A long-running set of cases regarding the D.C. Council's use of eminent domain in the seizure of the Skyland Shopping Center in 2004 will remain in the D.C. court system.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last week affirmed a decision by the U.S. District Court to dismiss a case brought by four plaintiffs, who each own or lease property in the shopping center. The plaintiffs argued that the city took the property to benefit a private developer, violating the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment.
The D.C. Circuit said the federal courts should for now defer to the D.C. Superior Court, where multiple similar cases, many involving the same people, are pending. In Superior Court, the shop owners and tenants are the defendants in condemnation actions filed by the city.
Elaine Mittleman, a solo practitioner in Falls Church, Va., who argued the case for the plaintiffs, called it “amazing” that the constitutional issue still hasn’t been addressed. “There are all these issues to resolve even though we’ve been litigating for six years,” she said.
The case in front of the D.C. Circuit originally included 17 plaintiffs, but 13 of them were barred because their claims were moot: Six of them were leaseholders whose leases expired or terminated, four had sold their property to the city, and three did not have property interests in the center.
At the D.C. Circuit, the plaintiffs did not dispute that, in general, principles of abstention would keep the federal courts out of the case, but argued that their case fell under two exceptions.
The plaintiffs said they were not provided a fair opportunity to litigate at the Superior Court level because that court declined to consider the constitutional issue.
In the seven-page per curiam decision released Feb. 26, the D.C. Circuit dismissed that argument, saying the plaintiffs presented no evidence that they had sought a motion for reconsideration after the D.C. Court of Appeals overturned forfeiture rulings in a similar Skyland-related case.
The D.C. Circuit also rejected the argument that the city had shown “bad faith” in bringing the condemnation actions when it did not initially join certain defendants with mutual property interests. The appeals court said it failed to see “how the delay has prejudiced” those parties.