EASTERLY, Associate Judge:
For almost as long as it has had a statutory obligation to provide shelter to the homeless, the District has been prohibited from placing homeless families in congregate shelters. This prohibition, dating back to 1988, is premised on an understanding that families have special needs that are best served by affording them apartment-style shelter — i.e., housing units
This case arises from an attempt by homeless families to hold the District to its undisputed legal obligations, after the Department of Human Services (DHS), in the winter of 2013-2014, began housing families in partitioned spaces within communal recreation centers. Concerned, among other things, about safety, privacy, and hygiene, a group of families sued on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated. They sought and obtained preliminary injunctive relief requiring the District to, inter alia, place them in apartment-style or private room shelter "on any night in which the actual or forecasted temperature, including the wind chill factor, falls below 32 degrees Fahrenheit." The District now appeals.
The District's primary argument is that the trial court should not have issued a preliminary injunction because the plaintiff families are unlikely to succeed on the merits. The District does not dispute that it has a statutory obligation to place homeless families in apartment-style or private room shelter. Instead, the District argues only that the plaintiff families have no right under D.C Code § 4-755.01(a) (2012 Repl.) to sue the District to enforce the law.
The District acknowledges that, with the passage of the HSRA, the Council of the District of Columbia created an entitlement to, and thereby authorized a private right of action to enforce, "shelter in severe weather conditions."
Reviewing the relevant provisions of the HSRA de novo, we disagree with the District's interpretation of the statute. Preliminarily, we disagree that the meaning of the entitlement-to-sue provision plainly precluded the homeless families' suit. Moreover, from our review of the statute as a whole and its legislative history, we conclude that the plaintiff families were empowered to sue in severe weather for the full measure of the statutory protections afforded them — protections which are an integral part of the Council's continuing effort to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of homeless families in the District. Accordingly, the plaintiff families have demonstrated the requisite likelihood of success on the merits.
We are unpersuaded by the District's additional attacks on the Superior Court's decision to issue a preliminary injunction in this case. We discern no error in the Superior Court's adherence to our four-factor test for the issuance of a preliminary injunction and refusal to consider the District's purported inability to comply with the sought-after injunction. We see no abuse of discretion in the trial court's admission of expert testimony or error in its assessment of the sufficiency of the evidence of irreparable harm. Thus, we affirm.
I. Facts and Procedural History
Each year, the District of Columbia's Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) is required to develop the annual Winter Plan.
During the winter of 2011-2012, DHS placed approximately 560 families in shelter. During the following winter of 2012-2013, there was a twenty-percent drop in placements and DHS placed only 463 families in shelter. Based on the 2012-2013 data, some ICH members argued that the ICH should plan for even fewer than 463 family placements in the winter of 2013-2014. DHS and others opposed this reduction and advocated for a 10% increase, for a total of 509 projected placements. The number endorsed by DHS was incorporated into the ICH's approved Winter Plan for 2013-2014.
The ICH did not accurately anticipate the need for shelter for families during the winter of 2013-2014. By November 1, 2013, all of the District's 121 apartment-style shelters were occupied.
The District had informal arrangements with approximately six to eight hotels to accept family placements. But it had not negotiated any sort of written agreement for the District to rent "a certain number of rooms or to make any number of rooms available," and these hotels did not provide enough rooms to meet the District's needs. The District attempted to identify other family placements by having a staff member make daily telephone calls to hotels identified though "a lead" or a search "through the yellow pages or Google." When this strategy proved insufficient and demand for shelter did not abate, DHS opened the Benning Park Recreation Center and the King Greenleaf Recreation Center to accommodate additional homeless families.
At the recreation centers, homeless families with minor children slept on cots in "auditoriums or gyms." Initially, families were separated from strangers only by portable Red Cross partitions made of flimsy material and which had gaps at the corners, providing little privacy. The District later supplemented the Red Cross partitions with sturdier partitions that were taller and had fewer gaps.
