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Price v. District of Columbia Board of Ethics

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

July 25, 2019

Gerren Price, Petitioner,
v.
District of Columbia Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, Respondent.

          Submitted October 24, 2018

          On Petition for Review of an Order of the District of Columbia Board of Ethics and Government Accountability (1426-001)

          Erik J. Williams was on the brief for petitioner.

          Karl A. Racine, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Loren L. AliKhan, Solicitor General, Stacy L. Anderson, Acting Deputy Solicitor General, and Jason Lederstein, Assistant Attorney General, were on the brief, for respondent.

          Before Fisher and Easterly, Associate Judges, and Washington, Senior Judge.

          OPINION

          WASHINGTON JUDGE

         Before us is a petition for review of a final decision by the District of Columbia Board of Ethics and Government Accountability ("Ethics Board"), filed by Gerren Price. Price was found to have violated two sections of the District of Columbia Code of Conduct, 6-B DCMR §§ 1806.3 and 1806.6 (2014). Having concluded that the referenced petition was improperly filed in this court, we dismiss this petition for lack of jurisdiction. However, because the proper forum for review of his petition was unclear at the time of the filing, Price will have twenty days from the issuance date of this opinion to file a petition for review in the Superior Court.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         This case stems from Price's role in the hiring of his sister-in-law as a Case Management Specialist for the District of Columbia's Summer Youth Employment Program in June 2015, while Price was Deputy Director of the Youth Workforce Development Department of the Office of Youth Programs for the Department of Employment Services. On November 29, 2016, following an evidentiary hearing, the Ethics Board found that Price violated the District's Code of Conduct §§ 1806.3 and 1806.6 by advancing his sister-in-law's resume and by failing to file a written recusal after becoming aware that she applied for the position. Because we do not reach the merits of this case, we dispense with a detailed examination of the facts. The Ethics Board ordered Price to pay a civil penalty of $1, 500 for each violation, totaling $3, 000, and to pay $26, 182.10 in restitution to the District for violating § 1806.3. Price appealed the Ethics Board decision to this court, although D.C. Code § 1-1162.17 (2012 Repl.) provides that Ethics Board decisions shall be appealed to the Superior Court. Citing to past Superior Court decisions, Price contends that § 1-1162.17 is invalid because it violates the Home Rule Act, D.C. Code § 1-206.02(a)(4) (2012 Repl.), and this court has direct review jurisdiction under the District of Columbia Administrative Procedure Act, D.C. Code § 2-510(a) (2012 Repl.).

         II. Discussion

         The primary question before us is whether we have direct review jurisdiction over an Ethics Board contested case. This is an issue of first impression for this court, and the answer to this question turns largely on the interplay among provisions of three statutes: (1) the District of Columbia Administrative Procedure Act of 1968 ("DCAPA"), which vests this court with exclusive jurisdiction to review an agency's decision in a contested case, D.C. Code § 2-510(a) (2012 Repl.); (2) the Home Rule Act of 1973, which provides that the D.C. Council "shall have no authority" to enact laws "with respect to any provision of Title 11 (relating to organization and jurisdiction of the District of Columbia courts)," D.C. Code § 1-206.02(a)(4) (2012 Repl.); and (3) the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability Establishment and Comprehensive Ethics Reform Amendment Act of 2011 ("Ethics Act"), which provides that Ethics Board decisions shall be appealed to the Superior Court, D.C. Code § 1-1162.17 (2012 Repl.). As a question of law involving statutory construction, our review is de novo. District of Columbia Pub. Schs. v. District of Columbia Dep't of Emp't Servs., 123 A.3d 947, 949 (D.C. 2015).

         1. Statutory Background

         In 1968, Congress enacted the DCAPA, Pub. L. No. 90-614, 82 Stat. 1203 (1968) (codified as amended at D.C. Code § 2-501.01 et seq. (2012 Repl.)), to prescribe administrative procedures for the District of Columbia government. The DCAPA provides that generally "[a]ny person suffering a legal wrong, or adversely affected or aggrieved, by an order or decision of . . . an agency in a contested case, is entitled to a judicial review . . . upon filing in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals a written petition for review." D.C. Code § 2-510(a). It is well established that this provision vests the Court of Appeals with exclusive jurisdiction to hear an agency "contested case," and the Superior Court may not maintain concurrent jurisdiction. Euclid St., LLC v. District of Columbia Water & Sewer Auth., 41 A.3d 453, 457 (D.C. 2012). The DCAPA defines "contested case" as "a proceeding before the Mayor or any agency in which the legal rights, duties, or privileges of specific parties are required by any law . . . or by constitutional right, to be determined after a hearing before the Mayor or before an agency." D.C. Code § 2-502(8) (2012 Repl.). We have held that a "contested case" refers to a "trial-type hearing" that is "adjudicatory" and "is concerned basically with weighing particular information and arriving at a decision directed at the rights of specific parties." Euclid St., 41 A.3d at 458 (citation omitted).

         In 1973, Congress enacted the Home Rule Act, Pub. L. No. 93-198, 87 Stat. 774 (1973) (codified as amended at D.C. Code § 1-201.01 et seq. (2012 Repl.)), to give the D.C. Council "broad authority to legislate upon all rightful subjects of legislation within the District." Woodroof v. Cunningham, 147 A.3d 777, 782 (D.C. 2016) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). However, Congress also limited the Council's ability to legislate on certain subjects, including the jurisdiction of the D.C. courts. Id. at 782-83. The Home Rule Act, as amended, provides: "The Council shall have no authority to . . . [e]nact any act, resolution, or rule ...


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