Jmm Corp. v. District of Columbia, No. 03-7057.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
Writing for the CourtGarland
Citation378 F.3d 1117
PartiesJMM CORPORATION, Appellant, v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA and D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, Appellees.
Decision Date17 August 2004
Docket NumberNo. 03-7057.
378 F.3d 1117
JMM CORPORATION, Appellant,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA and D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, Appellees.
No. 03-7057.
United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit.
Argued January 20, 2004.
Decided August 17, 2004.

Page 1118

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 02cv00406).

Jonathan L. Katz argued the cause and filed the briefs for appellant.

Mary T. Connelly, Assistant Corporation Counsel, argued the cause for appellees. With her on the brief was Edward E. Schwab, Assistant Corporation Counsel.

Before: HENDERSON, RANDOLPH, and GARLAND, Circuit Judges.

Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge GARLAND.

GARLAND, Circuit Judge:


JMM Corporation, the operator of an adult video store in the District of Columbia, sued the District in federal district court, alleging that its zoning regulations for such establishments were unconstitutional. In light of ongoing District of Columbia administrative and judicial enforcement proceedings against JMM, the district court dismissed the complaint under the abstention doctrine of

Page 1119

Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971). There is no doubt that the dismissal was appropriate if the District of Columbia is entitled to the benefit of that doctrine. We are therefore required to decide whether Younger is applicable to the District, a question this circuit has heretofore avoided.

JMM contends that, because the District of Columbia is not a state, its enforcement actions do "not merit the same protections" as would a state's. Reply Br. at 2. Younger will apply, the appellant insists, only "[i]f and when the District of Columbia attains statehood." Id. at 3. But the District does not have to wait until that day. We hold that the enforcement actions of the District of Columbia are entitled to the same respect that the federal courts accord those of the states, and therefore affirm the dismissal of JMM's complaint.

I

JMM, doing business as "Fun Fair Video," sells sexually explicit videos and provides booths for their viewing. Fun Fair is located in a "Community Business Center District" in the District of Columbia, an area that is not designated for "sexually-oriented business establishments" (SOBEs) under the District's zoning regulations.1 Nor does Fun Fair have the required certificate of occupancy to operate as a SOBE.

In 2000, the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) commenced the first of what became three sets of administrative enforcement actions against JMM. First, in April 2000, the DCRA issued JMM a notice of infraction for operating without a proper certificate of occupancy. In June 2000, the matter was heard by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) of the DCRA's Office of Adjudication. On June 20, the ALJ found that, while JMM had obtained a certificate of occupancy for a "video store not sexually oriented" (a "non-SOBE"), it was in fact operating a SOBE in a zone that was not designated for such use. The ALJ ordered JMM to cease doing business until it obtained a proper certificate. Although JMM had the right to appeal the ALJ's order to the D.C. Board of Appeals and Review, see D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 1, § 503, and from there to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, see D.C.Code Ann. § 2-510, it did not do so.

Nor did JMM cease doing business. Indeed, JMM continued to operate as a SOBE throughout the course of the district court litigation, and is still doing so. It has not relocated, applied for a SOBE license, or ceased its business activities.

In September 2001, the DCRA issued a second set of notices of infraction to JMM, again for operating without a proper certificate. These, too, were heard before an ALJ. On March 5, 2002, the ALJ again found the charges proven, imposed fines, and ordered JMM to cease operations until it obtained a proper certificate. This time, JMM did appeal to the D.C. Board of Appeals and Review, where the matter is currently pending.

Meanwhile, on February 27, 2002, the DCRA instituted its third enforcement action, issuing notices of intent to revoke JMM's non-SOBE certificate of occupancy as well as its mechanical amusement license. In October 2002, an ALJ found in favor of the DCRA. JMM again appealed to the Board of Appeals and Review, where that appeal also remains pending.

On March 5, 2002 — the day of the ALJ hearing on the 2001 infractions and a week

Page 1120

after the DCRA issued its 2002 notices of revocation — JMM filed the instant action against the District of Columbia and the DCRA in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. JMM's complaint, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleged that the District's SOBE regulations violate the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments because, inter alia, they are unconstitutional content-based restrictions, and are vague and overbroad. JMM sought money damages, an order declaring the regulations unconstitutional, and an injunction against their enforcement. JMM also sought a preliminary injunction barring all pending enforcement actions.

On May 15, 2002, the district court denied the preliminary injunction, on the basis of the abstention doctrine of Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971), and the absence of a risk of imminent irreparable injury. Mem. Op. & Order at 3 (D.D.C. May 15, 2002). Two months later, on July 12, 2002, the DCRA sued JMM in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia to enforce the uncontested June 20, 2000 ALJ decision that had ordered JMM to cease doing business. On March 31, 2003, the district court dismissed all of JMM's claims for injunctive and declaratory relief based on Younger abstention. At the same time, the district court stayed JMM's claims for money damages, pending JMM's appeals of the DCRA administrative enforcement orders and the District's civil enforcement action in D.C. Superior Court. The parties do not dispute that the stay was appropriate if the Younger doctrine was properly applied. See Deakins v. Monaghan, 484 U.S. 193, 202, 108 S.Ct. 523, 529-30, 98 L.Ed.2d 529 (1988). JMM now appeals the dismissal of its claims for injunctive and declaratory relief.2

II

In Younger v. Harris and its progeny, the Supreme Court held that, except in extraordinary circumstances, a federal court should not enjoin a pending state proceeding (including an administrative proceeding) that is judicial in nature and involves important state interests. Ohio Civil Rights Comm'n v. Dayton Christian Sch., Inc., 477 U.S. 619, 626-27, 106 S.Ct. 2718, 2722-23, 91 L.Ed.2d 512 (1986); Middlesex County Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 431, 102 S.Ct. 2515, 2520-21, 73 L.Ed.2d 116 (1982); Younger, 401 U.S. at 41, 91 S.Ct. at 749.3 "This Court has never decided," however, "whether the District of Columbia is a state for Younger abstention purposes." Bridges v. Kelly, 84 F.3d 470, 476 n. 8 (D.C.Cir.1996). "`Instead, every time the question has arisen, we have assumed that the doctrine applies to the District and nonetheless determined, in light of the facts of each particular case, that Younger abstention has not been appropriate.'" Id. (quoting LaShawn A. v. Kelly, 990 F.2d 1319, 1322 (D.C.Cir.1993)).4 In this case, however, we cannot simply assume the applicability of Younger abstention, because

Page 1121

if applicable it would be appropriate here. See infra Part III. Accordingly, we must decide the question that this circuit has long avoided.

The Younger Court rested its abstention doctrine both on "equitable principles" and on "concerns for comity and federalism." Ohio Civil Rights Comm'n, 477 U.S. at 626-27, 106 S.Ct. at 2722-23; see New Orleans Public Serv., Inc. v. Council of New Orleans, 491 U.S. 350, 364, 109 S.Ct. 2506, 2516, 105 L.Ed.2d 298 (1989); Huffman v. Pursue, 420 U.S. 592, 604, 95 S.Ct. 1200, 1208, 43 L.Ed.2d 482 (1975); Younger, 401 U.S. at 43-44, 91 S.Ct. at 750-51. We consider below the applicability of each of these considerations to proceedings brought by the District of Columbia.

A

The first source of the policy against federal interference with state court proceedings identified by Younger was "the basic doctrine of equity jurisprudence that courts of equity should not act ... when the moving party has an adequate remedy at law and will not suffer irreparable injury if denied equitable relief." Younger, 401 U.S. at 43-44, 46, 91 S.Ct. at 750-51, 752. In Trainor v. Hernandez, the Court explained that these "two classic preconditions for the exercise of equity jurisdiction" — no adequate remedy at law and irreparable injury — "assumed new dimensions" in Younger. 431 U.S. 434, 441, 97 S.Ct. 1911, 1916-17, 52 L.Ed.2d 486 (1977). The adequate remedy at law "inquiry was to be broadened to focus on the remedies available in the pending state proceeding" as compared to the federal action. Id. And the "other precondition for equitable relief — irreparable injury — would not be satisfied unless the threatened injury was both great and immediate." Id. at 442, 97 S.Ct. at 1917; see Younger, 401 U.S. at 48-49, 91 S.Ct. at 752-53.

