September 18, 2019
Certification from the Superior Court of the District of
Columbia (CMD-3451-19), (Hon. Patricia A. Broderick, Trial
Mitchell Schwartz for defendant Settles.
Park, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Jessie K.
Liu, United States Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman and
Jeffrey A. Wojcik, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on
the brief, for the United States.
Martorana, Assistant Attorney General, with whom Karl A.
Racine, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Loren
L. AliKhan, Solicitor General, and Rosalyn Calbert Groce,
Deputy Solicitor General, were on the brief for the District
Easterly and McLeese, Associate Judges, and Okun, Associate
Judge of the Superior Court of the District of
United States Attorney for the District of Columbia charged
defendant Nicco Settles with violating a D.C. Code provision
prohibiting unauthorized disposal of solid waste. D.C. Code §
8-902(a) (2013 Repl.). Mr. Settles argues that he can be
prosecuted for that offense only by the Office of the
Attorney General (OAG) on behalf of the District of Columbia.
The United States and the District of Columbia both take the
position that the offense is properly prosecuted by the
United States. The trial court properly certified that issue
to this court. D.C. Code § 23-101(f) (2012 Repl.). This court
must "hear and determine the question in a summary
way." Id. We conclude that the offense is
properly prosecuted by the District of Columbia.
over a hundred years, the authority to conduct criminal
prosecutions in the District of Columbia has been divided
between the United States and the local government of the
District of Columbia. In re Crawley, 978 A.2d 608,
610 (D.C. 2009) (citing An Act To establish a code of law for
the District of Columbia, ch. 854, § 932, 31 Stat. 1189,
1340-41 (1901)). The boundaries of that division are
established by D.C. Code § 23-101. Id. That section
has a number of provisions allocating prosecutorial authority
between the United States and the District of Columbia.
Id. This case requires us to focus primarily on one:
a provision that grants the District of Columbia authority to
prosecute violations of "police or municipal ordinances
or regulations." D.C. Code § 23-101(a).
provision under which Mr. Settles has been charged, D.C. Code
§ 8-902(a), was originally enacted by the Council of the
District of Columbia in 1994. Illegal Dumping Enforcement Act
of 1994, D.C. Law 10-117, § 3, 41 D.C. Reg. 524, 525 (1994).
In its current form, § 8-902(a) reads as follows:
It shall be unlawful for any person to dispose or cause or
permit the disposal of solid waste, hazardous waste, or
medical waste in or upon any street, lot, park, public place,
or any other public or private area, whether or not for a
commercial purpose, unless the site is authorized for the
disposal of solid waste, hazardous waste[,] or medical waste
by the Mayor.
of § 8-902 for a commercial purpose or involving knowing
disposal of hazardous or medical waste are felonies carrying
a maximum penalty of a fine of $40,000 and imprisonment for
five years. D.C. Code § 8-902(b)(2)-(4). All of the
participants in this case agree that such felony prosecutions
must be brought by the United States. See, e.g.,
In re Crawley, 978 A.2d at 614 (discussing statement
in legislative history of Congresss 1970 amendments to D.C.
Code § 23-101 that "the United States Attorney would
continue to prosecute all felonies and the more serious
misdemeanors") (internal quotation marks omitted).
Settles has not been charged with committing the offense for
a commercial purpose or with knowingly disposing hazardous or
medical waste, however, and it appears to be undisputed that
this would be Mr. Settless first violation of § 8-902. The
offense charged in this case therefore is a misdemeanor
carrying a maximum penalty of a fine of $5,000 and
imprisonment for ninety days.
D.C. Code § 8-902(b)(2). Our holding in this case is limited
to such violations.
Whether this misdemeanor prosecution is for a violation of a
police or municipal ordinance or regulation within the
meaning of § 23-101(a) is a question of statutory
interpretation. We decide that question de novo. Williams
v. Kennedy, 211 A.3d 1108, 1110 (D.C. 2019). "The
first step in construing a statute is to read the language of
the statute and construe its words according to their
ordinary sense and plain meaning." Chase Plaza
Condo. Assn v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., 98 A.3d 166,
172 (D.C. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). We
interpret statutory language in light of the historical
context in which the statute was enacted. See, e.g.,
Perrin v. United States, 444 U.S. 37, 42, 100 S.Ct.
311, 62 L.Ed.2d 199 (1979) (in interpreting statutory term,
Court looks to meaning of term at time statute was enacted).
"We also consider statutory context and structure,
evident legislative purpose, and the potential consequences
of adopting a given interpretation." Williams,
211 A.3d at 1110. "We may also look to the legislative
history to ensure that our interpretation is consistent with
legislative intent." Id. (internal quotation
marks omitted). In interpreting a statute, we are bound by
the holdings of our prior decisions interpreting the statute.
Doe by Fein v. District of Columbia, 697 A.2d 23,
30-31 (D.C. 1997).
A. Ordinary Meaning
first to the ordinary meaning of the phrase "police or
municipal ordinances or regulations." To a modern ear,
"police" most immediately suggests law-enforcement
officers. See, e.g., Blacks Law Dictionary
1344 (10th ed. 2004) (defining "police" to mean
"1. The governmental department charged with the
preservation of public order, the promotion of public safety,
and the prevention and detection of crime. 2. The officers or
members of this department."). "Police" can
have a far broader scope, however. For example, in phrases
such as "police power" it can refer to "[t]he
inherent and plenary power of a sovereign to make all laws
necessary and proper to preserve the public security, order,
health, morality, and justice." See, e.g.,
id. at 1345. "Municipal" is generally
understood to mean "[o]f, relating to, or involving a
city, town, or local government unit." See,
e.g., id. at 1175. "Ordinance" is
defined as "[a]n authoritative law or decree; specif., a
municipal regulation, esp. one that forbids or restricts an
activity. • Municipal governments can pass ordinances on
matters that the state government allows to be regulated at
the local level." See, e.g., id. at
1273. Finally, "regulation" nowadays naturally
brings to mind rules promulgated by administrative agencies.
See, e.g., id. at 1475 (defining
"regulation" to mean, inter alia, "[a]n
official rule or order, having legal force, usu. issued by an
administrative agency"). Nevertheless, the term is in
some contexts understood to include legislative enactments.
See, e.g., D.C. Code § 47-802(6) (2015 Repl.)