District of Columbia

District of Columbia in the United States

Executive Branch – Administrative Code and Regulations

D.C. Code of Municipal Regulations: The regulations promulgated by D.C. administrative agencies are codified in the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations, commonly known as the “DCMR.” (Note: The DCMR also contains selected laws enacted by the D.C. Council.)

The D.C. Office of Documents and Administrative Issuances published the official DCMR in print until the end of 2009, after which only a few copies where produced for historical purposed. As of 2010, the official DCMR is the free online edition. Caution:The official DCMR is generally not updated promptly.

Lexis publishes an unofficial edition (formerly published by Weil’s Codes) called theCode of D.C. Municipal Regulations, which is usually within a month or two of being current. You can search the Lexis/Weil’s Code on Lexis (DC;DCADMIN). You can search the official code, updated by West, on Westlaw (DC-MR). The DCMR is also searchable on Loislaw.

Index: The official edition of the DCMR does not have an index. Instead, you can use the index in the Lexis/Weil’s edition, the index in the DCMR Deskbook (R.T. Associates), or you can search an electronic edition of the DCMR.

Historical Editions: Westlaw has historical editions of the DCMR back to 2002 (e.g., DC-MR02 for 2002).

Proposed and Final Regulations: Proposed Regulations (other than Emergency Regulations) and all Final Regulations are published in the District of Columbia Register. The Office of the Secretary posts the Register online free from April 2003 to the present. Note: General distribution of the print Register stopped at the end of 2009, though a few copies were still being published for archival purposes.

Most of the regulations in the Register are available from 1998 on Lexis (DC;DCRGST) and from 1999 on Westlaw (DC-ADR). You can get copies from older issues from the LA County Law Library’s document delivery service, or call one of the D.C.-area law school libraries. Subscribers can get issues back to volume 35 (1986) from the Digital Session Laws collection on HeinOnline.

The Register is discussed further near the end of the “District of Columbia – Legislative Branch” entry.

Regulatory History: If you need additional background on a regulation, search theDistrict of Columbia Register or call the relevant agency to see if any regulatory history materials are available. You might also want to search a D.C. news database to see if the matter was covered in the press.

Commissioner’s Orders: When D.C. was governed by Commissioners, regulations were issued as “Commissioner’s Orders.” Commissioner’s Orders were published in the District of Columbia Register from July 1954, when the Register began publication, until 1969, when the Commissioners were replaced by the Mayor and City Council. According to the History of the Office of Documents, “to determine what the non-statutory law in the District was before 1954, it is most often necessary to engage in a difficult and very tedious search of the minutes of the meetings of the Commissioners, which are stored at the National Archives.”

D.C. Rules and Regulations (DCRR): The DCRR was an early, incomplete attempt to codify D.C. regulations in the mid-1970s. Each title was published separately as a “special edition” of the D.C. Register. According to the D.C. Administrative Procedure Act, regulations not included in the DCRR were not valid, but I have read that this rule was not always followed.

Executive Branch – Agencies, Offices and Services

The District of Columbia’s Directory of Agencies and Services provides contact information and links to agency web sites. Links to D.C. government web sites are also available through FindLaw. More contact information for D.C. government personnel is available in the State Yellow Book (Leadership Directories).

Banking: Banking is regulated by the Banking Bureau of the Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking (DISB).

Mayor’s Office: The main number for the Mayor’s office is 202-727-2980, more contact information is available on the Mayor’s web site.

Select administrative rules issued by the Mayor are published in the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations (DCMR), discussed in the companion entry, “District of Columbia – Executive Branch – Administrative Code and Regulations.”

Mayor’s Orders and Memoranda are available from October 2005 to the present on the Administrative Issuances page of the Office of the Secretary web site site. They are available from September 2009 to the present on the D.C. Municipal Regulations and D.C. Register site (scroll to the bottom of the home page).

For older documents and questions, contact the Office of Documents and Administrative Issuances (ODAI), a division of the Office of the Secretary (202-727-5090). The ODAI is responsible for publishing the Mayor’s Orders, Memoranda, Administrative Instructions and the D.C. Administrative Procedure Manual (as well as the DCMR and the D.C. Register).

Real Estate: The D.C. Recorder of Deeds (202-727-5374) keeps the D. C. Land Records. You can look up property owners, tax and sales data back to January 4, 1999 using the District’s Real Property Sales Database. For older records, use a commercial service such as Accurint, KnowX or Lexis. You can retrieve images of deeds an other land records back to January 1, 1973 using the DC Online Public Records. Deed images are also available from Westlaw.

