A D.C. Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction on Tuesday that gives upscale burger joint Rogue States 30 days to stop stinking up next-door neighbor, Steptoe & Johnson. The international law firm had earlier sued Rogue and its landlord for venting greasy smoke into a shared space between their buildings, where the fumes then entered the air-intake vents at Steptoe’s building, causing health issues for its employees.
Judge John M. Mott‘s ruling has left Rogue co-owner Raynold Mendizabal reeling. He says he’ll likely have to close the burger shop pending an Oct. 4 trial, which will decide if the burger shop actually presents a nuisance to the wood-smoked lawyers at 1330 Connecticut Ave. NW.
“They cry from the smell of the hamburgers…They had another lady who said her room filled full of smoke,” says Mendizabal about Steptoe employees. “The judge didn’t see any medical record. The judge didn’t see any air pollution report. I don’t see how he was swayed [by the evidence].”
“Their purpose,” the owner says flatly about Steptoe, “is to close me down.”
Mendizabal and his landlord, TRT at 1300 Connecticut Avenue, have tried to appease Steptoe. TRT notes in an Aug. 10 proposed injunction order that it has spent $70,000 to install a “larger scrubber,” which “has cured any previous emissions complaints at the 1300 Building, and has improved the situation at 1330 Connecticut Avenue, even by the plaintiffs’ own account. The testimony was undisputed that there have been no complaints since installation of the scrubber from anyone except Steptoe and BP.”
BP is Boston Properties, the owner of the building at 1330 Connecticut Ave. NW.
Steptoe wouldn’t talk about any specifics or TRT’s actions, since the case is still pending. But it issued the following statement through Steptoe partner Thomas M. Barba:
“From the time we filed this action — and even before then — our hope has been that Rogue States and its landlord would simply re-route the restaurant’s exhaust to a location on the roof where it is not drawn into our building’s air handlers, consistent with what our experts advise is the industry standard practice. We continiue to be disappointed that for whatever reason they opt not to undertake that solution. As we have stressed repeatedly to the court and to the parties, it has never been our goal to force Rogue States to close. But our employees are entitled to a work environment that is free of odor and smoke that many find offensive, and we regret that we have had to resort to litigation at all to obtain relief when a quite straightforward solution should have been available.”
For its part, TRT has so far rejected calls for a venting system to the roof. The company, in its proposed injunction order, noted that the building’s location in an historic district would impose significant costs and delays on such a plan. The external, multi-story exhaust system would also be an eye-sore, TRT writes, and would negatively impact the long-term value of the building and even create fire and safety hazards.
TRT has proposed a solution back to Steptoe and its landlord: that they install advanced oxidation cell purifiers in its air-intake vents. Steptoe and BP have rejected this idea, since there are potential health hazards tied to the oxidation cell purifiers.
Failing those two plans, the only other option would appear to be for Rogue States to close until the trial. Mendizabal and his landlord are going to huddle this evening and decide how to proceed.
If Rogue loses the trial in October, and judge Mott issues a permanent injunction, Mendizabal would likely find himself out of the burger business — either by transforming Rogue States into a restaurant that doesn’t use a burger grill or by closing down the place permanently and losing the $700,000 that he and his investors sunk into the joint.
“We are about to lose everything, because they complain,” says Mendizabal.