Rumber v. District of Columbia

Decision Date26 February 2009
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 04-1170 (RMU).
Citation598 F.Supp.2d 97
PartiesRose RUMBER et al., Plaintiffs, v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

Elaine J. Mittleman, Law Office of Elaine J. Mittleman, Falls Church, VA, for Plaintiffs.

David Fisher, District of Columbia Attorney General, Richard Gaspare Amato, William D. Burk, Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Washington, DC, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

DENYING THE PLAINTIFFS' MOTION TO FILE A FOURTH AMENDED COMPLAINT; DENYING THE PLAINTIFFS' MOTION TO ENFORCE THE SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT; GRANTING THE DEFENDANTS' MOTION DISMISS THE THIRD AMENDED COMPLAINT; GRANTING THE DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT1

RICARDO M. URBINA, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the court on the plaintiffs' motion to file a fourth amended complaint, the plaintiffs' motion to enforce the settlement agreement, the defendants' motion to dismiss the third amended complaint and the defendants' motion for summary judgment. The plaintiffs, owners and tenants of properties known as the Skyland Shopping Center, contend that legislation ("the Skyland legislation") authorizing the defendants, the District of Columbia ("the District" or "D.C.") and the National Capital Revitalization Corporation ("NCRC"), to exercise eminent domain over the plaintiffs' property is unconstitutional. The plaintiffs request leave to amend their complaint a fourth time to add a claim to enforce a settlement agreement allegedly made between plaintiffs Rose and Joseph Rumber ("Rumber plaintiffs") and the defendants, to note the filing of condemnation actions in the D.C. Superior Court and to reflect that the D.C. Council ("Council") has repealed the legislation that created the NCRC. The Rumber plaintiffs seek enforcement of an unsigned settlement agreement allegedly entered into with the defendants prior to the dissolution of the NCRC. The defendants move for dismissal of the third amended complaint under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), arguing that the court should abstain from hearing the claims of certain plaintiffs, that other plaintiffs have no standing, that the claims of all the plaintiffs are moot, and, in any event, that the takings authorized by the Skyland legislation are for a public purpose. Because the court determines that the new claims and information in the proposed fourth amended complaint are futile, that the alleged settlement agreement is unenforceable, that it lacks jurisdiction to hear certain claims and that the takings at issue are for a public use, the court denies the plaintiffs' motion to amend the complaint, denies the plaintiffs' motion to enforce the settlement agreement, grants the defendants' motion to dismiss and grants the defendants' motion for summary judgment.

II. FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND2

Beginning in 2004, D.C. enacted a series of bills establishing and defining the eminent domain power of the NCRC with regard to the Skyland Shopping Center in Southeast D.C. 3d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 2-4. This legislation authorized the NCRC to acquire property by eminent domain, when at least two-thirds of the Council has approved such action, to assist the NCRC in achieving D.C.'s revitalization goals. D.C.CODE § 2-1219.19 (repealed).

On July 13, 2004, the plaintiffs brought suit to enjoin the defendants from commencing eminent domain proceedings. See generally Compl. The plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary injunction on May 6, 2005. The court denied the motion because no taking and denial of just compensation had yet occurred; the plaintiffs had demonstrated no irreparable and substantial injury; and an injunction would impede the public interest. Mem. Op. (May 31, 2005) at 6-19. The plaintiffs filed another motion for a preliminary injunction on June 27, 2005, which the court again denied for the same reasons. Mem. Op., 2005 WL 1903727 (July 19, 2005). On December 12, 2005, the court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss the third amended complaint, determining that the plaintiffs' claims were not ripe because no taking had occurred. 427 F.Supp.2d 1 (D.D.C.2005). The plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal, and the Circuit remanded the case to allow the court to address the plaintiffs' public use argument. Rumber v. District of Columbia, 487 F.3d 941, 944-45 (D.C.Cir.2007). The defendants renewed their motion to dismiss the third amended complaint in November 2007, arguing that the court should dismiss the complaint on the grounds of abstention, standing, mootness or because the defendants have a proper public purpose for acquiring the property. See generally Defs.' Renewed Mot. to Dismiss 3d Am. Compl. ("Defs.' Mot. To Dismiss"). On January 6, 2008, the plaintiffs filed a motion for leave to file a fourth amended complaint on the grounds that the law creating the NCRC was repealed and that the defendants failed to honor a settlement agreement with the Rumber plaintiffs. See generally Pls.' Mot. for Leave to File 4th Am. Compl. ("Pls.' Mot. to Amend"). Lastly, on January 30, 2008, the Rumber plaintiffs filed a motion to enforce the disputed settlement agreement. See generally Pls.' Mot. to Enforce. The court now addresses each of these motions.