These two principles apply in full measure to District of Columbia enforcement proceedings. First, the defendant in District proceedings has an adequate remedy for its asserted constitutional violations because it has "an opportunity to raise [its] constitutional claims" as defenses, Younger, 401 U.S. at 49, 91 S.Ct. at 753. Where the proceedings begin in Superior Court, the defendant can raise any constitutional claims in that court,5 appeal an adverse decision to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals,6 and if still dissatisfied seek review in the United States Supreme Court.7 Where the proceedings begin at the administrative level, the defendant can appeal to and make its constitutional challenges in the D.C. Court of Appeals,8 and again seek further review in the Supreme Court.9 Whether or...

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55 practice notes
  • Borum v. Brentwood Vill., LLC, Civil Action No.: 16-1723 (RC)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • November 21, 2016
    ...an administrative proceeding) that is judicial in nature and involves important state interests." JMM Corp. v. District of Columbia , 378 F.3d 1117, 1120 (D.C. Cir. 2004). The doctrine stems from the equitable principle that "courts ... should not act, and particularly should not act to res......
  • Ord v. District of Columbia, No. 08-7094.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • December 4, 2009
    ...401 U.S. 66, 73, 91 S.Ct. 764, 27 L.Ed.2d 688 (1971) (extending Younger to declaratory relief); JMM Corp. v. District of Columbia, 378 F.3d 1117, 1125 (D.C.Cir.2004) (treating D.C. as a state for purposes of Younger abstention). However, as the Supreme Court has made clear, the DJA was desi......
  • In re Abd Al-Rahim Hussein Muhammed Al-Nashiri, No. 15-1023
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • August 30, 2016
    ...v. Henkel , 235 U.S. 219, 228–30, 35 S.Ct. 54, 59 L.Ed. 203 (1914) (petition seeking habeas relief); JMM Corp. v. District of Columbia , 378 F.3d 1117, 1120 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (petition seeking injunctive and declaratory relief). This practice stems in part from a “basic doctrine of equity ju......
  • Roth v. United States Dep't of Justice, No. 09–5428.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • June 28, 2011
    ...interests of third parties named in such law enforcement files. See, e.g., Martin, 488 F.3d at 457; Boyd, 475 F.3d at 387–88; Oguaju, 378 F.3d at 1117. Roth also suggests—albeit only in passing—that this case is not controlled by the settled FOIA precedents because those cases are about pro......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
55 cases
  • Borum v. Brentwood Vill., LLC, Civil Action No.: 16-1723 (RC)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • November 21, 2016
    ...an administrative proceeding) that is judicial in nature and involves important state interests." JMM Corp. v. District of Columbia , 378 F.3d 1117, 1120 (D.C. Cir. 2004). The doctrine stems from the equitable principle that "courts ... should not act, and particularly should not act to res......
  • Ord v. District of Columbia, No. 08-7094.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • December 4, 2009
    ...401 U.S. 66, 73, 91 S.Ct. 764, 27 L.Ed.2d 688 (1971) (extending Younger to declaratory relief); JMM Corp. v. District of Columbia, 378 F.3d 1117, 1125 (D.C.Cir.2004) (treating D.C. as a state for purposes of Younger abstention). However, as the Supreme Court has made clear, the DJA was desi......
  • In re Abd Al-Rahim Hussein Muhammed Al-Nashiri, No. 15-1023
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • August 30, 2016
    ...v. Henkel , 235 U.S. 219, 228–30, 35 S.Ct. 54, 59 L.Ed. 203 (1914) (petition seeking habeas relief); JMM Corp. v. District of Columbia , 378 F.3d 1117, 1120 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (petition seeking injunctive and declaratory relief). This practice stems in part from a “basic doctrine of equity ju......
  • Roth v. United States Dep't of Justice, No. 09–5428.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • June 28, 2011
    ...interests of third parties named in such law enforcement files. See, e.g., Martin, 488 F.3d at 457; Boyd, 475 F.3d at 387–88; Oguaju, 378 F.3d at 1117. Roth also suggests—albeit only in passing—that this case is not controlled by the settled FOIA precedents because those cases are about pro......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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