Several homeless families who were placed at the recreation centers during hypothermic weather conditions filed suit in February 2014, seeking a declaration that the District had violated the HSRA by placing them in congregate shelters, and an award of damages. On the same day they filed their complaint, the plaintiff families filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and a motion for a preliminary injunction preventing the District from placing families in "communal rooms, separated only by portable partitions without a door," and ordering the District to "[p]lace eligible homeless families in an apartment-style shelter, or, if none are available, in a private room." The Superior Court, Judge Tignor presiding, issued a TRO, reasoning that "the entitlement to shelter includes entitlement to the type of shelter prescribed in § 4-753.01(d)," the apartment-style shelter or private room requirement for homeless families.
Shortly thereafter, the Superior Court, Judge Okun presiding, held a hearing on the plaintiff families' motion for a preliminary injunction.
Regarding the likelihood of success on the merits, the Superior Court analyzed the HSRA
II. Standard of Review
Where the trial court has issued a preliminary injunction, this court's review is circumscribed. We defer to the trial court's findings of fact so long as they are sufficiently supported by the record, and having confirmed that the trial court's "analysis reflects a resolution of all the issues which necessarily underlie the issuance of an injunction," we leave the decision to grant or deny preliminary injunctive relief to the sound discretion of the trial court. See District of Columbia v. Group Ins. Admin., 633 A.2d 2, 22 (D.C. 1993) (quoting Wieck, 350 A.2d at 387). In general, "our role ... is not to resolve the merits of the underlying dispute between the litigants." Group Ins. Admin., 633 A.2d at 22. This general rule is subject to an exception: where "the action of the trial court turns on a question of law or statutory interpretation." Id. As to those questions, our review is de novo. See District of Columbia v. Sierra Club, 670 A.2d 354, 361 (D.C.1996); District Unemp't Comp. Bd. v. Sec. Storage Co. of Wash., 365 A.2d 785, 787 (D.C.1976).
The District has challenged the Superior Court's order granting the plaintiff families an injunction on three grounds. First,
A. Likelihood of Success on the Merits.
Whether the plaintiff families are likely to succeed on the merits does not turn on an assessment of the District's legal obligations. The District does not dispute that it is statutorily required to provide homeless families with apartment-style shelter or private rooms at all times, including in hypothermic conditions.
1. Textual Analysis
"The primary and general rule of statutory construction is that the intent of the lawmaker is to be found in the language that he has used." Peoples Drug Stores, Inc. v. District of Columbia, 470 A.2d 751, 753 (D.C.1983) (en banc). Thus, we begin our analysis by "look[ing] at the language of the statute by itself to see if the language is plain and admits of no more than one meaning." Id. The first obviously relevant section of the HSRA is D.C.Code § 4-755.01(a), which addresses and restricts the entitlement to sue. It states that, "[n]o provision of this chapter shall be construed to create an entitlement (either direct or implied) on the part of any individual or family to any services within the Continuum of Care, other than shelter in severe weather conditions as authorized by § 4-754.11(5)." Section 4-754.11(5) (2012 Repl.) affirmatively states that "[c]lients served within the Continuum of Care shall have the right to ... shelter in severe weather conditions."
Having proceeded thus far with our examination of the HSRA, it is still unclear from the statute's plain language what sort of shelter homeless families are entitled to sue for in severe weather. The District, however, urges us to continue on to the definitions contained in the HSRA, D.C.Code § 4-751.01 (2012 Repl.), for "severe weather conditions" and "shelter," and there to end our analysis. Looking to those definitions, we see that "severe weather conditions" is defined as "the outdoor conditions whenever the actual or forecasted temperature, including the wind chill factor or heat index, falls below 32 degrees Fahrenheit or rises above 95 degrees Fahrenheit."
Tracing this narrow path through the statute, the District argues that, for homeless families, the entitlement to sue for severe weather shelter reduces to nothing more than an entitlement to sue to obtain shelter in "a public or private building" — four walls and a roof, nothing more. In other words, according to the District, the plain language entitlement to sue for severe weather shelter (i.e., shelter provided when it is either very hot or very cold outside) does not entitle a homeless family to sue for shelter that is either cooled or heated, as the case may be, to give respite from the severe weather. This makes no sense, and it would render the entitlement to sue an empty one. We decline to read the entitlement provision in this manner.
