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January 29, 1993


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. Rufus G. King, III, Trial Judge)

Before Schwelb, King and Sullivan, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: King

KING, Associate Judge: This appeal arises from a District of Columbia Superior Court order dismissing an action in which appellant sought declaratory and injunctive relief from appellee. Appellant contends that the trial court abused its discretion by requiring appellant to join a third party, under Super. Ct. Civ. R. 19, in order for appellant to proceed with its action. We affirm.

The appellant, District Cablevision Limited Partnership ("DCLP"), is the exclusive franchisee of cablevision services in the District of Columbia. The franchise was granted in 1983 by the Cable Television Communications Act of 1981 ("Cable Act"), D.C. Code §§ 43-1801 to 1849 (1990 Repl.). Section 43-1844.1, which was enacted as an amendment to the Cable Act in 1983, prohibits landlords from interfering with the installation of cable facilities on their premises.

Appellee, McLean Gardens Condominium Unit Owners' Association ("McLean Gardens"), refused to allow DCLP access to its premises to wire the units for cablevision, on the grounds that such access would violate McLean Gardens' contract with American Satellite Communications, Inc. ("AMSAT"). That contract, *fn1 entered into in January 1981, granted AMSAT the exclusive right to provide cablevision services to McLean Gardens. Although the original agreement was scheduled to end on January 5, 1989, AMSAT and McLean Gardens agreed, on October 15, 1986, to extend the exclusive contract to January 5, 1997.

The District of Columbia Office of Cable Television granted DCLP's application to install cable television facilities at McLean Gardens on November 28, 1989, but McLean Gardens continued to refuse access to the premises to DCLP. On May 22, 1991, DCLP filed this action against McLean Gardens for declaratory and injunctive relief. On July 11, 1991, McLean Gardens moved to dismiss for failure to join an indispensable party -- AMSAT. The trial court granted the motion and issued an order dismissing the action unless DCLP joined AMSAT as a party to the litigation by November 15, 1991. The order provided that if, as a result of the litigation, McLean Gardens was determined to be a "landlord" under § 43-1844.1, McLean Gardens would be

in the position of violating either this section [43-1844.1] or its exclusive contract with AMSAT. Therefore, it appears that AMSAT has a direct interest in the outcome of this case, and should be a party. Plaintiff's contention that it only seeks access, and that any breach of contract issues could be addressed in another case is not persuasive. Defendant and AMSAT cannot realize the purpose of their contract if plaintiff's suit is successful.

DCLP's timely appeal of that order followed.

Super. Ct. Civ. R. 19 (a) provides, inter alia, that

A person . . . shall be joined as a party in the action if (1) in the person's absence complete relief cannot be accorded among those already parties, or (2) the person claims an interest relating to the subject of the action and is so situated that Disposition of the action in the person's absence may (i) as a practical matter impair or impede the person's ability to protect that interest or (ii) leave any of the persons already parties subject to a substantial risk of incurring double, multiple, or otherwise inconsistent obligations by reason of the claimed interest.

The trial Judge did not explicitly state which subdivision of Rule 19 formed the basis for his finding that joinder was required. It is clear, however, that, in expressing his concern that McLean Gardens would be placed in the position of either violating its contract with AMSAT or violating the Cable Act, the trial Judge recognized that McLean Gardens could be subject to inconsistent obligations under Rule 19 (a)(2)(ii).

The parties are in agreement that review of a trial court's determination that a non-party should be joined under Rule 19 (a) is for abuse of discretion. See Raskauskas v. Temple Realty Company, 589 A.2d 17, 20-21 (D.C. 1991); Defenders of Wildlife v. Andrus, 77 F.R.D. 448, 451 (D.D.C. 1978). *fn2 We may reverse the trial court only if we find that its exercise of discretion was clearly against reason and the evidence. Johnson v. United States, 398 A.2d 354, 363 (D.C. 1977). Since we conclude that there is ample support for the trial court's decision to require joinder, we affirm.

Pursuant to Rule 19 (a)(2)(ii), for the trial Judge to require joinder of AMSAT, there must be a showing that: (1) AMSAT claims an interest relating to the subject of the action, and (2) without AMSAT as a party, such interest might leave McLean Gardens subject to a substantial risk of incurring multiple or inconsistent obligations. First, there is a considerable basis to permit the trial court to conclude that AMSAT has an interest in the subject of this action. AMSAT's contract with McLean Gardens grants it the exclusive right to provide cable services to the units in McLean Gardens. In the action between DCLP and McLean Gardens, DCLP, pursuant to D.C. Code § 43-1844.1, seeks access to those units in order to provide services to the owners therein. If DCLP is successful, it will be entitled to service units which AMSAT, in accordance with its contract with McLean Gardens, had been given the exclusive right to service. This potential interference with its contractual rights is sufficient to establish AMSAT's interest in the subject of the litigation. *fn3 See Gellman v. Paul, 85 F.R.D. 357, 358 (S.D.N.Y. 1980) (joinder required where Disposition of the plaintiff's claims would involve interpretation of contracts between parties in the suit and a non-party whose joinder was sought); Occidental Petroleum Corporation v. Buttes Gas & Oil Company, 331 F. Supp. 92, 105 (C.D. Cal. 1971)(where absent person had a contract with defendant which stood to be abridged by the injunction sought by plaintiff, absentee had the necessary "interest relating to the subject of the action" as required under Rule 19 (a)), aff'd. 461 F.2d 1261 (9th Cir. 1972), cert. denied, 409 U.S. 950, 93 S. Ct. 272, 34 L. Ed. 2d 221 (1972).

In its reply brief and again during oral argument, appellant relied heavily upon Media General Cable v. Sequoyah Condominium Council, 721 F. Supp. 775 (E.D. Va. 1989), a case not previously cited in either the trial court or this court. Media General, unlike the present case, dealt with a non-party's attempt to intervene as of right, under Fed. R. Civ. P. 24 (a). The non-party in that case was also AMSAT, and the facts were similar to those presented here: plaintiff (a cable company authorized by law to install its services) sought a declaratory judgment from defendant (a condominium association) under the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984, 47 U.S.C. ยง 541 (a), after defendant refused plaintiff access to its premises based on an exclusive contract for cable services defendant had with AMSAT. The trial court found ...

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