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Dorsey v. District of Columbia

February 15, 2007


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CAB4294-05) (Hon. Natalia M. Combs Greene, Trial Judge).

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

Argued January 23, 2007

Before WASHINGTON, Chief Judge, and FARRELL and FISHER, Associate Judges.

Michael Dorsey sued the District of Columbia and several public officials, complaining about the system for issuing parking tickets with hand-held electronic devices and about the operations of the Bureau of Traffic Adjudication. His complaint was dismissed, and Dorsey appealed. We affirm.

I. Failure to Exhaust Remedies

Although Mr. Dorsey's complaint is broad-ranging, on appeal he raises two basic complaints about the issuance and adjudication of parking tickets. He asserts that the system for issuing "tickets" (Notices of Infraction) with hand-held electronic devices is invalid because, contrary to statute, a facsimile is not filed with the DMV.*fn1 He seems to argue that there is no obligation to pay the tickets because they are defective in form. Mr. Dorsey also asserts that the hearing examiners do not fairly administer the provisions for issuing default judgments and entertaining motions to vacate them. In his words, "[h]earing examiners at the DMV are forced to systematically deny requests to vacate default judgments as a revenue-raising device."We do not consider these arguments because he has failed to exhaust administrative remedies.

Many of Mr. Dorsey's complaints are generalized, and we will not consider them because he has not alleged injury in fact. See generally York Apartments Tenants Ass'n v. District of Columbia Zoning Comm'n, 856 A.2d 1079, 1084 (D.C. 2004) (discussing the requirements for standing). The complaint does identify three parking tickets he received, and he does have standing to complain about them. Yet, so far as the complaint alleges or we could discern from oral argument, Mr. Dorsey did not appear at a hearing to contest those tickets. Moreover, he did not move to set aside the default judgments entered against him. He stated that he had concluded from years of experience that it would be futile to move to vacate those judgments.*fn2

As the appellant, Dorsey bears the burden of presenting us with a record that demonstrates the errors of which he complains. Cobb v. Standard Drug Co., 453 A.2d 110, 111 (D.C. 1982). Moreover, it is a "well-established doctrine that where a statute provides an administrative forum to resolve disputes, 'no one is entitled to judicial relief for a supposed or threatened injury until the prescribed administrative remedy has been exhausted.'" Dano Resource Recovery, Inc. v. District of Columbia, 566 A.2d 483, 485 (D.C. 1989) (quoting McKart v. United States, 395 U.S. 185, 193 (1969)). Among other advantages, the exhaustion doctrine ensures the development of an administrative record to permit efficient judicial review, and it may also render judicial review unnecessary should the agency grant relief. Barnett v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 491 A.2d 1156, 1160 (D.C. 1985).

The law provides administrative procedures for challenging parking tickets and an opportunity for judicial review. For example, a person issued a notice of infraction has thirty days to answer it. D.C. Code § 50-2303.05 (d)(1) (2001 & 2006 Supp.). 18 DCMR § 3000.3, in turn, provides: "The Notice of Infraction shall inform the respondent how and when to answer the notice and shall warn the respondent of the consequences of failure to answer in the manner and time provided." District law provides for administrative hearings and for administrative appeals from the decisions of hearing examiners. See D.C. Code §§ 50-2303.06 & 50-2304.02 (2001 & 2006 Supp.). The respondent is to receive notice of an impending default judgment and detailed information concerning how to vacate such a judgment. See D.C. Code §§ 50-2303.05 (d)(2) & 50-2303.06 (e) (2001 & 2006 Supp.). In addition, an aggrieved person may seek judicial review of an appeals board decision by filing an application for the allowance of an appeal in the Superior Court. D.C. Code § 50-2304.05 (2001).

These procedures would have allowed Mr. Dorsey to challenge his tickets because they purportedly failed to provide him with information required by law or because they violated the "facsimile" requirement. They would also have allowed him to challenge any improper decision refusing to vacate a default judgment against him. However, the record reflects not merely that Mr. Dorsey failed to exhaust his administrative remedies; as he explained at oral argument, Mr. Dorsey deliberately bypassed those remedies because he thought it would be futile to invoke them. We are handicapped by the lack of an administrative record and find no compelling reason to excuse Mr. Dorsey from exhausting his administrative remedies. See generally Davis & Assocs. v. Williams, 892 A.2d 1144 (D.C. 2006).

II. The Speech or Debate Statute

Dorsey also sued Councilmember Carol Schwartz, apparently because she served as Chair of the Committee on Public Works and the Environment, which exercises oversight of the Department of Motor Vehicles. He accused her of "dereliction of duties" because she "supported Bill 15-141"*fn3 and because "she refuses to repeal 18 DCMR 1040,"*fn4 which, he alleges, "contradicts the Code."Citing D.C. Code § 1-301.42 (2001), the Superior Court dismissed the complaint against Ms. Schwartz, explaining that she "was acting within the scope of her legislative duties."We are publishing this opinion to explain why the court properly dismissed the complaint against Councilmember Schwartz.

D.C. Code § 1-301.42 (2001) provides that "[f]or any speech or debate made in the course of their legislative duties, the members of the Council shall not be questioned in any other place."*fn5 Patterned after the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution, Art. I, § 6, cl. 1, this statute was enacted in part to provide Council members with the same protection afforded to members of Congress "against civil actions and criminal prosecutions that threaten to delay and disrupt the legislative process." COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY AND CRIMINAL LAW, REPORT ON BILL 1-34, THE "LEGISLATIVE PRIVILEGE ACT OF 1975," at 2 (Dec. 4, 1975). See Gross v. Winter, 277 U.S. App. D.C. 406, 414-15, 876 F.2d 165, 173-74 (1989) (discussing purpose of D.C. statute, which previously was codified at D.C. Code § 1-223 (1981)).

The Supreme Court has "read the Speech or Debate Clause broadly to effectuate its purposes." Eastland v. United States Servicemen's Fund, 421 U.S. 491, 501 (1975). Thus, "it is not just actual speech or debate on the floor of the legislative chamber which is protected." Dominion Cogen, D.C., Inc. v. District of Columbia, 878 F. Supp. 258, 263 (D.D.C. 1995). "[T]he Speech or Debate Clause was designed to protect Congressmen 'not only from the consequences of litigation's results but also from the burden of defending themselves.'" Helstoski v. Meanor, 442 U.S. 500, 508 (1979) (quoting Dombrowski v. Eastland, 387 U.S. 82, 85 (1967)). Accordingly, the Clause provides protection against civil actions brought by private individuals. Eastland v. United States Servicemen's Fund, 421 U.S. at 502. "[A] private civil action, whether for an injunction or damages, creates a distraction and forces Members to divert their time, energy, and attention from their legislative tasks to defend the litigation." Id. at 503. It is clear that "voting by Members . . . [and] a Member's conduct at legislative ...

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