Reversing out of the District's analytic dead-end, we broaden our inquiry to examine the statute as a whole, pertinent case law, and the legislative history of the HSRA. As we have previously observed, "[s]tatutory interpretation is a holistic endeavor, and, at a minimum, must account for a statute's full text, language as well as punctuation, structure, and subject matter." Baltimore v. District of Columbia, 10 A.3d 1141, 1146 (D.C.2011). Moreover, not only is there "wisely no rule of law forbidding resort to explanatory legislative history no matter how clear the words may appear on superficial examination," id., where, as here, the literal words of some portion of the statute "would bring about a result completely at a variance with the purpose of the act," it is "proper" to consider the statute's legislative history. Dyer v. D.C. Dep't of Hous. & Cmty Dev., 452 A.2d 968, 969-70 (D.C.1982). Ultimately, "our task is to search for an interpretation that makes sense of the statute as a whole," and we "turn to legislative history to determine whether our interpretation is consistent with legislative intent." Cass v. District of Columbia, 829 A.2d 480, 482 (D.C.2003).
Beyond the statutory definitions cited by the District, there are other provisions of the HSRA that inform our analysis of the severe weather shelter entitlement to sue in D.C.Code § 4-755.01(a). As discussed above, § 4-755.01(a) references § 4-754.11(5), and that provision in turn guarantees severe weather shelter to "[c]lients served within the Continuum of Care." The Continuum of Care is defined as the "comprehensive range of services ... designed to meet the specific, assessed needs of individuals and families who are homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless." D.C.Code § 4-753.01(a) (2012 Repl.). Section 4-753.01(b) generally describes the services that the District "may" make available to eligible
Subsection (c) requires that the District "shall" provide severe weather shelter
This court has previously looked to the Continuum of Care provisions to assess the entitlement to sue under D.C.Code § 4-755.01(a). In Baltimore v. District of Columbia, this court considered whether a group of adult homeless men could sue to stop the District from closing the Franklin Shelter. 10 A.3d at 1147. We concluded that the plaintiffs did not have a right to sue to keep a particular shelter operational, and that the only entitlement to sue under the statute was to obtain severe weather shelter. But in so doing, we recognized that, "[b]ecause there are potential ambiguities in the sections of the HSRA which pertain to services for the homeless, we must construe several provisions together... and reconcile them in order to determine what, if any, services mentioned in the HSRA constitute statutory entitlements." Id. at 1151.
Accordingly, the court in Baltimore looked not just to the entitlement-to-sue provision in D.C.Code § 4-755.01(a), but also to the mandatory Continuum of Care provision in D.C.Code § 4-753.01(c). We explained that, for the plaintiffs in that case, adult homeless men, "there is one clear statutory entitlement embodied in § 4-753.01(c), and that is the right to `appropriate space in District of Columbia public or private buildings and facilities' for a homeless person `who cannot access other shelter'" in severe weather. 10 A.3d at 1150.
This court's determination in Baltimore that the entitlement to sue under § 4-755.01(a) is "embodied" in part in
Moreover, because all the District's homeless residents have an entitlement to sue under § 4-755.01 (a) to ensure that they are provided severe weather shelter in "appropriate space" as required under § 4-753.01(c), it rationally follows that homeless families seeking severe weather shelter have an entitlement to sue to ensure they are given apartment-style or private room shelter as required under § 4-753.01 (d). Simply put, the Council has determined that such shelter is the only "appropriate space" for families.
In an effort to disprove that the Council meant to create an entitlement for homeless families to sue for apartment-style or private room shelter in severe weather, the District calls our attention to other sections of HSRA.
The District also calls our attention to the standards for providers of severe weather shelter set forth in § 4-754.22, noting that these standards require the provision of many things — properly functioning heating and cooling systems, functioning toilets, beds with clean linens — but not apartment-style shelter. That § 4-754.22 does not include apartment-style shelter as a standard is unsurprising, since
2. Legislative History
The legislative history of the HSRA and its recent amendment in 2010 provide additional support for our understanding that the entitlement to sue for severe weather shelter under § 4-755.01 (a) tracks the District's obligation to provide homeless families with apartment-style shelter under § 4-753.01(d).
First, the District's obligation to provide homeless families with apartment-style shelter, reaffirmed in the HSRA, must be placed in historical context. At the time the HSRA was enacted, this obligation was neither new nor disputed. Indeed it had been in place since 1988 and was born of the District's failure to provide adequate shelter to families in hypothermia season, the time when District faces the greatest demand for shelter for the homeless.
