DC Circuit Sinks Suit by Wine Bar Competing With Trump

WASHINGTON (CN) — A wine bar that accused President Donald Trump of luring away its customers with his hotel just blocks from the White House failed Friday to breathe new life into its lawsuit.

Affirming dismissal of the case, the D.C. Circuit said Cork Wine Bar, located near the historic U Street corridor of the nation’s capitol, failed to state a claim.

“We rejected the plaintiff’s unfair-competition claim, explaining that ‘financial success does not become unlawful simply because it is aided by prominence,’” U.S. Circuit Judge Thomas Griffith wrote for a three-judge panel.

The Trump International Hotel is seen Jan. 23, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Cork’s defeat was somewhat expected after the court showed skepticism of the case last year at oral arguments, with U.S. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland recalling that West Virginia Governor Jim Justice owns the Greenbrier Hotel, a 710-room luxury resort, and former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper owns a brewery.

Though it is undisputed that the wine bar has experienced a downturn since Trump took office — his gilded hotel now attracting lobbyists, advocacy groups and diplomats who used to frequent the local business — the appeals court said no evidence suggests that the president or his hotel interfered in Cork’s business.

The lawsuit “boiled down to an assertion that businesses with famous proprietors cannot compete fairly — a proposition alien to unfair-competition law,” Griffith wrote, summarizing the 2017 dismissal of the case by U.S. District Judge Richard Leon.

A George W. Bush appointee, Griffith balked at Cork’s failure to present a single case demonstrating that its allegations amounted to unfair competition.

“Cork makes no meaningful attempt to square its unfair competition claim with district law,” the 12-page opinion states. “The gravamen of Cork’s complaint is that so long as the president retains a stake in the hotel, Cork cannot fairly compete, because of the ‘perception’ that hotel patrons will receive favorable treatment from the Trump administration.”

Since the president’s inauguration, Trump International Hotel has seen an uptick in visits by foreign officials and members of Congress by the hundreds, according to a 2019 report from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

As Trump battles on the campaign trail for a second term, House Democrats continue to fight out a series of lawsuits in Washington for access to financial records on the hotel, alleging the president has violated the Emoluments Clause, a constitutional safeguard against foreign and domestic influence corrupting federal officeholders.

Judges Griffith and Garland, a Clinton appointee, were joined on the panel by U.S. Circuit Judge Stephen Williams, a Reagan appointee.

Alan Morrison of George Washington University Law School, representing Cork Wine Bar, did not immediately return a request for comment, nor did attorneys for the president at Morgan Lewis and for Trump International Hotel at Seyfarth Shaw.

%d bloggers like this: