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Abadie v. District of Columbia Contract Appeals Board

March 04, 2004

JACQUES ABADIE III, ET AL., PETITIONERS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CONTRACT APPEALS BOARD, RESPONDENT. BUSINESS SOFTWARE ASSOCIATES, INC., INTERVENOR.



On Petition for Review of a Decision of the District of Columbia Contract Appeals Board (CAB No. D-1130)

Before Wagner, Chief Judge, and Schwelb and Reid, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reid, Associate Judge

Argued May 14, 2002

The issue in this case is whether this court has jurisdiction to consider this challenge to the authority of the Contract Appeals Board ("the CAB") to hear and resolve a dispute pertaining to the termination of a contract with Business Software Associates, Inc. ("BSA") by the Office of the Chief Financial Officer for the District of Columbia ("OCFO"). We conclude that this court has jurisdiction, and that the CAB has authority over the contract dispute betw een BSA and the OCFO.

FACTUAL SUMMARY

On February 11, 2000, the OCFO awarded a contract to BSA. The contract pertained to a conversion by the District of Columbia government from the Unified Personnel Payroll System ("UPPS") to the Comprehensive Automated Personnel Payroll System ("CAPPS"). Subsequently, several bilateral modifications were made to the contract. The OCFO terminated BSA's contract on August 21, 2000. The stated reason for the termination was "default." Two months later, BSA filed a complaint with the CAB seeking to convert the default termination to a "termination for convenience." *fn2

The OCFO moved to dismiss BSA's complaint, arguing that the CAB had no jurisdiction over the matter. On December 13, 2000, after an oral hearing on November 20, 2000, before Administrative Judge Matthew S. Watson, the CAB disagreed with the OCFO's position that it was exempt from the application of the District of Columbia Procurement Practices Act ("PPA") with respect to matters of contract administration. Hence, it denied OCFO's motion to dismiss BSA's complaint, declaring in part:

The [CAB] concludes that by mandating the adoption of specific and clearly limited procurement regulations dealing only with contract formation as an apparent condition for OCFO's exemption from provisions of the [PPA], the Council [of the District of Columbia] defined and limited the exem ption to disputes covered by the mandated regulations. Since the mandated regulations do not in any way concern a determination by the contracting officer of a default under a contract or resolution of a dispute concerning such a determination, the Council cannot be deemed to have exempted the [OCFO] from applicable provisions of the PPA or the jurisdiction of [the CAB].

Jacques Abadie III, then Interim Chief Procurement Officer for the District, filed a petition for review in this court on behalf of himself, the CFO of the District, and the District, and moved for summary reversal of the CAB's decision. The motion was denied, and the court ordered the parties to show cause why the petition should not be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. A motions division of this court ultimately decided to refer the jurisdictional matter to the merits panel.

ANALYSIS

The sole issue before us is whether this court has jurisdiction to determine whether the CAB was correct in asserting jurisdiction over the BSA complaint, even though it involved the OCFO, an office created by the Congress of the United States in its enactment of the District of C olumbia Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Act of 1995 ("the Control Board Act"). See Pub. L. 104-8, 109 Stat. 97, 98 (1995). The OCFO was accorded substantial auton omy under the Control Board Act. Our resolution of this issue requires us to interpret several statutory provisions, including those relating to the District of Columbia Administrative Procedures Act ("the APA"), the CAB, the OCFO, and the PPA. Thus, we are confronted with a legal issue which we review de novo. See Belcon, Inc. v. District of Columbia Water & Sewer Auth., 826 A.2d 380, 384 (D.C. 2003); In re Estate of Green, 816 A.2d 14, 16 (D.C. 2003).

Given its expertise, "we give careful consideration to [the CAB's] interpretation [of its governing statute] because legal interpretations by tribunals having expertise are helpful even if not compelling." See Abadie v. Organization for Envtl. Growth, Inc., 806 A.2d 1225, 1227 (D.C. 2002) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). "We therefore accord 'great weight' to the [CAB's] construction of a government contract, so long as that construction is not unreasonable." Belcon, Inc., supra, 826 A.2d at 384 (citing Dano Res. Recovery, Inc. v. District of Columbia, 620 A.2d 1346, 1352 (D.C. 1993)). "The last word [concerning the meaning of the applicable statute], however, is the court's, for "the judiciary is the final authority on issues of statutory construction." Id. (citation omitted). On legal questions, then, the CAB's ruling is neither "final [n]or conclusive." Organization for Envtl. Growth, Inc., supra, 806 A.2d at 1227.

There are several general principles of statutory interpretation that guide our analysis in this case. We reiterated these principles in Boyle v. Giral, 820 A.2d 561, (D.C. 2003):

We look to the plain meaning of the statute first, construing words according to their ordinary meaning. See J. Parreco & Son v. Rental Hous. Comm'n, 567 A.2d 43, 45 (D.C. 1989). "The literal words of [a] statute, however, 'are not the sole index to legislative intent,' but rather, are 'to be read in the light of the statute taken as a whole, and are to be given a sensible construction and one that would not work an obvious ...


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