In December of 1986, the number of homeless families seeking emergency shelter skyrocketed, increasing by "roughly 500 percent."
Thus, by making the obligation of the District to provide families with apartment-style shelter, a mandatory Continuum of Care provision, the HSRA merely reaffirmed a pre-existing, well-considered obligation.
More particularly, to the extent the entitlement-to-sue provision was debated, the discussion focused on whether it created a right to shelter on demand. The Committee on Human Services refuted that notion, and we take particular note of what the Committee said and of what it did not say. The Committee did not assuage the District's fears by explaining that all the entitlement-to-sue provision did was to authorize a private right of action to obtain some sort of minimal, box-type shelter in severe weather conditions (thereby providing support for the District's current litigation position). Instead, the final Committee report explains that the concern that the HSRA "will create an entitlement and trigger unforeseeable cost through mandating the creation of new programs" was "unwarranted," because the District already had an obligation to provide shelter in severe weather, which the Committee recognized the District was attempting to fulfill.
That the entitlement-to-sue in severe weather tracks the District's legal obligation to provide homeless families with the shelter required by statute is also supported by the legislative history to the 2010 amendments to the HSRA. Once again, the District faced a crisis in providing shelter to homeless families. Having exhausted its supply of apartment-style shelter, the District sought out other options.
Councilmember Wells, the Chair of the Committee on Human Services, acknowledged that the District's failure to place homeless families in apartment-style shelter
Against this historical backdrop, and particularly in light of the legislative history of the "private room" provision, we are further persuaded that, for homeless families, the apartment-style shelter requirement is part of the enforceable entitlement to severe weather shelter.
* * *
In light of the text of the statute, our analysis in Baltimore, and the legislative history of the HSRA, we hold that the enforceable entitlement to severe weather shelter, set out in D.C.Code § 4-755.01(a), includes, for homeless families, the right to sue to obtain apartment-style shelter, or private rooms if no apartment-style shelters are available. The District did not place the plaintiff families and other members of their class in apartment-style shelters or private rooms on the frigid nights in question here; instead, the District placed them in communal recreation centers with partitions. In so doing, the District violated the HSRA, and we therefore agree with the Superior Court that the plaintiff families have demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits.
B. Impossibility of Compliance
The District additionally argues that the trial court abused its discretion in granting the plaintiff families injunctive relief by failing to consider the District's argument that it would be unable to comply with the requested injunction if granted. The District presses this court to recognize "impossibility" as a "highly relevant, if not a required consideration in [a] court's decision to grant" preliminary injunctive relief. We decline this invitation.
The four-factor test for the issuance of an injunction is well-established in this jurisdiction. See Wieck, 350 A.2d at 387. See also In re Estate of Reilly, 933 A.2d 830, 834 (D.C.2007); Zirkle v. District of Columbia, 830 A.2d 1250, 1255-56 (D.C.2003); Sierra Club, 670 A.2d at 361; Fountain v. Kelly, 630 A.2d 684, 688 (D.C. 1993); Wisc. Ave. Assocs., Inc. v. 2720 Wisc. Ave. Coop. Ass'n, Inc., 385 A.2d 20, 23 n. 3 (D.C.1978). Although a court must take into account the balance of the equities and whether the issuance of a preliminary injunction would disserve the public interest, there is no requirement that a court separately consider assertions of an inability to comply with the requested injunction.
The assortment of decisions from other state appellate courts to which the District cites rest on distinctive facts that do not support its argument for the addition of an impossibility requirement as a universal consideration in granting injunctive relief. Likewise, the one federal case to which the District cites, Cobell v. Norton, 428 F.3d 1070 (D.C.Cir.2005), is clearly exceptional. In Cobell, the government established that the cost of complying with the injunction would be so exorbitant (in the billions of dollars) that even the plaintiffs agreed that
At any rate, the facts presented by the District simply did not come close to proving that it would be "impossible" for the District to comply with the trial court's order. To begin with, the District presented no evidence of its efforts to increase its stock of apartment-style housing. Apartment-style housing is the statutorily preferred placement for homeless families; only if it is not available may the District place families in private rooms. See D.C.Code § 4-753.01(d)(2). Regarding placement in private rooms, the District presented some testimony about its efforts to locate hotel rooms for families in need of severe weather shelter. This testimony revealed that the District had no Memoranda of Understanding with any hotels, and that it had one staff person following "lead[s]" of unknown provenance, placing phone calls, and conducting Google searches on a daily basis to identify available hotel rooms. While this testimony demonstrates that the District was not inactive, it does not come close to establishing that it would be impossible for the District to comply with the sought-after injunction.
C. Likelihood of irreparable harm
Lastly, the District challenges the trial court's ruling that the plaintiff families made a substantial showing of a likelihood of irreparable harm. The District has preserved two arguments on this issue: (1) the expert testimony presented by the plaintiff families should have been excluded, and (2) the evidence of irreparable harm was insufficient.
1. The admission of expert testimony
The District argues that the Superior Court abused its discretion in admitting the testimony of Danielle Rothman, whom the court certified as an expert in child psychology with an emphasis on at risk and homeless youth. Specifically, the District asserts that Ms. Rothman was "not qualified to render an expert opinion in this case," because she "was not a licensed psychologist, nor a member of any professional psychological organization," had not interviewed anyone who had stayed at the recreation centers or observed anyone staying in a recreation center, and had based her opinion testimony "solely on the adult plaintiff's in-court testimony."
Here, the expert witness possessed a master's degree in psychology, and was close to finishing a doctorate in clinical psychology, with a focus on child psychotherapy and child psychological assessment. She had experience doing clinical work (albeit supervised) with at-risk children through shelters in Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C., including at the D.C. General Shelter and the Reginald S. Lourie Center for Infants and Young Children We discern no abuse in the Superior Court's determination that Ms. Rothman, by virtue of her training, was sufficiently qualified to testify as an expert in this case.
Moreover, there was no requirement that Ms. Rothman have toured the District of Columbia shelters or interviewed witnesses in order to testify as an expert. We do not require that expert witnesses have relied on any particular source of facts or data in reaching their conclusions; rather, "the critical inquiry" is whether the facts or data relied on are "of a type on which experts in their profession reasonably rely." In re Melton, 597 A.2d 892, 901 (D.C.1991); see Jones, 990 A.2d at 979 (expert witness need not have interviewed specific victims of alleged harm in order to testify to the potential consequences of the harm). Obtaining knowledge of the particular facts of a case from in court testimony (or hypotheticals based on in court-testimony) is a standard practice. See, e.g., Sanchez v. District of Columbia, No. 13-CT-128, 2014 WL 5737408 (D.C. Nov. 6, 2014) ("[T]he presence in the courtroom of an expert witness who does not testify to the facts ... will in most cases be beneficial, for he will be more likely to base his expert opinion on a more accurate understanding of the testimony as it evolves before the jury.") (quoting Morvant v. Constr. Aggregates Corp., 570 F.2d 626, 629-30 (6th Cir.1978)).
On this record, we find no basis to conclude that the Superior Court abused its discretion in certifying Ms. Rothman as an expert and admitting her testimony.
2. The sufficiency of the evidence of the likelihood of irreparable harm.
The District maintains that, even with Ms. Rothman's testimony, the trial judge abused his discretion by issuing the preliminary injunction because the evidence was insufficient to establish a likelihood of irreparable harm. The Superior Court was required to consider whether the plaintiff families demonstrated that they were "in danger of suffering irreparable harm during the pendency of the action" if the injunction was not granted. See District Unemp't Comp. Bd., 365 A.2d
In concluding that the plaintiff families faced a danger of irreparable harm, the Superior Court considered "powerful and compelling" testimony, which it credited, from individuals who had been housed at the recreation centers about the conditions there. The court also considered Ms. Rothman's expert testimony about the potential long-term adverse effects of those conditions on children. This evidence provided substantial support for his ruling. Moreover, in reviewing the court's assessment of irreparable harm in this case, we cannot ignore the HSRA's undisputed requirement that families be placed in apartment-style shelter or if unavailable private rooms. This requirement was a direct legislative response to the demonstrated harms that occur when families are housed in congregate shelters.
For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.