Maurice F. Naccache, ET AL., Appellants,
Angela M. Taylor, Appellee.
September 20, 2017
from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia
(CAM-8012-07) (Hon. John Ramsey Johnson, Trial Judge)
J. Schifferle, Assistant Attorney General, with whom Karl A.
Racine, Attorney General, Todd S. Kim, Solicitor General at
the time the brief was filed, and Loren L. AliKhan, Deputy
Solicitor General at the time the brief was filed, were on
the brief, for appellants.
W. Donahoe, with whom Frank R. Kearney was on the brief, for
Fisher and Beckwith, Associate Judges, and Steadman, Senior
Beckwith, Associate Judge.
Superior Court jury awarded appellee Angela Taylor $6.5
million in damages following a trial at which she alleged
that appellant Maurice Naccache, an obstetrician employed by
the District of Columbia, had provided negligent prenatal
care that led to her son's premature birth and his severe
and permanent developmental injuries. The District of
Columbia, which participated in the trial on Dr.
Naccache's behalf and continues to participate here,
challenges two of the trial court's orders pertaining to
the jury award. At issue in this appeal is the meaning of the
statute providing for interest on judgments against the
District of Columbia "at the rate of not exceeding 4%
per annum," D.C. Code § 28-3302 (b) (2018 Repl.),
and the validity of a lien the District imposed upon Ms.
Taylor's jury award in order to secure reimbursement for
all Medicaid expenses incurred by Ms. Taylor's son
following the entry of judgment.
jury's award included damages "with interest,
thereon at the statutory rate and their costs of
action." Of the $6.5 million awarded, the jury allocated
$3.3 million to future care costs, but did not allocate any
portion of the judgment for past Medicaid
expenses. Two weeks after the October 2010 verdict,
the District filed a Health Care Reimbursement Lien-or
Medicaid lien-on Ms. Taylor's judgment in the amount of
$764, 277.46 for Medicaid payments the District made for Ms.
Taylor's son's medical care prior to the entry of
judgment. The District also filed a motion for a remittitur
of $1.8 million in the award of "future care
costs." After the trial court denied the District's
request to reduce the amount of the jury award, the District
twice amended the lien, first to $779, 928.81 in August 2013
and then again to $851, 233.07 in January 2015-figures that
for the first time included Medicaid expenses incurred after
March 2015, more than four years after the verdict and almost
two years after this court affirmed the judgment on appeal,
court entered a consent order establishing that the jury
award would be "placed in a Special Needs Trust for the
sole benefit" of Ms. Taylor's son,  but that the
amount the District asserted as a Medicaid lien for pre- and
post-judgment expenses-at that time, some $850, 000-would be
placed into the court registry pending a final order on the
validity of the lien. At oral argument, counsel for Ms.
Taylor represented that prior to this time, she had not
received any portion of the judgment because the judgment was
automatically stayed when the District filed its first
appeal, and that as a result, in the interim, she had
qualified for and collected Medicaid payments.
months following the issuance of the consent order, the trial
court issued two additional orders granting motions filed by
Ms. Taylor: the first, in July 2015, approved costs and
interest on the judgment at 4% per year pursuant to D.C. Code
§ 28-3302 (b),  and the second, in December 2015, granted
declaratory and injunctive relief striking as invalid the
Medicaid lien the District had imposed on the judgment. Dr.
Naccache and the District now appeal from these orders. For
the reasons explained below, we affirm the trial court's
decision to strike the Medicaid lien for all future care
costs after the creation of the supplemental needs trust, but
reverse the order striking the District's lien for
medical care costs covered between the entry of the judgment
in 2010 and the establishment of the trust in 2015. We also
reverse the order awarding interest at 4% per year and remand
for clarification as to whether the trial court exercised its
discretion in making that award.
The Post-Judgment Interest Order
Code § 28-3302 (b) provides that "[i]nterest, when
authorized by law, on judgments or decrees against the
District of Columbia, or its officers, or its employees
acting within the scope of their employment, is at the rate
of not exceeding 4% per annum." At issue here is whether
"not exceeding 4% per annum" means that a trial
court may award up to 4% interest or that it must award
exactly 4%. The District argues that the trial court erred by
awarding Ms. Taylor interest at a fixed rate of 4%, and that
the court instead should have awarded interest at the lower
rate applicable in suits against private parties. Ms. Taylor
argues that § 28-3302 (b) required the court to award
interest at 4% or, alternatively, that it permitted the court
to award interest at 4%, and so the trial court did not abuse
its discretion by doing so.
review questions of statutory interpretation de novo.
E.g., District of Columbia v. Place, 892
A.2d 1108, 1110-11 (D.C. 2006); District of Columbia v.
Cato Inst., 829 A.2d 237, 239 (D.C. 2003). To interpret
the language of a statute, we start with "the plain
meaning if the words are clear and unambiguous."
Place, 892 A.2d at 1111. "[T]he words of the
statute should be construed according to their ordinary sense
and with the meaning commonly attributed to them."
Id. (quoting Peoples Drug Stores, Inc. v.
District of Columbia, 470 A.2d 751, 753 (D.C. 1983) (en
banc)). Likewise, rather than reading statutory words in
isolation, we "consider not only the bare meaning of the
word but also its placement and purpose in the statutory
scheme." Tippett v. Daly, 10 A.3d 1123, 1127
(D.C. 2010) (en banc) (quoting Bailey v. United
States, 516 U.S. 137, 145 (1995)).
common usage, the word "exceed" means "to
extend outside of" or "to go beyond a limit set
by." Webster's Third New International
Dictionary 791 (2002). To "not exceed," then,
means that the rate of interest shall not "extend
outside of" or "go beyond the limit set by."
