On Petition for Review of a Decision of the District of Columbia Taxicab Commission
Before Steadman and King, Associate Judges, and Newman, Senior Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: King
KING, Associate Judge: Steven Edward petitions for review of the District of Columbia Taxicab Commission's ("DCTC") revocation of his public vehicle license and the denial of his application for a taxicab operator license. He contends here, as he did at two different stages of the proceedings before DCTC, that the agency exceeded "its statutory authority" in imposing those sanctions. *fn1 Because the agency did not directly address that contention, we remand the case to DCTC.
In the District of Columbia, every taxicab must have a valid public vehicle license *fn2 and every driver of a taxicab must have a valid taxicab operator license. *fn3 In August 1992, although Edward owned a taxicab and possessed a valid public vehicle license for that vehicle, he did not have a taxicab operator license. *fn4 A former passenger filed a complaint against the driver of the cab owned by Edward, alleging that on August 2, 1992, the driver had refused transport him to his requested destination and had threatened him with a knife. Thereafter, in response to that complaint, the Office of Taxicabs directed Edward to appear and "show cause why your public vehicle license and/or operator license should not be suspended or revoked or a monetary fee imposed."
A hearing was held before DCTC's three-member Panel of Adjudication ("Panel") on October 21, 1992. At the hearing, Edward appeared, without counsel and admitted that he had operated the taxicab on the date question and had picked up the passenger who had filed the complaint, but he denied the other allegations. The Panel, finding that Edward had operated his taxicab without a taxicab operator license on the date of the alleged incident in violation of 31 DCMR § 822.2, *fn5 ruled that Edward's "privilege to hold a DCTC [public vehicle] license for any DC licensed public vehicle, including the DCTC license for Hilltop Cab # 263[,] is revoked for five years." The Panel also revoked Edward's "privilege to operate a public vehicle for hire in the District of Columbia . . . for a period of five years." *fn6
Thereafter, Edward, represented by counsel, filed a motion seeking reconsideration of the penalties imposed, arguing that "by revoking [Edward's] privilege to drive for a period of five years, the Panel has gone way beyond the intent of the existing legislation . . . has abused its discretion." He also contended that a civil fine was the only sanction available to the Panel. The order denying that motion was silent concerning Edward's contention that the Panel exceeded its authority in imposing the sanctions it imposed. Edward then submitted a letter, seeking reconsideration by the Full Panel on Adjudication, claiming that a long-term suspension would mean financial hardship on is family. After that request was denied, Edward, represented by different counsel, in a motion for reconsideration, again contended that "the only authorized sanction is contained D.C. Code [§ ] 40-1719 provides for a civil fine of $500.00 contends this is the most the Panel under current authority could impose." *fn7 That motion was also denied. As with the earlier denial of reconsideration, there was no reference by the Full Panel to Edward's contention that the agency lacked statutory authority to impose the sanctions actually imposed. Nor did the agency specify the legal basis for imposing revocations rather than fines. This petition for review followed.
Edward does not challenge the finding that he operated a taxicab without holding a valid taxicab operator license at the time of the incident with the passenger. Instead, he renews his argument that DCTC exceeded its authority when it revoked his public vehicle license are barred him from receiving his taxicab operator license. *fn8
We begin by observing that "DCTC has exclusive authority for intrastate regulation of taxicabs. One of the ways in which it so regulates is to enforce [D.C. Code] § 40-1719, which prohibits hacking without a license." Onabiyi v. District of Columbia Taxicab Comm'n, 557 A.2d 1317, 1318 (D.C. 1989). It is well settled that DCTC is the "agency charged with enforcing laws prohibiting unlicensed hacking." Id. at 1319. In this case, DCTC has exercised its authority by barring Edward from owning or operating a taxicab for a period of five years.
We agree with Edward's contention, however, that "the issue of the authority to revoke his operator's and taxicab owner's license . . . left unaddressed" by DCTC. We have repeatedly held that "administrative and judicial efficiency require that all claims be first raised at the agency level to allow appropriate development and administrative response before judicial review." Hughes v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs. 498 A.2d 567, 570 (1985). As we noted above, Edward twice raised the issue of the authority of DCTC to impose the sanctions it imposed. *fn9 Thus, DCTC "had a full opportunity to consider the matter in making its ruling and to state its reasons for decision." Webb v. District of Columbia Dep't of Human Servs., 618 A.2d 148, 151 (D.C. 1992). Having had the opportunity to address an issue critical to a resolution of this matter, it was incumbent upon the agency to do so. See United States Information Agency v. Federal Labor Relations Auth., 295 U.S. App. D.C. 106, 110, 960 F.2d 165, 169 (1992). *fn10 To hold otherwise would render meaningless the requirement that claims be presented, in the first instance, to the agency. As we recently noted, "full consideration and reasoned exposition of all issues in a legal interpretation by the agency of its own statute is particularly important because of the marked deference given to such interpretations." Gay v. Dep't of Employment Servs., 644 A.2d 1326 (D.C. July 7, 1994). We concluded that it would be "inadvisable . . . to attempt to review the issue on this record without a clearer exposition by the agency of its statutory analysis. . . ." Id.
For the reasons stated, since we conclude that the DCTC did not set forth the legal basis for the sanctions it imposed, in the face of Edward's specific challenge to its statutory authority, we remand the case for further proceedings.