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District of Columbia v. Economides

March 26, 2009

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, APPELLANT,
v.
FRANK ECONOMIDES, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CDC-6027-06). (Hon. John M. Mott, Trial Judge).

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

Argued January 23, 2009

Before KRAMER, FISHER, and Thompson, Associate Judges.

The issue in this appeal is whether a homeowner's compliance with an amended building permit issued to him by the District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs ("DCRA") bars the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia ("OAG") from prosecuting the homeowner for violations of the original permit that took place before the original permit was amended. Frank Economides argues that it does. The District argues that it does not. We agree with the District. Thus, for the reasons set forth herein, we reverse the trial court's dismissal of the Criminal Information filed by OAG and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.*fn1

I.

On November 26, 2002, appellee Frank Economides, a construction contractor, obtained a building permit (#B425076) from DCRA to renovate and build an addition to his home, located at 4825 Dexter Terrace, Northwest. Specifically, the permit stated that it was for "renovation & addition to single family dwelling as per plans." On or about December 12, 2002 -- within about sixteen days after receiving the permit issued to renovate and build an addition -- Economides, without seeking modification of the permit, had the house razed in preparation for beginning work on a new house to be built on the same site.

Around June 2003, a DCRA Building Inspector visited the site of the construction of Economides' new home and reviewed the permits and design plans. On the basis of this review, he informed Economides that before the new home construction had begun in the Spring of 2003, he should have had his building permit (#B425076) amended to read: "Construction of New Single Family Dwelling." OnJuly 2, 2003, DCRA issued an amended building permit (#B452810) to Economides that read: "Revision to Bldg. Permit #B425076. Revise description of work to read construct new SFD [single family dwelling] as per plans and DC inspector."

In November 2004, an officer of the Metropolitan Police Department went to Dexter Terrace and determined that the ongoing construction of the home was in violation of a DCRA stop work order, and that Economides still did not have a valid building permit for new construction. Thus, Economides was instructed to apply for the permit, which he did. On December 20, 2004, DCRA issued Economides a revised building permit (#B468560). It read:

This permit is on file to technically correct permit B452180 [sic] which was granted for an amended alteration & repair per[m]it, but which should have indicated new bldg. constr. All other elements about permit B452810 are to remain the same. Note that the plans for this permit can be found filed w/permit B452180 [sic].

On February 20, 2007, the Attorney General's Office filed the Criminal Information that is the subject of this appeal.*fn2 That Information charged Economides with 101 counts of Building Without a Permit during a time period that spanned from March 24, 2003 to July 2, 2003. Economides moved to dismiss the Information on the grounds that he had obtained amendments to the permit which retroactively cured any defects that had existed in the original November 26, 2002 permit (#B425076). The trial court granted that request in a March 21, 2008, order, holding that the permit issued on December 20, 2004 (#B468560), retroactively cured any defects that existed in the original November 26, 2002, permit, and thus that Economides now had a valid permit for the demolition and new home construction that took place. In the court's words, "the DCRA decision to amend the original work permit relates back and excuses the defendant's conduct." As we discuss, we conclude that this reasoning was erroneous.

II.

12A DCMR §107.5 (1999 Supp.), entitled "Amendments to Permit," reads in pertinent part:

The holder of a valid active building permit shall be authorized to amend it or to amend the plans, application or other records pertaining to it, by filing at any time before completion of the work for which the original permit was issued, an application for revision of a building permit, accompanied by two (2) sets of the revised plans or documents. Once such amendments are approved and their revision permit is issued, it shall be deemed part of the original permit and shall be kept therewith in the official records of the Department.*fn3

The trial court interpreted this provision to mean that once Economides had brought himself into compliance with the Construction Codes, that compliance applied retroactively to preclude him from being prosecuted for the time period preceding his compliance. OAG, on the other hand, interprets the language, "Once such amendments are approved and their revision permit is issued," to mean "that the original permit and the revised permit should be read together for administrative purposes prospectively." Thus, this case raises the issue of whether retroactive authorization of ...


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