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 22 (2008). To warrant a preliminary injunction, Plaintiffs must establish that (1) they are likely to succeed on the merits; (2) they are likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief; (3) the balance of equities tips in their favor; and (4) an injunction is in the public interest. Id. at 20. Historically, the D.C. Circuit has employed a “sliding scale” test, whereby “[a] district court must ‘balance the strengths of the requesting party's arguments in each of the four required areas.' If the showing in one area is particularly strong, an injunction may issue even if the showings in other areas are rather weak.” Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches v. England, 454 F.3d 290, 297 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting CityFed Fin. Corp. v. Office of Thrift Supervision, 58 F.3d 738, 747 (D.C. Cir. 1995)) (citation omitted).

         After the Supreme Court's decision in Winter, however, the D.C. Circuit has suggested that a more stringent test may apply, and that the likelihood of success on the merits may be an “independent, free-standing requirement for a preliminary injunction.” Sherley v. Sebelius, 644 F.3d 388, 393 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (internal quotation mark omitted). In light of the above, the Court employs the “sliding scale” framework to evaluate Plaintiffs' claims. Because Plaintiffs “cannot meet the less demanding ‘sliding scale' standard, [they] cannot satisfy the more stringent standard alluded to by the Court of Appeals.” Kingman Park Civic Ass'n v. Gray, 956 F.Supp.2d 230, 241 (D.D.C. 2013).

         III. Analysis

         The Court finds that Plaintiffs are not at all likely to succeed on the merits of their claims, nor will they suffer irreparable injury absent the injunctive relief sought. Moreover, the balance of the equities and the public interest weigh against the relief.[1]

         A. Likelihood of Success on the Merits

         1. Budget Autonomy Act (Count I)

         Plaintiffs allege that Defendants violated D.C. Code § 1-204.46(d), which was enacted as part of the Local Budget Autonomy Act of 2012 (the “Budget Autonomy Act”), D.C. Act 19-321 (2013), by “reprogramming” $700, 000 that was allocated for interim library space for the communities served by Capitol View Library. Am. Mot. at 8, 11-12; Am. Compl. ¶¶ 31-36. The statute requires that, after the adoption of the annual budget for a fiscal year, “no reprogramming of amounts in the budget may occur unless the Mayor submits to the Council a request for such reprogramming and the Council approves the request” and certain other conditions are met. D.C. Code § 1-204.46(d).

         As a threshold matter, Plaintiffs have not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits on this count because it is unlikely that they have a private right of action to enforce the Budget Autonomy Act. The relevant test to determine whether a D.C. statute creates an implied private right of action is set forth in Cort v. Ash, 422 U.S. 66 (1975). See, e.g., Dial A Car, Inc. v. Transp., Inc., 132 F.3d 743, 744 (D.C. Cir. 1998). In Cort, the Supreme Court stated:

In determining whether a private remedy is implicit in a statute not expressly providing one, several factors are relevant. First, is the plaintiff one of the class for whose especial benefit the statute was enacted-that is, does the statute create a . . . right in favor of the plaintiff? Second, is there any indication of legislative intent, explicit or implicit, either to create such a remedy or to deny one? Third, is it consistent with the underlying purposes of the legislative scheme to imply such a remedy for the plaintiff?

422 U.S. at 78 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted) (emphasis in original). When dealing with statutes, such as this one, that do not expressly provide a private right of action, plaintiffs must meet a “relatively heavy burden of demonstrating that [the legislature] affirmatively or specifically contemplated private enforcement when it passed the relevant statute.” Samuels v. District of Columbia, 770 F.2d 184, 194 (D.C. Cir. 1985).

         Although the issue was not briefed extensively by the parties, it does not appear that Plaintiffs are likely to meet this burden. The Budget Autonomy Act addresses the roles and responsibilities of the components of the District of Columbia's government in appropriating and spending local funds. See generally Budget Autonomy Act, D.C. Act 19-321 (2013). The law was passed by the Council to provide greater control over local funds by the District of Columbia, as opposed to Congress. Council of the District of Columbia, Committee of the Whole, Report on Bill 19-993, at 1-5 (Dec. 4, 2012). The specific provision cited by Plaintiffs is entitled “Enactment of local budget by council.” D.C. Code § 1-204.46. And it is located in a subpart of the D.C. Code entitled “Budget and Financial Management.” D.C. Code §§ 1-204.41- 1-204.53. Plaintiffs cite nothing that suggests that the law was passed to benefit a special class of persons, that the Council intended to create a private right of action when passing it, or that the underlying legislative scheme is consistent with such a right. Indeed, Plaintiffs do not even address the relevant legal standard. See Am. Mot. at 11-12; Reply to Def. Opp. at 5-6. They try to claim that the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201, somehow obviates the need to demonstrate that the statute contains a private right of action. Reply to Def. Opp. at 5. But it is well settled that the Declaratory Judgment Act does not provide a private right of action; it only authorizes a form of relief. See Ali v. Rumsfeld, 649 F.3d 762, 778 (D.C. Cir. 2011).

         Even if a private right to enforce it existed, however, Plaintiffs have still not demonstrated a likelihood that the law was in fact violated, because they fail to show that any funds have actually been-or even will be-unlawfully reprogrammed. Plaintiffs appear to allege that DCPL has not yet spent the $700, 000 that has been allocated for interim services, Am. Mot. at 11-12, and may never spend it. They further allege that DCPL may spend the funds on other community needs, citing a meeting on September 19, 2017, in which DCPL “presented a proposal that would give the community a choice between getting an interim service modular trailer by Jan/Feb 2018 or keeping the $700K and investing the funds in other ways, ” Am. Mot. at 8.

         However, neither scenario suggests that a violation of the Budget Autonomy Act has occurred, or is even likely. First, the provision cited by Plaintiffs prohibits the unlawful reprogramming of funds, not failing to spend them. Second, under the law, if the referenced proposal were accepted by the community, the Mayor could then seek Council approval to reprogram the funds, consistent with and as contemplated by D.C. Code § 1-204.46(d), during the nine or so months remaining in FY 2018. In any event, DCPL's current intention is not to reprogram the funds, but to use them consistent with the purpose for which they were allocated: to open an interim library facility in a school in Plaintiffs' neighborhood when Capitol View Library closes in the spring. See Def. Opp. at 17-18; Reyes-Gavilan Decl. ΒΆ 13. The ...

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