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District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority v. Delon Hampton & Associates

May 27, 2004

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA WATER AND SEWER AUTHORITY, APPELLANT,
v.
DELON HAMPTON & ASSOCIATES, ET AL., APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA-8207-01) (Hon. Neal E. Kravitz, Trial Judge)

Before Terry and Steadman, Associate Judges, and King, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: King, Senior Judge

Argued December 2, 2003

The District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) appeals an order of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia dismissing, pursuant to Super. Ct. Civ. R. 12 (b)(6), WASA's complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. We affirm.

I.

This case arises out of a dispute relating to a construction project at the Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant involving the construction of piping and mechanical equipment, eight concrete basins and three sedimentation galleries. In January 1987, the District of Columbia, through the Department of Public Works, Water and Sewer Utility Administration ("WASUA"), entered into a contract with Delon Hampton & Associates ("DHA") in which DHA agreed to provide the District with professional engineering and consulting services related to the design and preparation of the construction project discussed above.

Subsequently, the District of Columbia, and later its successor entity WASA, claimed that the contractor and its various subcontractors had caused delays and other problems that caused a monetary loss. The complaint was filed November 5, 2001.

In defense of the claims raised against them, DHA asserted, inter alia, that all of the claims were time barred under D.C. Code § 12-301 (2001) because they were brought more than three years (in fact at least eight years) after the causes of action accrued. D.C. Code § 12-301 provides the various time limitations applicable to causes of action commenced in the District of Columbia, including a three-year limit for damages in the circumstances presented here. It also provides that the time limitations do not apply to "actions brought by the District of Columbia government." D.C. Code § 12-301. The trial court, basing its decision on our holding in Dingwall v. District of Columbia Water & Sewer Auth., 800 A.2d 686 (D.C. 2002) (en banc), ruled that the statute of limitations exemption accorded to the District of Columbia government by § 12-301 did not apply to WASA.

In Dingwall, we considered the question whether D.C. Code § 12-309 applies when suits are brought against WASA. D.C. Code § 12-309 provides that an action may not be maintained against the District of Columbia unless notice is given within six months after the injury or damage was sustained.*fn1 We concluded that WASA was not included within § 12-309, holding that WASA is an entity distinct from the District of Columbia. This decision adopted, in part, the division opinion in Dingwall v. District of Columbia Water & Sewer Auth.,766 A.2d 974 (D.C. 2001), where we observed:

WASA was established in 1996 "as an independent authority of the District government." D.C. Code § 43-1672 (1998). It is "a corporate body, created to effectuate certain public purposes, that has a separate legal existence within the District government." Id. WASA is "sui juris"; i.e., it has the power "to sue or be sued" in its own name. D.C. Code § 43-1673 (1). WASA is also authorized by law to enter into contracts with, inter alia, "the District, the United States, Maryland, or Virginia, or their political subdivisions." D.C. Code § 43-1673 (10) (emphasis added). WASA's authority to enter into a contract with the District is inconsistent with the notion that WASA is indistinguishable from the District; an entity does not contract with itself.

Id. at 977.*fn2

II.

WASA argues that it should receive the protection from the statute of limitations because § 12-301 uses the term "District of Columbia government" while Dingwall only construed § 12-309, which uses the term "District of Columbia." It maintains that the differences in terminology are significant and controlling with WASA being included within the former term but not the latter. DHA argues, however, that because the Dingwall court held that WASA was not included within the term "District of Columbia" in § 12-309, the same result should follow with respect to § 12-301. Thus the exemption from the statute of limitations accorded to the District of Columbia government would not be available to WASA.

It is not apparent from the face of the statute whether "District of Columbia" and "the District of Columbia government" have the same meaning or whether WASA is included within the latter. The two terms appear throughout the Code with no indication whether they are interchangeable, or whether they have different meanings in different contexts. Because there is ambiguity created by the use of different terms in different parts of the statute, we will examine, as we ...


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