Lawsuit pending in dispute over rights to Jack’s Boathouse

January 31, 2013

The dispute over Jack’s Boathouse has entered a new phase as owner Paul Simkin has prepared to file a lawsuit against the National Park Service over its attempt to revoke his right to operate on the property.

Simkin’s attorney Charles Camp confirmed that the lawsuit is ready and will likely be filed within the next few days. “If the NPS comes to its senses and stands down from its current position, then we will put off filing [the lawsuit],” Camp said. “I’m waiting to see if they’re going to do that—otherwise, I’ll file.”

Before any court proceedings can take place, the NPS will have 60 days to respond to the lawsuit during which Simkin will retain ownership until they resolve the lawsuit. “The Park Service wants to hand over the land to new ownership by March 1, but that’s not going to happen,” Camp said.

Jack’s claims focus on legally binding conditions placed on the NPS by the District when jurisdiction over the land was transferred.

“The land is owned by the District of Columbia, but there was a transfer of jurisdiction [over the land] from D.C. to the National Parks Service,” Camp said. “However, there were a lot of limitations on that transfer. That transfer would revert back to the District of Columbia if a number of things ever happened.”

One such condition was that the NPS could make no significant amendments to the deed. “There was a 50-page amendment to the deed, and so that is a significant amendment,” Camp said. ( “Under the D.C. resolution, I believe the jurisdiction reverted back.”

Simkin took control of Jack’s after his friend and former Jack’s owner Frank Baxter died in 2009. Simkin’s name is not actually on the lease with the NPS, leading the NPS to believe that Simkin has no legal right to control the property or business.

Camp claims that this fact is irrelevant under District law. “My client’s name is not on the lease, but in the District of Columbia, leases are freely transferrable,” Camp said. “If a landlord collects rent, then that’s acceptance of the assignment. My client has been paying rent to the National Park Foundation for years. Whether his name is on it or not, he is a tenant under that lease.”

The lease may not have been completely transferred from the District to the NPS anyway, according to Camp. “The National Park Service talks about how that lease was assigned to them by D.C., but, in fact, the only thing I know of is that there was an assignment of the right to collect rent and an assignment of the District’s duties to my client,” he said. “There was no full assignment of the lease to the National Park Service. There’s a big difference between transferring a whole lease and transferring your duties under that lease.”

The final piece of Camp’s case rests on assumptions of what the NPS will do with Jack’s land if they win control  of it. The NPS’s Request for Qualifications for a new owner, says Camp, shows signs of development, an illegal action under the NPS’s jurisdiction conditions.

“The only jurisdiction you can transfer is for either administrative purposes or maintenance purposes, not for development purposes,” Camp said. “When you bring in a new, outside business and do things in a new, government way, that’s development.”

Further complicating the matter are comments Simkin made last week, alleging that NPS Deputy Associate Regional Director Steve LeBel is involved in an under-the-table deal with Guest Services, a major competitor of Jack’s. Guest Services operates the concession stands on the National Mall, as well as Thompson’s and Fletcher’s Boathouses.

Vice President of Guest Services Doug Verner denied having underhanded motives with regard to Jack’s. “How could I possibly know why [Simkin] would make an allegation like that?” Verner said. “The only thing we know about Jack’s is what we read in the paper and what came out in the National Parks Service Request for Qualifications.”

But, Verner didn’t deny his company’s interest in the Jack’s property. When asked if Guest Services intended to apply to the NPS’s RFQ, he only said, “It’s being considered.”

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