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Thana v. Board of License Commissioners for Charles County, Maryland

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

June 28, 2016

SUTASINEE THANA; MICHAEL JAMES LOHMAN; THAI SEAFOOD & GRILL, INC., trading as Thai Palace & Thai Palace & Lounge, Plaintiffs - Appellants,
v.
BOARD OF LICENSE COMMISSIONERS FOR CHARLES COUNTY, MARYLAND; PAMELA SMITH, Chair; GUY BLACK, Member; TOMASINA COATES, Member; STEVEN LOWE, Member; WILLIAM YOUNG, Member, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued: May 11, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, at Greenbelt. Paul W. Grimm, District Judge. (8:14-cv-03481-PWG)

         ARGUED:

          Charles Grant Byrd, Jr., ALSTON & BYRD, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellants.

          Kevin Bock Karpinski, KARPINSKI, COLARESI & KARP, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellees.

         ON BRIEF:

          Michael B. Rynd, KARPINSKI, COLARESI & KARP, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellees.

          Before TRAXLER, Chief Judge, and NIEMEYER and KEENAN, Circuit Judges.

          NIEMEYER, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         In this appeal, we decide whether the district court properly applied the Rooker-Feldman doctrine to dismiss this federal action challenging the actions of a state administrative agency that were reviewed in state court.

         The Board of License Commissioners of Charles County, Maryland ("the Board"), revoked the alcoholic beverage license of a restaurant and lounge known as Thai Palace, as well as two consent orders that imposed conditions on the license, because Thai Palace violated certain conditions imposed by the consent orders. The Circuit Court for Charles County affirmed in part and remanded in part, and the Maryland Court of Special Appeals affirmed the circuit court. The Maryland Court of Appeals declined to grant certiorari.

         Shortly after the Circuit Court for Charles County had ruled and before Thai Palace filed its notice of appeal to the Court of Special Appeals, Thai Palace commenced this federal action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the First Amendment, challenging the actions of the Board. The district court dismissed the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, based on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. See Rooker v. Fid. Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923); D.C. Ct. of App. v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983). The district court concluded that because Thai Palace "seeks to attribute error to the core of the Board's order and the circuit court ruling affirming it, " its federal action "falls neatly within the bounds of the [Rooker-Feldman] doctrine."

         We reverse and remand, concluding that Thai Palace has, with this action, commenced an independent, concurrent action challenging actions by a state administrative agency. Because Thai Palace did not request the district court to conduct appellate review of the state court judgment itself, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not apply. See Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005). To the extent that the district court concluded that Thai Palace is seeking to litigate the same claims or issues decided in the state proceedings, it can, on remand, apply state law principles of preclusion to bar this action if that proves to be appropriate.

         I

         Thai Palace -- formally, Thai Seafood & Grill, Inc., and trading as Thai Palace and Thai Palace & Lounge -- is a restaurant and lounge in Waldorf, Maryland. Sutasinee Thana, her husband, and Michael Lohman are the owners of Thai Palace, and Thana and Lohman hold the alcoholic beverage license on behalf of Thai Palace. In 2009, Thai Palace[1] filed an application with the Board for an alcoholic beverage license, effectively seeking reinstatement of an earlier license that had been revoked in 2007 for hosting entertainment that featured nudity. Following a hearing, the Board and Thai Palace entered into a consent order dated November 12, 2009, by which the Board issued the alcoholic beverage license on the condition that Thai Palace "be operated as a family restaurant" between the ...


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