Arts Desk

Riot Act Lawsuit: Judge Dismisses Some (But Not All) Claims Made by John Xereas

Last week, a D.C. District Court judge made the first significant decision in former Riot Act co-owner John Xereas' lawsuit against his one-time business partners, Geoffrey Dawson and Marjorie Heiss: He didn't dismiss the case.

According to court documents filed March 27, Judge Richard Roberts permitted Xereas' claims of "breach of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing against Dawson and Heiss, unjust enrichment against [Riot Act] and cyber-squatting against Dawson, Heiss and [Riot Act]," while dismissing claims of "conversion, breach of contract, fraudulent inducement, conspiracy to defraud, tortious interference, and defamation." This means that the long-gestating lawsuit surrounding the now-defunct comedy club will continue, presumably to trial.

As Washington City Paper reported last July, the Riot Act lawsuit has been heated at times, with both sides lobbing big charges at each other. In short: Xereas, a D.C. comedy mainstay for decades, says that Dawson and Heiss forced him out of the business he helped create. They claim that Xereas was "neither an effective manager nor a reliable partner," and Dawson estimated that the club was losing $20,000 to $40,000 a month before it closed in late June. (It reopened days later as Penn Social, a "place to play" in the style of Dawson's other bars, like Bedrock Billiards.)

Xereas tells Washington City Paper that he's hired a new lawyer—from a "Top Tier antitrust firm"—to handle his case. "I look forward to the truth being known and everyone involved being exposed," he writes.

When reached for comment, Dawson sounded optimistic. "As we all know, the legal process is not terribly swift, but in the end I'm sure we will be just fine. Meanwhile, we have saved the business and most importantly, our investors' chance of being repaid. And the icing on the cake? We have created a fabulous entertainment venue that far exceeds anything that our flawed comedy model ever brought to the table. Just ask our happy customers."

Read the ruling after the jump.

District Court ruling on XEREAS v. HEISS et. al. motion to dismiss

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  • Arts Org

    Dawson, Heiss and the rest used Xerxes from the start to open a bar in a property explicitly set aside by Zoning for arts use. Xerxes' idea for a comedy club fit into this arts use. As soon as Riot Act was opened, he was undermined and eventually thrown out so Dawson could reopen the huge space as one of his other drinking bars.

    Dawson pulled similar games to open Iron Horse, pleading the collection of motorcycles as an "arts" use. His actions are slimy at best and fraudulent at worst. Penn Quarter used to be a major arts center, filled with galleries and small theaters. Progress -- even with the protections of zoning rules and set asides -- has forced most of these organizations out, leaving only the "big guys."

    As an arts organizer who tried to work with Riot Act, I saw this happen before the club opened through the day Xerxes was fired and the club shut down. The whole situation is a huge shame -- and proof that the District is inept at enforcing its own rules for space use.