United States District Court, District of Columbia
E. BOASBERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
cities seek to attract destination restaurants and desirable
retail, they must also keep the more prosaic needs of their
citizenry in mind. For example, fearing the rapid
disappearance of full-service gas stations from the District
of Columbia, the D.C. City Council passed the Retail Service
Station Act (RSSA) in 1976 to ban the conversion of such gas
stations to limited-service stations. This moratorium was
reauthorized ten times and made permanent in 2005.
recent years a different threat emerged: District gas
stations were disappearing altogether as developers converted
them into more lucrative commercial and residential
properties. Seeking to combat this threat, the City Council
amended the RSSA in 2014-15 to expand its reach. Plaintiffs
Petworth Holdings, LLC and John Formant, the owners of a
property containing a full-service Shell gas station, are
convinced that these amendments have hindered their ability
to sell their property. They have thus now sued, seeking a
declaration that the amended RSSA violates the Fifth and
Thirteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and an
injunction barring Defendants Muriel Bowser, Karl A. Racine,
Tommy Wells, and the District of Columbia Gas Station
Advisory Board from enforcing it.
that Plaintiffs have no standing to challenge the RSSA and
that, in any event, it violates neither constitutional
amendment, Defendants have now moved to dismiss. Finding that
Plaintiffs have standing to sue and have sufficiently stated
a plausible Fifth Amendment claim, but not one under the
Thirteenth Amendment, the Court will grant in part and deny
in part Defendants' Motion.
to the Complaint, which the Court must presume true for
purposes of this Motion, our story begins with the New
Columbia Statehood Initiative and Omnibus Boards and
Commission Reform Amendment Act of 2014 (the
“Act”). See D.C. Code § 36-304.01;
Compl., ¶ 18. The Act amended a longstanding D.C.
statute regulating the alteration and conversion of
full-service gas stations in the District - the Retail
Service Station Act. See Compl., ¶¶ 18-20.
The RSSA, which imposed a moratorium on the conversion of
full-service gas stations to limited-service gas stations,
was initially passed in 1976 and was then reauthorized every
five years until it was made permanent in 2005. See
MTD at 1-2. The Act amended the RSSA by inserting two
important additions: the word “discontinued” and
the phrase “or into any other use.” Compl.,
¶ 19. Following the amendments, the RSSA now provides:
“No retail service station which is operated as a full
service retail service station on or after April 19, 1977,
may be discontinued, nor may be structurally
altered, modified, or otherwise converted . . . into a non
full service facility or into any other use.”
Id., ¶ 21; D.C. Code § 36-304.01(b)
RSSA does provide a process through which parties can seek an
exemption from its prohibitions by application to the Gas
Station Advisory Board. The GSAB, after receiving an
exemption application, determines whether it should be
granted and makes a recommendation to the Mayor accordingly.
See D.C. Code § 36-304.01(d). The GSAB,
however, appears not to be currently operational: it has no
employees, no physical office space, and no members have been
appointed to it for the last 11 years. See Compl.,
the Act was passed by the D.C. City Council in October 2014,
it was never signed by newly elected D.C. Mayor, Muriel
Bowser, but was deemed approved without her signature in
January 2015 and became effective in May of that year.
Id.., ¶ 18. In November 2014, meanwhile, the
City Council passed an emergency bill making the Act
effective immediately. Id., ¶ 26. Although
outgoing Mayor Vincent Gray signed the emergency bill, he
stated that he did so only “because [he] received
assurances that the City Council [would] advance legislation
amending these flawed provisions, ” which “may
violate the Fifth Amendment by ‘taking' a retail
service station owner's property without just
compensation.” Compl., Exh. A (Vincent Gray Letter) at
2. The City Council later passed three different bills in
2015 and 2016 attempting to address Mayor Gray's
concerns, but Mayor Bowser refused to sign any of them into
law, noting each time that the Act failed to provide a
“fair, transparent, and constitutional process”
for “gas station owners.” Compl., Exh. B (Nov.
23, 2015, Muriel Bowser Letter) at 2.
The Current Action
are the owners of a lot at 4140 Georgia Avenue N.W. in
Washington, which contains a Shell “full service retail
service station.” Compl., ¶¶ 3-6. Having
initially purchased the Property from DAG Petroleum Suppliers
LLC in 2005, they are currently leasing it back to DAG, who,
along with several sub-lessees, operates the station and
several other businesses on site. Id., ¶¶
5, 14. Intending to develop the Property, Plaintiffs
initially filed and were granted approval on a Planned Unit
Development application in 2006. Id., ¶ 15.
These plans were later postponed by the 2007-08 financial
crisis. Id., ¶ 16. In 2014, Plaintiffs made a
decision to sell the Property and solicited bids from
potential purchasers and developers. Yet, as just discussed,
that same fall, the D.C. City Council passed the Act.
Believing that the Act “vastly expanded the scope of
the [RSSA], ” Plaintiffs brought this suit, claiming
that the RSSA now prevents them or any potential owner of the
Property from ever closing down the gas station and
redeveloping the Property for another purpose. Id.,
¶ 22. As a result, Plaintiffs allege that the Act
“substantially hinder[s]” the sale of the
Property, as “potential purchasers of the Property have
stated that they would not purchase the Property if they were
required to operate a full-service [gas station] . . . in
perpetuity.” Id., ¶¶ 35-36.
Plaintiffs seek a declaration that the Act violates the Fifth
and Thirteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and an
injunction barring Defendants from enforcing it. Defendants
have now moved to dismiss.
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal
of an action where a complaint fails “to state a claim
upon which relief can be granted.” In evaluating
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, the Court must
“treat the complaint's factual allegations as true
. . . and must grant [P]laintiff[s] ‘the benefit of all
inferences that can be derived from the facts
alleged.'” Sparrow v. United Air Lines,
Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (quoting
Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C.
Cir. 1979)) (internal citation omitted); see also Jerome
Stevens Pharms., Inc. v. FDA, 402 F.3d 1249, 1250 (D.C.
Cir. 2005). The pleading rules are “not meant to impose
a great burden upon a plaintiff, ” Dura Pharm.,
Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347 (2005), and she must
thus be given every favorable inference that may be drawn
from the allegations of fact. Sparrow, 216 F.3d at
“detailed factual allegations” are not necessary
to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), “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) (citation omitted). A court need not accept as
true, then, “a legal conclusion couched as a factual
allegation, ” nor an inference unsupported by the facts
set forth in the complaint. Trudeau v. Fed. Trade
Comm'n, 456 F.3d 178, 193 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting
Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)
(internal quotation marks omitted)). For a plaintiff to
survive a 12(b)(6) motion even if “recovery is very
remote and ...