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Chase v. Public Defender Service

September 11, 2008

CARL CHASE, APPELLANT,
v.
PUBLIC DEFENDER SERVICE, ET AL., APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CAP30-03) (Hon. Mary A. Gooden Terrell, Trial Judge).

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

Argued March 12, 2008

Before FISHER and BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY, Associate Judges, and FERREN, Senior Judge.

The Office of Employee Appeals ("OEA") dismissed an appeal filed by appellant Carl Chase, a former employee of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia ("PDS"), and Chase now asks us to reverse a judgment of the Superior Court which affirmed that decision. Concluding that the District of Columbia Comprehensive Merit Personnel Act, D.C. Code §§ 1-601.01 et seq. (2001) ("CMPA"), does not apply to PDS, and agreeing that the OEA therefore lacked jurisdiction over appellant's petition, we affirm.

I. Events Leading to this Appeal

On January 10, 2001, PDS sent Carl Chase a "Notice of Final Decision" terminating him from his non-attorney position as Deputy Chief of the Criminal Justice Act Office effective January 15, 2001. The Notice stated that Chase had "the right to appeal" the termination "to the Office of Employee Appeals and also . . . to the PDS Board of Trustees," but that any appeal "must be filed . . . by February 15, 2001." Chase "filed a Petition for Appeal" with the OEA on February 12, 2001, and the case was assigned to an Administrative Judge ("ALJ") on March 14, 2003.

On August 1, 2003, PDS "requested that [Chase's Petition for Appeal] be dismissed, asserting . . . that the [OEA] lacked jurisdiction to decide this matter because . . . a change in the law . . . exempted [PDS] from [the OEA's] continuing jurisdiction . . . ."*fn1 The ALJ agreed with PDS, "conclud[ing], as a matter of law, that the U.S. Congress intentionally removed PDS from the control of the District of Columbia, and as such, PDS is not subject to CMPA or the District's personnel regulations and policies." He dismissed Chase's petition on October 3, 2003. Chase then petitioned for judicial review and, in a September 29, 2006, opinion, the Superior Court affirmed, concluding "that the OEA's decision that it does not have jurisdiction to hear the case is well supported in fact and the law." Chase timely filed notice of this appeal.

II. Standard of Review

This appeal presents an issue of first impression for this court -- whether the enactment of the National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act of 1997, Pub. L. No. 105-33, §§ 11000--11723, 111 Stat. 251, 712-87 (August 5, 1997) ("the Revitalization Act"), and the District of Columbia Courts and Justice Technical Corrections Act of 1998, Pub. L. No. 105-274, 112 Stat. 2419 (October 21, 1998) ("the 1998 Amendments"), altered the status of PDS in such a way that its employees no longer have a right of appeal to the OEA. But see Public Defender Service v. (Julia) Chambers Saint-Preux (sometimes referred to by the parties as "Chambers"), 691 A.2d 1160, 1161 (D.C. 1997) (upholding as reasonable "OEA's interpretation of the CMPA as covering PDS non-attorney employees"). The impact of this legislation on our decision in Saint-Preux, and the current application of the CMPA to PDS, are questions of statutory construction that we review de novo. Richardson v. Easterling, 878 A.2d 1212, 1216 n.5 (D.C. 2005) (question of statutory construction is a "quintessential issue of law subject to de novo review").*fn2

"'The primary and general rule of statutory construction is that the intent of the lawmaker is to be found in the language that he has used.'" Chamberlain v. American Honda Fin. Corp., 931A.2d 1018, 1023 (D.C. 2007) (internal citations omitted). We generally "'defer to the agency's interpretation of the statute and regulations it administers[,]'" Colbert v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 933 A.2d 817, 819 (D.C. 2007) (internal citation omitted), but we will not accord such deference here because the Revitalization Act and the 1998 Amendments are not statutes that the OEA administers.*fn3 Thus, the OEA's interpretation does not limit our analysis in any way.

III. Analysis

Thorough review of the Revitalization Act and the 1998 Amendments compels the conclusion that Congress changed the relationship of PDS to the District of Columbia government. We therefore hold that the appeal rights established in the CMPA no longer apply to PDS or its employees. While this holding conflicts with our decision in Saint-Preux, see 691 A.2d at 1161 ("[upholding the] OEA's interpretation of the CMPA as covering PDS non-attorney employees . . ."), the Revitalization Act and the 1998 Amendments drastically changed the legislative landscape and the reasoning of Saint-Preux no longer applies. See East v. East, 536 A.2d 1103, 1106 (D.C. 1988) (we our not bound by our prior decisions when the legislature has changed the applicable law).

A. The CMPA and the Jurisdiction of OEA

With some exceptions not relevant to this appeal, the CMPA "appl[ies] to all employees of the District of Columbia government . . . ." D.C. Code § 1-602.01 (a) (2001). The "purpose and policy" of the CMPA are "to assure that the District of Columbia government shall have a modern flexible system of public personnel administration, which shall . . . [among other things,] [c]reate uniform systems for personnel administration among the executive departments and agencies reporting directly to the Mayor of the District of Columbia and among independent agencies, boards, and commissions in the District of Columbia government . . . ." D.C. Code § 1-601.02 (a). The CMPA defines the term "'employee'" to mean "an individual who performs a function of the District government and who receives compensation for the performance of such services." D.C. Code § 1-603.01 (7). "The term 'independent agency' means any board or commission of the District of Columbia government not subject to the administrative control of the Mayor . . . ." D.C. Code § 1-603.01 (13).*fn4 "The term ...


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