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ROTH v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COURTS

August 22, 2001

STEVEN ROTH, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
V.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COURTS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sullivan, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

Plaintiffs, three attorneys and one investigator, provide legal and litigation support services for the District of Columbia's indigent criminal defendants under the Criminal Justice Act, D.C.Code § 11-2601 et seq. ("CJA"). Plaintiffs seek relief under the Prompt Payment Act, 31 U.S.C. § 3901 et seq. ("PPA"), for interest on services rendered under the CJA. Defendant, District of Columbia Courts,*fn1 moves to dismiss the complaint or, in the alternative, for judgment on the pleadings, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), 12(b)(6), and 12(c). Upon consideration of defendant's motion, the opposition thereto, the statutes, relevant case law and the arguments in open court, defendant's motion to dismiss is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

As originally enacted, the PPA requires federal agencies, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the United States Postal Service to pay for any property or services acquired by the due date or within thirty days, unless the contract specifies otherwise. 31 U.S.C. § 3901 et seq. The thirtyday period begins on the later of the date of receipt of a proper invoice or the seventh day after the property is delivered or the service performance is completed. See § 3901(a)(4)(A). If a payment is not timely, interest accrues and is computed at a rate determined by the Secretary of the Treasury under the Contracts Dispute Act, 41 U.S.C. § 611. See § 3902(a). Claims for PPA interest are filed under Chapter 6 of the Contracts Disputes Act, 41 U.S.C. § 605, with the board of contract appeals for the individual federal entity. See § 3906.

In 1998, Congress amended the PPA to include late payment on a proper invoice made to the District of Columbia Courts. See 31 U.S.C. § 3901(d)(1) (1999 Supp.), Title I, § 162, P.L. 105-277, 1998 U.S.C.C.A.N. 2681-148. The PPA excludes the District of Columbia Courts from the claims procedures for federal entities, stating that a "claim for an interest penalty not paid under [31 U.S.C. § 3901 et seq.] may be filed in the same manner as claims are filed with respect to contracts to provide property or services for the District of Columbia Courts." § 3901(d)(2) (emphasis added).

The Superior Court of the District of Columbia ("Superior Court") and the District of Columbia Court of Appeals ("Court of Appeals"), in accordance with D.C.Code § 11-2601 et seq., are required to furnish representation to any person in the District of Columbia who is financially unable to obtain legal representation. An attorney appointed to represent an indigent defendant is compensated at a fixed hourly rate and may also obtain investigative services. An attorney or investigator seeking compensation for her representation of indigent defendants is required to submit a claim for compensation to the appropriate court. The appointing judge then approves a voucher for payment.

Plaintiffs have, pursuant to their appointments for legal representation and investigative services on behalf of indigent defendants, submitted vouchers for compensation that were allegedly not paid within thirty days of submission. Plaintiffs have made written demands for payment of interest under 31 U.S.C. § 3901 et seq. The acting Fiscal Officer replied to plaintiffs' requests stating that the thirtyday payment time period does not begin to run until a judicial officer approves an individual CJA voucher. Former Chief Judge of the Superior Court, Eugene Nolan Hamilton, also stated in a memorandum that "with regard to Criminal Justice Act . . . vouchers, it has been determined that the date the Court receives a `proper invoice' is the date the authorizing Judge or Hearing Commissioner approves the voucher." Defendant, in its answer, admits that "interest does not begin to accrue until thirty (30) days after judicial approval of the claims."

II. ANALYSIS

Defendant moves to dismiss the complaint arguing that 1) the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction for various reasons; 2) this Court lacks personal jurisdiction because the named defendant is non sui juris; and 3) the PPA does not apply to the types of claims at issue here.*fn4 "Jurisdiction to resolve cases on the merits requires both authority over the category of claim in suit (subject-matter jurisdiction) and authority over the parties (personal jurisdiction), so that the court's decision will bind them." Ruhrgas AG v. Marathon Oil Co., 526 U.S. 574, 577, 119 S.Ct. 1563, 143 L.Ed.2d 760 (1999). The Court need not address these jurisdictional questions in a particular order. See id. The Court will address the subject-matter jurisdiction issue first, as it is the most efficient way to resolve the issues in this case. The Court concludes that it does not have subject-matter jurisdiction over any claims for interest. The Court does, however, have jurisdiction over an action for declaratory relief. Notwithstanding, the Court declines to exercise its discretion to entertain the suit for declaratory relief. Thus, this Court need not address the personal jurisdiction issue, namely, whether the District of Columbia Courts, which is comprised of the Superior Court and the Court of Appeals, is sui juris and, as such, able to sue and be sued, eo nomine.

A. Subject-Matter jurisdiction

The Court must address two issues to determine whether it has subject-matter jurisdiction over plaintiffs' claims. First, whether the issues to be decided involve a federal question, invoking jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Second, if the issues involve a federal question, whether the PPA divests this Court of jurisdiction to entertain a claim for interest.

1. Federal Question Basis For Subject-Matter Jurisdiction

Plaintiffs argue that jurisdiction is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, since a federal statute is at issue. Defendant argues that 28 U.S.C. § 1366 applies to exclude this controversy from this Court's jurisdiction. Section 1366 states that "[f]or the purposes of [28 U.S.C. § 1331], references to the laws of the United States or Acts of Congress do not include laws applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia." Rather, provisions of law applicable only to the District of Columbia are similar to laws "enacted by state and local governments having ...


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