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West Flagler Associates, LTD v. City of Miami

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

September 6, 2019

West Flagler Associates, LTD, Plaintiff,
City of Miami, Defendant.


          Robert N. Scola, Jr., United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant City of Miami's (the “City”) motion to dismiss the Plaintiff's complaint. (ECF No. 8.) The Plaintiff responded (ECF No. 11) and the Defendant timely replied. (ECF No. 17.) Having considered the record, the parties' submissions, and the applicable law, the Court grants in part and denies in part the Defendant's motion. (ECF No. 8.).

         I. Background

         Plaintiff West Flagler Associates (“West Flagler”) is a limited partnership formed for the express purpose of building and operating a summer jai alai fronton with gambling, including a cardroom, in the City of Miami. (ECF No. 1-2 at ¶¶ 1-2.) In 2012, West Flagler's attorneys had informal discussions with the Zoning Administrator of the City of Miami to identify the areas zoned for its intended facility. (Id. at ¶ 11.) The Zoning Administrator advised that pari-mutuel, slot machine, and other gambling uses permitted by state law are considered “entertainment establishments” as the term is defined in the City's zoning code. (Id.) The Zoning Administrator also identified the various zoning transects that permitted such use. (Id.) West Flagler then requested a formal verification letter from the City of Miami confirming that pari-mutuel activities and slot machines are permitted in certain zoning transects. (Id. at ¶ 12.) In response, the Defendant sent a zoning verification letter which confirmed that gambling uses were allowed in the specific zoning transects identified by the Plaintiff. (Id.)

         Based on the City's letter, the Plaintiff chose a suitable location that was zoned to permit an entertainment establishment. (Id. at ¶ 13.) The Plaintiff entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (the “MOU”) with the owner of eighteen contiguous properties in the vicinity of 30th Street and Biscayne Boulevard, which are all zoned for use as an entertainment establishment. (Id.) The MOU contemplated that if West Flagler obtained a state gambling permit, then the owner of the properties would build the required facility at the location. (Id.) After entering the MOU, the Plaintiff began the process of obtaining the gambling license from the state. (Id. at ¶ 15.)

         As part of the process, the state of Florida required the Plaintiff to provide a confirmation from the City of Miami that the specific properties were all authorized for use as a jai alai fronton and cardroom. (Id. at ¶ 18.) The Plaintiff sought this confirmation from the City of Miami and received 18 separate zoning verification letters. (Id. at ¶ 20.) After considerable expenditure and resources, the state's Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering issued a permit authorizing West Flagler to conduct pari-mutuel wagering on the game of jai alai and operate a cardroom on the properties. (Id. at ¶ 21.)

         On July 26, 2018, just 23 days after the Plaintiff received its permit, the Miami City Commission passed Resolution No. 18-0347. The Resolution directed the City Manager to initiate efforts to pass an amendment to the Miami zoning code that would require that entertainment establishments conducting pari-mutuel wagering be permitted only by special exception upon a four-fifths vote of approval by the City Commission. (Id. at ¶ 25.)

         The Plaintiff applied for and was given a demolition permit to start the project on September 4, 2018. (Id. at ¶ 26.) On September 5, 2018, a proposed ordinance prepared by the City Manager pursuant to Resolution No. 18-0347 came before the Planning, Zoning, and Appeals Board. (Id. at ¶ 27.) The Planning, Zoning, and Appeal Board recognized that the Ordinance was intended to apply retroactively to Plaintiff and voted to deny the proposed ordinance. (Id.) The City moved forward with the ordinance. On September 13 and 27, 2018, the City Commission held public hearings on the first and second readings of the proposed ordinance that would require the entertainment establishment conducting pari-mutuel wagering to receive approval by the City Commission by a four-fifths affirmative vote. (Id. at ¶ 28.) Ordinance 13791 (the “Ordinance”) was adopted by affirmative vote of four of the five City Commissioners and became effective as of October 7, 2018. (Id.) The Ordinance amended the City's zoning code to require that gambling facilities are allowed by “exception” with City Commission approval by a four-fifths vote. (Id. at ¶ 33.)

         On January 17, 2019, the City of Miami Building Department rejected or refused to process the property owner's building permit for the jai alai fronton facilities on the basis that construction would not be permitted without an exception upon a four-fifths vote of approval by the City Commission pursuant to the Ordinance. (Id. at ¶ 34.)

         II. Legal Standard

         A court considering a motion to dismiss, filed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), must accept all allegations in the complaint as true, construing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Pielage v. McConnell, 516 F.3d 1282, 1284 (11th Cir. 2008). Although a pleading need only contain a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, a plaintiff must nevertheless articulate “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Faced with a motion to dismiss, a court should therefore “1) eliminate any allegations in the complaint that are merely legal conclusions; and 2) where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, ‘assume their accuracy and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.'” Am. Dental Ass'n. v. Cigna Corp., 605 F.3d 1283, 1290 (11th Cir. 2010) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 662 (2009)). “Regardless of the alleged facts, a court may dismiss a complaint on a dispositive issue of law.” Surgery Center of Viera, LLC v. Southeastern Surveying and Mapping Corp., No. 17-cv-754-orl-40TBS, 2018 WL 922202, at *3 (M.D. Fla. Jan. 31, 2018) (citations and quotations omitted).

         III. Analysis

         The Defendant's motion to dismiss attacks the Plaintiff's complaint by arguing that (1) its claims are not ripe; (2) the Plaintiff lacks standing to bring these claims; and (3) that each claim fails to state a cause of action. (ECF No. 8.) The Court will address each argument in turn.

         A. ...

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