There is an interesting legal dispute unfolding in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia over a persistent rodent infestation at the Whole Foods at Glover Park. The store has been closed since 2017 after being shut down twice for rodent infestation by the D.C. Department of Health. Whole Foods is arguing in an arcane contracts dispute with its landlord that the infestation is an “act of God” and out of its hands.
According to the D.C. District Judge Royce Lamberth’s latest opinion, the issue turns on the force majeure clause in the lease which allows the parties to violate conditions of the lease for extenuating circumstances caused by “acts of God, strikes, lockouts, labor troubles, plan approval delay, inability to procure materials, restrictive government laws or regulations, adverse weather, unusual delay in transportation,” and other circumstances beyond the parties’ control. Whole Foods argues that the rodents in the store are not its fault while Wical Limited Partnership, the owner of the building, says that it is. Whole Foods has brought in an expert to say that D.C. is a rodent-infested and that stores can do little, particularly this store with a nearby baseball field. Wical says that there is a large contingent of rodents living in the store and that is the fault of Whole Foods.
Whole Foods has been trying to do new construction inside the store, but Wical refuses to sign the necessary permits due to the contracts dispute. A bench trial is set for May 26th.
My problem with Whole Foods’ theory is that I thought any decision by Jeff Bezos, owner of Amazon and the Washington Post, was by definition an act of God.