UPDATED: 5:36 p.m. 10/12/2010
When D.C. Superior Court Judge John M. Mott ruled this afternoon that Rogue States is a nuisance and needs to be abated immediately, he effectively issued a death sentence for the Dupont Circle burger joint. The judge left open the possibility that Rogue owner Raynold Mendizabal and his landlord, TRT, could work out another solution to the problem, but he appeared to stop short of ordering such a remedy.
Following the ruling, Mendizabal sat slouched in his chair in the gallery and refused to talk to reporters. He apologized for his reticence.
Mott acknowledged that the scrubber system that Rogue States had installed in April improved the situation at Steptoe & Johnson, which had filed the nuisance suit, but it did not remedy the problem. He flatly stated that the so-called Smog Hog scrubber was “not the appropriate exhaust system for the location.” The judge said that Steptoe employees continued to suffer headaches and almost daily annoyances despite the new scrubber and that they were “not imagining hamburger order where it doesn’t exist,” as the defense alleged during the trial.
“The smell remains and has a negative effect on the building,” Mott said.
He noted that the nuisance is well beyond what is expected from “life in an American city.” It’s not an occasional interference with the law firm’s use and enjoyment of its office space. “I do find that there has been a recurrence of the problem,” Mott ruled, and that it does represent a private nuisance.
Mott then ordered Rogue States to cease grilling operations by the end of day today. He was open to TRT and Rogue working out a solution, like a vent to the roof, that would mitigate the problem. But TRT had earlier stated its position on Rogue States, should Mott decide its tenant was a nuisance. Lawyers representing TRT told the judge that the company would be forcedto evict Rogue States under terms of the lease.
Steptoe released a statement this afternoon about Mott’s ruling:
“Steptoe is gratified by the Court’s order. From the time that the restaurant started operations in February of this year, we have sought a solution that would allow the restaurant to continue its operations without harming our employees. Unfortunately, the restaurant and its landlord were unable to agree on a solution that would safeguard the well-being of our employees. Accordingly the court had no option but to order the nuisance abated and the restaurant to turn off its grill. While we wish the defendants could find a way to survive in this location and not cause a nuisance to our employees, we are committed to the health and safety of our workforce and providing our employees with a good environment to work in.”
If there’s any silver lining to this situation, it’s this fact, which came out earlier in the trial under direct examination by the plaintiffs’ lawyer Deborah Baum. In trying to show that the closing of Rogue States wouldn’t hurt the business as much as Mendizabal has indicated, she asked him he had signed a lease for another location of the burger joint. He said that he had.
It looks as if Rogue States in Dupont may be dead. But another one will open at some point at 1931 14th St. NW in the former Bargain World Inc. space.
Mendizabal indicates that he will close down his grill tonight at 7 p.m. Get there while you can.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery