President Donald Trump’s legal battles, which have played out in federal courts across the country, just got local.
The Washington, D.C., eatery Cork Wine Bar filed a lawsuit Wednesday night alleging unfair competition from Trump’s hotel located in the Old Post Office building. The suit, filed in the D.C. Superior Court, seeks a court order forbidding Trump “from continuing to compete unfairly with the plaintiff in the restaurant business in the District of Columbia.”
“This is about local D.C.,” said Khalid Pitts, who co-owns Cork with his wife, Diane Gross. “This is about a local business and other local businesses who are trying to make it here in the city. And we feel that the president of the United States owning a hotel, owning a restaurant, promoting those restaurants, is unfair and is to the detriment of other businesses in the city.”
The couple’s suit calls on Trump to stop the unfair competition by either resigning as president, by he and his family fully divesting their interest in the hotel and its restaurants, or by closing the hotel. The suit does not seek monetary damages.
Pitts and Gross are represented by a team of lawyers including Mark Zaid, who runs a small firm that focuses on national security, Scott Rome of Veritas Law, and Alan Morrison and Steve Schooner of George Washington University Law School. Morrison specializes in public interest law, while Schooner focuses on government contracting. The lawyers are bringing the case pro bono.
The case centers on a common-law tort claim that argues by operating the hotel while he is president, Trump unfairly competes for customers in the D.C. restaurant market.
The complaint claims that while Cork’s owners expected increased competition at first because of the newness and location of the hotel, “the competition between the hotel and Cork began to favor the hotel much more than before the election.”
Customers chose the hotel over Cork because of the perceived advantage doing so may give them in dealing with the president and U.S. government, the complaint alleges. It also noted that prior to the election, Cork hosted an event for the ambassador of Azerbaijan. Post-election, the ambassador chose the hotel for a different event.
The complaint alleges several instances in which Trump or his staff promoted the hotel, including a Jan. 19 televised press conference where now-Press Secretary Sean Spicer encouraged the audience to go to the hotel. Other examples include Trump’s inauguration ceremony, during which the president and his family exited the motorcade “near the hotel,” and the fact that the hotel bears Trump’s name.
The lawsuit also mentions Trump’s lease with the General Services Administration, which states that “no member or delegate to Congress, or elected official of the government of the United States or the government of the District of Columbia, shall be admitted to any share or part of this lease, or any benefit that may arise therefrom.” Trump and the GSA have come under fire for allegations that he is now in violation of the lease, though the agency has declined to state a position on the issue.
The suit claims that the violation of the lease demonstrates unfair competition on the grounds that the measure was put in place to avoid such competition.
“The lease was set up by the government with this possibility in mind and to specifically prevent the very thing that is occurring now,” Rome said. The parties maintain that they would bring the lawsuit even if the lease did not have such a clause.
This is not the first time the D.C. business community has challenged the hotel — chefs Jose Andres and Geoffrey Zakarian have been entangled in litigation, also in the D.C. Superior Court, regarding their leases with the hotel. They pulled out after Trump made controversial comments about Mexican immigrants when he announced his candidacy.
The Trump Organization did not yet return a request for comment.