Condominiums: Condominiums are required to file Public Offering Statements with the the Rental Coverage and Sale Division (202-442-9505) of the Department of Housing and Community Development under § 42-1904 of the D.C. Code. Note: I called the Division in August, 2010 and was told that the rules referenced in § 42-1904.07 have not been issued and the Division does not require an annual update report unless there is a change to the condominium documents.

Similarly, the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs is authorized to write regulations concerning a condominium’s warranty against structural defects under § 42-1904.07 of the D.C. Code. Regulations were proposed in 2002/3 and 2007 but did not become law. Legislation to enact the regulations was introduced in the City Council in 2006 and 2007 but not passed.

Secretary of State: For information about corporation, partnership and other business registrations, see the the “Business Entities” section of District of Columbia – Other Useful Information.

Judicial Branch

The D.C. judicial system is comprised of an appellate court, the D.C. Court of Appeals, and a trial court, the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Information about the D.C. judicial system is posted on the D.C. Courts web site. For questions, call the D.C. Courts at 202-879-1010.

Note: The “Supreme Court of the District of Columbia” was actually a Federal court created in 1863; it became the “District Court for the District of Columbia” in 1936 and finally the “United States District Court for the District of Columbia” in 1948.

Case Law – Appellate: There are three sources for precedential appellate decisions in the District of Columbia: the D.C. Court of Appeals (1962-Present), the former D.C. Municipal Court of Appeals (1942-1962), and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (for policy decisions decided prior to 1971).

Precedential D.C. Court of Appeals decisions are published in the Atlantic Reporterand the Maryland Reporter. Precedential D.C. Court of Appeals decisions are posted free back to 1998 by the D.C. Courts.

You can search for all precedential decisions on Lexis (DC;DCAPP) and Westlaw (DC-CS). You can also search deep databases of D.C. cases for free through Google Scholar or through subscription services such as Loislaw and Fastcase.

Memorandum Opinions and Judgments: The D.C. Court of Appeals issues non-precedential Memorandum Opinions and Judgments (MOJs). The D.C. Courts site posts monthly lists of MOJs issued since September 1999. Case summaries (and full text for selected cases) are published in the Daily Washington Law Reporter; you can order copies of cases by calling the paper at 202-331-1700. Otherwise, you can get opinions and other filings from the Court (civil – 202-879-1968; criminal – 202-878-1373).

Historical appellate case reporters: Older cases were published in the District of Columbia Reports under the names of the various editors. These editions are listed inThe Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation and discussed in Legal Research in The District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.

Case Law – Trial Court: Selected D.C. Superior Court opinions are published in theDaily Washington Law Reporter; subscribers can get opinions online, or you can order copies of cases by calling the paper’s Opinions on Demand service at 410.244.6688. The Reporter staff will help locate the case. Otherwise, you can get opinions and other filings from the Court (civil – 202-879-1968; criminal – 202-878-1373).

Court Rules: The D.C. Courts post both Appellate Court Rules and Superior Court Rules and Rule Promulgation Orders. The Rules are searchable on Lexis(DC;DCRULE) and Westlaw (DC-RULES). They are published in Lexis D.C. Rules Annotated and West’s District of Columbia Rules of Court (unannotated).

Docket Sheets D.C. Superior Court docket sheets for civil and criminal cases are available through the Court’s web site (free), Courtlink, CourtExpress and Westlaw(DOCK-DC-SUPERIOR). See also the separate entry for “Docket Sheets.”

Briefs & Other Filings: You can order documents for civil cases directly from the Superior Court by sending an email to CivilDocket@DCSC.GOV. For other branches of the Court, call 202-879-1010.

Lexis has databases for selected DC briefs and motions starting in 2000 (CRTFLS;DCMTBR). Westlaw has selected briefs from the DC Court of Appeals starting 2004 (DC-COA-BRIEF) and another for selected DC trial court pleadings and motions starting 1999 (DC-FILING). Courtlink has its own collection of court filings.

Alternatively, you can get copies of case filings by sending someone to the relevant clerk’s office (call 202-879-1010 for more information). See also the separate entries for “Briefs” and “Forms.”

Judicial Biographies: The Daily Washington Law Reporter posts judicial bios for D.C. Judges. See also the separate entry for “Judges.”

Jury Instructions: D.C. jury instructions are published in Standardized Civil Jury Instructions for the District of Columbia and Criminal Jury Instructions for the District of Columbia, both published by LexisNexis. Both books are available on Lexis.com(DC;JURCDC and DC;DCJICR, respectively).

Practice Manuals: The District of Columbia Practice Manual (D.C. Bar) has chapters covering Superior Court Civil Practice, Small Claims, Criminal Practice, Personal Injury, etc. Other resources include the Trial Handbook for District of Columbia Lawyers(West), Practitioner’s Handbook: Civil Practice in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (D.C. Bar) and Appellate Practice Manual for the District of Columbia Court of Appeals (D.C. Bar).

Trial Transcripts: To order trial transcripts, see the Court Reporting Division page of the D.C. Courts web site.

See also Briefs and Verdicts.

Legislative Branch

The District of Columbia was governed by the United States Congress from the creation of the city through 1973. In 1974, Congress passed the Home Rule Act, which delegated legislative authority to the Council of the District of Columbia, a legislative body elected by the citizens of the District (although Congress can and occasionally still does make laws for D.C. as well). For an introduction to the D.C. Legislative process, see How a Bill Becomes a Law, posted by the Council.

The D.C. Code: Most D.C. laws passed by the Council of the District of Columbia are codified in the District of Columbia Code. Laws passed for D.C. by Congress may be codified in the District of Columbia Code and/or the United States Code.

The D.C. Code is published by LexisNexis (official, as of 2013) and by Thomson/West (official prior to 2013, although Lexis was the official Code even before that). Both editions are annotated.

Lexis posts a free, unannotated edition of the current DC Code. Unannotated editions are also available on You can search unannotated editions on Westlaw (DC-ST)Fastcase, Bloomberg Law and Loislaw.

You can search the annotated editions of the D.C. Code on Westlaw (DC-ST-ANN) andLexis (DC;CODE).

Historical D.C. Codes: You can retrieve D.C. Code sections as they existed in prior years back to 1990 on Westlaw (DC-STMANNxx) and Lexis (DC;DCxxxx), or Fastcaseback to 2008. The DC Legislative Services Division (202-724-8050) has print editions of the DC Code from the 1950s at least into the 1980s. LLMC Digital has the District of Columbia Compiled States in force through the 50th Congress (1989) and the 1924District of Columbia Code. For information about historical compilations of D.C. statutes, including earlier editions of the D.C. Code, see Legal Research in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia and/or The District of Columbia Practice Manual.

To locate a Code section that was recodified (e.g. in the major recodification of 2001), use the Parallel Reference Tables in the “Tables” volume at the end of a Lexis or Westlaw Code set.

Bills and Bill Status: Bills and bills status from the 20th Council Period (2013/2014) to current are posted in the Council of the District of Columbia’s current Legislative Information System (LIMS). This is not intuitive. You have to change the pull-down menu from “All Legislation” to “Bill,” run your search, then click on “Introduction” for the bill text or the name of the bill for the bill status and other documents.

Bills and bill status from the 8th Council Period (1989/1990) to the 19th (2011/2012) are posted in the Council of the District of Columbia’s historical Legislative Information System (LIMS). Bills are also available from Lexis from 2003 (LEGIS;DCTEXT) andWestlaw from 2005 (DC-BILLTXT). A notice stating each bill is introduced is published in the District of Columbia Register (discussed below), but not the bill itself.

For questions and older bills, contact the D.C. Legislative Services Division (202-724-8050).

Acts: An Act is a bill enacted by the D.C. government, but not yet approved by the U.S. Congress. The citation for an act is the letter “A,” followed by the relevant Council Period and then the sequential number for the Period (e.g., A13-25 is the 25th Act passed in the 13th Council Period).

Acts passed from the 20th Council Period (2013/2014) to current are posted in thecurrent Legislative Information System(LIMS). All Acts passed during the 19th Council Period (2011/2012) and prior are posted on the Council of the District of Columbia’shistorical Legislative Information Management System (LIMS), which covers the 8th Council Period (1989/1990) to the 19th (2011/2012).

D.C. acts are also published in print in the Lexis District of Columbia Code: Advance Service, and on Lexis back to August 04, 1993 (DC;DCALS), as well as Thomson/West’s District of Columbia Session Law Service, available in print and electronically on and Westlaw (DC-BILLTXT for the current year; DC-LEGIS-OLD from1990 to the prior year). Acts are avaialble in Bloomberg Law from May 1999 to current.

Permanent Acts are published in the District of Columbia Register (discussed below).

For questions and older bills, contact the D.C. Legislative Services Division (202-724-8050).

Emergency Acts: If two thirds of the D.C. City Council vote that an Act should be passed on an emergency basis, the Act does not have to follow the regular legislative process and can take effect without the approval of Congress. Emergency Acts can be found in the sources listed for permanent Acts. There is a list of Emergency Acts in the Tables volume of the District of Columbia Code.

Laws: A Law is a bill that has been enacted by the D.C. government and approved by the U.S. Congress. Laws are published in the District of Columbia Register (discussedbelow), the District of Columbia Code: Advance Service (in print or on Lexis from August 04, 1993 (DC;DCALS)) and the District of Columbia Session Law Service(available from Westlaw (DC-BILLTXT for the current year; DC-LEGIS-OLD from 1990 to the prior year)). They are available free online from OpenLIMS from Council Period 1 to the present. You can also get them in regular LIMS, with different locations for recent(2013/2014 and forward) and older laws (prior to 2013).

Note: A Law will not be published in the D.C. Register if it has not changed since it was published as a Bill. Instead, a notice will be published in the Register to announce the enactment, with a reference back to the issue with the Bill.

For questions and older laws, contact the D.C. Legislative Services Division (202-724-8050).

Codification: Laws may treated as statutes and codified in the District of Columbia Code, or they can be treated as regulations and codified in the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations (DCMR). If you can’t tell from the language of the Law, check the relevant Codes by subject. If you have a citation to the District of Columbia Register, see the “District of Columbia Register Table” in the Tables volume of theDistrict of Columbia Code. If that doesn’t work, call the D.C. Legislative Services Division (202-724-8050). Note: Some laws are not codified; you can find a list of uncodified laws in the Tables volume of the District of Columbia Code.

Effective Dates: Some D.C. laws include a specific effective date. If a law does not specify an effective date, the date should be listed (a) in the Legislative Information System (LIMS) and/or (b) the Table of Sections Affected in the Lexis and West Advance Legislative Services.

Resolutions: Resolutions are published in the District of Columbia Register(discussed below). They are available free online from the current (2013/2014 and forward) or historic Legislative Information System (LIMS) and the DCR Online from 2003 to 2010.

Legislative History: There are three kinds of materials that might demonstrate the legislative intent behind a D.C. law: committee reports, recordings of hearings, and legislative meeting transcripts. All of these are available from the D.C. Legislative Services Division (202-724-8050), though there are different ways of getting them.

Committee reports are available free on the “Bill History” pages of the current DC Legislative Information System starting with the 8th Council period (1989-1990) and on the main page for each bill in the historic Legislative Information System (LIMS). In addition, selected committee reports starting with the the 13th Council (1999-2000) are available on Westlaw (DC-LH).

Videos of hearings are available back to 2010 on the Council Hearings Archive page.

The the D.C. Superior Court has a collection of “legislative histories” going back to DC Law 1-1, These legislative histories contain miscellaneous materials related to each bill including reports and hearing transcripts, when available; they may be the same thing as the bill file (discussed below), but I have never compared them. If you don’t have access to the Court, the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia has over 500 legislative histories in PDF format up to Council Period 16, and you can request them by Law Number by writing to Laura Moorer at LMoorer@PDSDC.ORG.

Finally, if you want to see the original bill file, you have to go to the Legislative Services office and make copies yourself (or send a service to do it for you). Old bill files are on microfiche, and more recent ones are still on paper. Send an email to Kevin Smith at ksmith@DCCOUNCIL.US to arrange a time to see the bill file.

District of Columbia Register: The District of Columbia Register is “the weekly official legal bulletin published by the DC government and is the temporary supplement to the DCMR.” The Register includes new D.C. acts, laws, resolutions, regulations, notices and other primary legal materials. The Register began publication in 1954.

The Register is available free through the D.C. Municipal Regulations and D.C. Register site (October 2003 to present). The Register is searchable on Lexis from 1998 (DC;DCRGST) Westlaw from 1999 (DC-ADR). Subscribers can get issues of theRegister back to 1954 (Volume 1) in PDF format from the Digital Session Laws Collection on HeinOnline. Note: The Register was originally published only in print, but large-scale printing of the DCR was discontinued as of 2010.

More Information: For more information about D.C. legislative resources and legislative history see Georgetown Law Library’s District of Columbia In-Depth; Chapter 1, “Finding the Law,” in The District of Columbia Practice Manual; and/or the “District of Columbia” section of Legal Research in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia 2nd (William S. Hein & Co., 2000) by Leah F. Chanin or call the D.C. Legislative Services Division (202-724-8050).

Other Useful Information

Attorneys: You can find attorneys licensed to practice in D.C. using the D.C. Bar’s Find a Member database. Disciplinary histories from 1979 are available in the Bar’sDisciplinary Decisions. See also “Legal Ethics,” below.

Business Entities:You can see if a corporation, partnership or other business entity is licensed to do business in D.C., and find the resident agent, using the Online Organization Registration search posted by the Corporations Division of the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA). For more sophisticated searching, use one of the commercial databases discussed in the “Secretary of State Records” entry. For questions about D.C. corporate records, review the materials on the Corporate Registration page or call the DCRA’s Corporations Office at 202-442-4432.

Certified copies of documents filed with the Division of Corporations can be ordered (for a fee) and placed online by the Division. Go to the Business Filings Online Services page, and click on either “For-Profit Certified Copy Request Form Web” or “Non-Profit Certified Copy Request Form Web” in the right hand column under the heading, “None.” Requests are processed in about a week; you can pay expedited service to get the document(s) in one or three days. If you don’t know the name and date of document you need, you have to call the Division of Corporation at 202-442-4432.

You can check to see if an insurance, securities, or financial institution is licensed with the Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking here.

Corporations: See the “Business Entities,” above.

Doctors and other Health Professionals: You can find doctors licensed to practice in D.C. using the Search for a License database posted by the D.C. Department of Health’s Health Professional Licensing Administration.

Legal Ethics: The D.C. Bar posts a Legal Ethics page that includes the D.C. Rules of Professional Responsibility, ethics opinions in full text starting in 1990 (Opinion 210) and related information. The Bar’s Attorney Discipline page links to the relevant rules and procedures. For more information, see the D.C section of the Legal Ethics entry.

Older ethics opinions were published in a book called the D.C. Code of Professional Responsibility published by the D.C. Bar. If you don’t have that handy, Opinions 4, 14 and 23 are hyperlinked from the DC Bar’s Opinions page, and you can request other opinions by sending an email to legalethics@dcbar.org.

Legal Research Resources: For additional information about D.C. legal materials, see the Georgetown Law Library’s District of Columbia In-Depth Research Guide, the Library’ of Congress’ District of Columbia page and/or The District of Columbia Practice Manual, Chapter 1, “Finding the Law.”

The District of Columbia does not have its own legal encyclopedia. For a summary of D.C. laws, see the The District of Columbia Practice Manual.

The District of Columbia Code Encyclopedia was discontinued in 1980. The outdated editions are still useful for historical research.

For more information about the District’s historical legal materials, see the March/April 1996 Law Library Lights article on “Legal Research in the District of Columbia” or consult Legal Research in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia, 2nd ed. (W.S. Hein, 2000).

Libraries: D.C. has several good academic law libraries including the Georgetown Law Library, the Jacob Burns Law Library at George Washington University Law School, the Pence Law Library at American University’s Washington College of Law. You can contact these libraries for questions, copies and inter-library loans.

You can find older D.C. primary legal materials at the DC Superior Court Library, the DC legislative office and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library (the main branch of the D.C. Public Library), in the Washingtoninia Collection (202-727-1213). I don’t think any of the libraries will make copies for you, though.

Liens: Federal and state tax liens are filed with the District of Columbia Recorder of Deeds. They can be searched using the Washington DC – Online Public Records , which is really the DC online land records (registration required and a small fee for document images).

News: Washington’s legal newspaper was the Legal Times until May, 2009, when the paper was folded into the National Law Journal. General newspapers covering the District of Columbia include the Washington Post and the Washington Times. Business news is covered in the Washington Business Journal.

Tip: The Washingtoniana Collection (202-727-1213) at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library has a deep collection of D.C. newspapers, magazines and other historical materials.

To find public notices (of court proceedings, foreclosures, unclaimed property, etc. — a/k/a Legal Notices), try the current and archived public notice searches provided by the MDDC Press Association. Other sources include the Daily Washington Law Reporter, the Washington Post and the Washington Times.

Real Estate: See the “Real Estate” section about Executive Branch – Agencies, Offices and Services above.

Note: We linked the resources to archive.org in an effort to decrease the number of broken links cited.

For more primary law resources, see …

Topics Covered by the District of Columbia Legal Encyclopedia

Note: More detailed information about this State is provided in the District of Columbia jurisdictional legal Encyclopedia, which tie together District of Columbia statutory and case law.

Topics include:

  • District of Columbia Code
  • DC Cases & Case Law
  • DC Legal Websites
  • DC State Government Info
  • DC Law Enforcement
  • DC Media Sources
  • DC Court Reporters/Depositions
  • DC Legal Forms
  • DC Courts
  • DC Local Court Rules
  • DC State Bar/Legal Associations

Resources

See Also

District of Columbia: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about District of Columbia. This part provides references, in relation to District of Columbia, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about District of Columbia by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about District of Columbia and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about District of Columbia or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to District of Columbia and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting District of Columbia. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about District of Columbia should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to District of Columbia when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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