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JMM Corporation v. District of Columbia

August 17, 2004

JMM CORPORATION, APPELLANT
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA AND D.C. DEPARTMENT OF CONSUMER AND REGULATORY AFFAIRS, APPELLEES



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

Before: Henderson, Randolph, and Garland, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garland, Circuit Judge

Argued January 20, 2004

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 Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (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.*fn1 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 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 (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 ...


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