The statute is not ambiguous. The text of the statute
reflects that the D.C. Council's intent was to set a cap
on the rate of interest on judgments against the District and
its officers at 4%, and neither party offers a competing
interpretation of the plain language. The two other
subsections in § 28-3302 reinforce this understanding.
Had the D.C. Council intended to set an interest rate on
judgments against government officials at 4%-no more no
less-the Council could have stated, as it did in subsection
(a), that the rate "is" 4%, or stated, as it did in
subsection (c), that the rate "shall be"
Instead, the D.C. Council instructed in § 28-3302 (b)
that the interest imposed against government officials
"is at the rate of not exceeding 4% per annum," and
we are bound to adhere to that language absent a compelling
reason to the contrary.
legislative history does not provide such a reason. Section
28-3302 (b) originated from a subsection of an 1890
appropriations Act of Congress addressing payments of
judgments against the District of Columbia, which provided
"[t]hat hereafter interest, when authorized by law, on
judgments against the District, in suits begun after the
passage of this act, shall be at the rate of not exceeding
four per centum per annum." Act of Sept. 30, 1890, ch.
1126, 26 Stat. 504, 514. In 1901, Congress established a code
of law for the District, which, among other things, enacted
the rate of interest to be allowed in judgments, setting it
at 6%. See Act of Mar. 3, 1901, ch. 854 § 1178,
31 Stat. 1377. The following year, Congress clarified that
its 1901 codification of a rate of interest in the District
"shall not be construed to amend, alter or repeal the
rate of interest fixed at four per centum per annum on
judgments against [the District] by the Act approved
September [30, 1890]." Act of July 1, 1902 ch. 1352, 32
Stat. 590, 610.
Taylor's view, this characterization of the 1890 act as
having "fixed" the interest rate at 4% demonstrates
that Congress agreed the interest rate on judgments against
the District was required to be 4%. Based on the plainness of
the "not exceeding" language and the lack of any
indication that Congress perceived itself as clarifying an
ambiguity in the 1890 act, however, we agree with the
government that the language from the 1902 act did not intend
to dramatically alter its meaning but simply described the
prior law imprecisely. The subsequent history of the law
supports this. In 1964, Congress enacted D.C. Code §
28-3302, which provided that "[i]nterest, when
authorized by law, on judgments against the District of
Columbia, is at the rate of not exceeding [4%] per
annum." Act of Aug. 30, 1964, Pub. L. No. 88-509, 78
Stat. 667, 675. In the committee reports Congress indicated
that this codification was "not intended to make any
substantive change in existing law." H.R. Rep. No.
88-1556 at 2, 11 (1964); S. Rep. No. 88-1323 at 2, 10 (1964).
And despite subsequent amendments to §
28-3302 by the D.C. Council, the Council has
maintained the "not exceeding" language and done
nothing to resurrect the counterintuitive notion suggested by
Congress's 1902 interpretation that an interest rate
"not exceeding" 4% is a rate that is or shall be 4%
and no less. Even if we accepted Ms. Taylor's
understanding of the 1902 act, we are not persuaded that a
legislative statement made decades prior to the most recently
amended language by a different legislative body from the one
that passed the current law can thwart the plain language of
this unambiguously worded statute. See, e.g.,
Tippett, 10 A.3d at 1131; United States Parole
Comm'n v. Noble, 693 A.2d 1084, 1103 (D.C. 1997).
Taylor highlights our case law in contending that the statute
should be interpreted as a fixed rate and not a cap. But our
case law does not necessitate this conclusion. In Burke
v. Groover, Christie & Merritt, P.C., 26 A.3d 292
(D.C. 2011), which addressed whether the rate of
post-judgment interest under § 28-3302 (c) was variable
or fixed, we held that it was "not fixed as of the date
of judgment but continues to fluctuate with the market during
the period between entry of judgment and satisfaction of the
judgment." Id. at 300. In reaching this
conclusion, we found it "significant that judgments
against the government are set at a fixed rate, while at the
same time, 'where the judgment or decree is not against
the District of Columbia' . . . the rate of interest is
variable." Id. at 297 (quoting § 28-3302
on the words "fixed rate," Ms. Taylor argues that
in Burke, we specifically held that the interest
rate on judgments against the District must be set at 4%. As
the District notes, however, this line in Burke may
be read to say either that the rate on judgments is
"fixed" at 4% or that it is "fixed" at
the time of judgment. Given the court's focus upon the
fluctuation in interest rates on judgments against private
parties under § 28-3302 (c) between the time such
judgments are entered and the time they are satisfied, the
better reading of the line Ms. Taylor emphasizes is that the
rate of interest against the District under § 28-3302
(b)-in contrast to § 28-3302 (c)-is "fixed" at
the time of entry and therefore does not fluctuate before
satisfaction of judgment. See also District of Columbia
Office of Human Rights v. District of Columbia Dep't of
Corr., 40 A.3d 917, 929 n.11 (D.C. 2012) (citing to
Burke and referring to the 4% rate under §
28-3302 (b) as a "cap").
trial court in this case granted Ms. Taylor's request for
interest at 4% per year, but it was not clear whether, in
doing so, the court interpreted § 28-3302 (b) as a cap
or as a fixed rate. We therefore remand to allow the court to
explain how it arrived, in its discretion, at the rate of 4%
or, if it viewed itself as having no discretion, to ...