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2348 Ainger Place Tenants Association, Inc. v. District of Columbia

October 8, 2009

2348 AINGER PLACE TENANTS ASSOCIATION, INC., APPELLANT,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DTF INVESTMENTS, LLC., AND APRIL HOUSE TENANTS ASSOCIATION, INC., APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, (CAB4307-07), (Hon. Maurice A. Ross, Trial Judge).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Washington, Chief Judge

Argued May 28, 2009

Before WASHINGTON, Chief Judge, GLICKMAN, Associate Judge, and NEBEKER, Senior Judge.

This case involves two parties that submitted applications to the Condominium and Cooperative Conversion and Sales Branch ("CCCSB") for registration as a tenant organization under the Rental Housing Conversion and Sale Act of 1980 ("the Sale Act" or "the Act"). On appeal, appellant 2348 Ainger Place Tenants Association, Inc. ("Ainger Place") contends that the trial court erroneously concluded that Ainger Place lacked standing to bring a civil action to challenge the CCCSB's decision rejecting its application and registering appellee April House Tenants Association, Inc. ("April House") as a tenant organization with the right to negotiate the sales agreement with the owner.

We conclude that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to entertain Ainger Place's action, and thus, we affirm.*fn1

I.

Appellee DTF Investments owns a residential rental accommodation located at 2348 Ainger Place. On November 24, 2006, DTF submitted to the CCCSB an Offer of Sale & Tenant Opportunity to Purchase with a Third Party Contract for the subject property, pursuant to D.C. Code § 42-3404.02 (2001).

In December 2006, Ainger Place applied to the CCCSB to register as the tenant organization charged with representing the interests of the tenants residing at 2348 Ainger Place in that negotiation, as required by D.C. Code § 42-3404.11 (1). On December 19, 2006, the CCCSB notified Ainger Place that it would not approve its application because it was incomplete. Shortly thereafter, on December 29, 2006, April House applied to the agency to be registered as the representative tenant organization. On January 8, 2007, Ainger Place resubmitted its application. In March 2007, the CCCSB granted April House's application, registering it as the tenant's sole representative.

Ainger Place challenged the CCCSB's determination in a petition for reconsideration. In a letter, dated April 13, 2007, the CCCSB denied Ainger Place's petition without a hearing. The letter was written by the CCCSB housing regulations officer charged with reviewing Ainger Place's challenge to the CCCSB's determination that April House was the legitimate tenant representative. In that letter, the CCCSB directly stated that, if appellant wished to challenge the CCCSB's determination, "[it] may either file suit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia pursuant to section 42-3405.03 of the [Sale Act], or petition for declaratory relief under section 42-3405.03a."

On June 22, 2007, Ainger Place filed a complaint in the Superior Court against the Mayor, April House, and DTF, to challenge the District's rejection of its application for registration and its decision to register April House as the tenant organization. Ainger Place predicated the Superior Court's jurisdiction to hear its challenge solely on § 42-3405.03, which permits "an aggrieved owner, tenant, or tenant organization" to seek "through a civil action in law or equity" enforcement of any right or provision under the respective chapter of the Sale Act. See § 42-3405.03.

After hearing arguments challenging Ainger Place's standing to bring suit, the trial court determined that Ainger Place lacked standing because it was not registered with the CCCSB and had not exhausted its administrative remedies under the Act. Consequently, the trial court dismissed the complaint with prejudice.

On appeal, Ainger Place contends that it has standing because it meets the definition of "tenant organization" under§ 42-3401.18. Ainger Place also asserts that, according to § 42-3405.03 (b), it is not compelled to exhaust its administrative remedies before bringing civil suit. While appellees asserted in their respective briefs that the trial court was correct in concluding that Ainger Place lacked standing to challenge the CCCSB's decision, at oral arguments, appellees also argued that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to consider Ainger Place's claims after this court raised the matter sua sponte.

II.

Where the District of Columbia Administrative Procedure Act vests exclusive jurisdiction in this court over review of administrative actions, the Superior Court may not maintain concurrent jurisdiction. See Fair Care Found., supra, note 1, 716 A.2d at 997 (citing D.C. Code § 1-1510 (a) (1981), recodified at § 2-510 (2001)) (affirming Superior Court's dismissal for lack of jurisdiction where Code provides exclusive jurisdiction to Court of Appeals); see also Douglass, supra, note 1, 452 A.2d at 329 (D.C. 1982) (holding that "§ 1-1510 provide[d] for exclusive appellate review of administrative action . . . thereby preclud[ing] concurrent jurisdiction in the Superior Court."). "Any Superior Court action that 'constitutes a challenge' to a previous agency action, therefore, would be brought in the wrong court." Fair Care Found., supra, note 1, 716 A.2d at 997 (citing Douglass, 452 A.2d at 332-33). Accordingly, whether the Superior Court had jurisdiction over an action is a question we review de novo. Davis & Assocs. v. Williams, 892 A.2d 1144, 1148 (D.C. 2006); Martin v. District of Columbia Courts, 753 A.2d 987, 991 ...


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