III. ANALYSIS
A. The Court Denies the Plaintiffs' Motion to File a Fourth Amended Complaint
1. Legal Standard for a Motion for Leave to Amend the Complaint

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a), a party may amend its pleading once as a matter of course at any time before a responsive pleading is served. FED.R.CIV.P. 15(a). According to decisions of this circuit, Rule 15(a) "guarantee[s] a plaintiff an absolute right" to amend the complaint once at any time so long as the defendant has not served a responsive pleading and the court has not decided a motion to dismiss. James v. Hurson Assocs., Inc. v. Glickman, 229 F.3d 277, 282-83 (D.C.Cir.2000) (citing FED.R.CIV.P. 15(a)). If there is more than one defendant, and not all have served responsive pleadings, the plaintiff may amend the complaint as a matter of course with regard to those defendants that have yet to answer. 6 FED. PRAC. & PROC. 2d § 1481. Motions to dismiss and for summary judgment do not qualify as responsive pleadings for the purposes of Rule 15. James, 229 F.3d at 283; Bowden v. United States, 176 F.3d 552, 555 (D.C.Cir.1999); U.S. Info. Agency v. Krc, 905 F.2d 389, 399 (D.C.Cir.1990).

Once a responsive pleading is served, however, a plaintiff may amend the complaint only by leave of the court or by written consent of the adverse party. FED. R.CIV.P. 15(a); Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182, 83 S.Ct. 227, 9 L.Ed.2d 222 (1962). The grant or denial of leave lies in the sound discretion of the district court. Firestone v. Firestone, 76 F.3d 1205, 1208 (D.C.Cir.1996). The court must, however, heed Rule 15's mandate that leave is to be "freely given when justice so requires." Id.; Caribbean Broad. Sys., Ltd. v. Cable & Wireless P.L.C., 148 F.3d 1080, 1083 (D.C.Cir.1998). Indeed, "[i]f the underlying facts or circumstances relied upon by a plaintiff may be a proper subject of relief, he ought to be afforded an opportunity to test his claim on the merits." Foman, 371 U.S. at 182, 83 S.Ct. 227. Denial of leave to amend therefore constitutes an abuse of discretion unless the court gives sufficient reason, such as futility of amendment, undue delay, bad faith, dilatory motive, undue prejudice or repeated failure to cure deficiencies by previous amendments. Id.; Caribbean Broad. Sys., 148 F.3d at 1083.

Denial of leave to amend based on futility is warranted if the proposed claim would not survive a motion to dismiss. James Madison Ltd. v. Ludwig, 82 F.3d 1085, 1099 (D.C.Cir.1996). An amended complaint is futile if it merely restates the same facts as the original complaint in different terms, reasserts a claim on which the court previously ruled, fails to state a legal theory or could not withstand a motion to dismiss. Robinson v. Detroit News, Inc., 211 F.Supp.2d 101, 114 (D.D.C.2002) (quoting 3 FED. PRAC. 3d § 15.15[3]); Willoughby v. Potomac Elec. Power Co., 100 F.3d 999, 1003 (D.C.Cir. 1996) (affirming the district court's denial of leave to amend given the "little chance" that plaintiff would succeed on his claim). Rule 15(a) governs the amendment of pleadings, stating generously that "leave [to amend] shall be freely given when justice so requires," FED.R.CIV.P. 15(a), and "instructs the [d]istrict [c]ourt to determine the propriety of amendment on a case by case basis." Harris v. Sec'y, United States Dep't of Veterans Affairs, 126 F.3d 339, 343 (D.C.Cir.1997). Whether to grant or deny leave to amend rests in the district court's sound discretion. Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182, 83 S.Ct. 227, 9 L.Ed.2d 222 (1962). Such discretion is not unlimited, however, for it is an "abuse of discretion" when a district court denies leave to amend without a "justifying" or sufficient reason. Id.; Firestone v. Firestone, 76 F.3d 1205, 1208 (D.C.Cir.1996). Reasons that justify a denial of leave to amend include undue delay, bad faith, repeated failure to cure a pleading's deficiencies, undue prejudice to the opposing party, and futility of amendment. Foman, 371 U.S. at 182, 83 S.Ct. 227; Richardson v. United States, 193 F.3d 545, 548-49 (D.C.Cir.1999); Caribbean Broad. Sys., Ltd. v. Cable & Wireless P.L.C., 148 F.3d 1080, 1084 (D.C.Cir.1998).

Courts require a sufficient basis for denial of leave to amend because the purpose of pleading under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is "to facilitate a proper decision on the merits," not to set the stage for "a game of skill in which one misstep by counsel may be decisive to the outcome." Foman, 371 U.S. at 181-82, 83 S.Ct. 227 (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 48, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)). Under Rule 15(a), the non-movant...

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