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12/29/93 DALE DENTON REAL ESTATE v. BRIAN

December 29, 1993

DALE DENTON REAL ESTATE, INC. APPELLANT
v.
BRIAN FITZGERALD AND ALLEN CURTIS, APPELLEES



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. Peter H. Wolf, Trial Judge)

Before Wagner and King, Associate Judges, and Mack, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Per Curiam

PER CURIAM: Appellant, a real estate brokerage firm, appeals from the trial court's denial of its motion for summary judgment and the sua sponte dismissal of its action seeking a commission on the sale of residential property previously owned and sold by appellees after the expiration of an exclusive listing period in a contract between the parties. Appellant, urging solely that it was the procuring cause of the sale, contends that trial court erred in not following this jurisdiction's legal precedent. We affirm.

I.

On September 5, 1989, appellant, Dale Denton Real Estate, Inc., by and through its agent, Kevin Talley, entered into an exclusive listing agreement with appellees, Brian FitzGerald and Allen Curtis, to sell property located at 5425 Sherier Place, Northwest. The agreement was for a 90-day term and recited a sales price of $543,000 and 6% of the sales price for the agent's commission. The original listing agreement had a "protection" period that provided for the payment of the commission after the termination of the listing contract:

if the Property is sold, conveyed, or otherwise transferred within 90 days . . . to anyone to whom the Property has been shown by Broker, or anyone else, including the Seller, prior to final termination of this listing contract . . . .

During the term of the listing, appellant introduced Harry and Ann Wallace to the property.

After viewing the property on other occasions with the Wallaces, on January 14, 1990, Mr. Talley informed appellees that he had a prospective buyer. As the initial listing agreement had expired, the parties, on January 15, 1990, executed a second listing agreement which conditioned appellant's commission to be earned upon the sale to the Wallaces under the contract dated January 17, 1990. The standard provision of the contract that set forth the protection period in the earlier contract and the listing term for the contract were not completed. *fn1 After subsequent amendments to the listing agreement, appellees, on January 18, 1990, accepted the Wallaces' contract offer which was contingent upon the sale of the Wallaces' residence. *fn2

As the Wallaces were unsuccessful in finding a buyer for their residence, the contracting parties terminated the sales contract and, thus, the second listing agreement expired. Appellees then informed appellant that they would try to sell the property by themselves. Two weeks following the termination of the sales agreement, the Wallaces received an offer for their home. The Wallaces and appellees undertook independent negotiations, and on April 10, 1990, they entered into another sales contract which ultimately resulted in settlement. Appellant then brought action against appellees for a commission on the sale on grounds that its previous efforts were the procuring cause of the sale.

Following a hearing on appellant's motion for summary judgment, the trial court concluded that no material facts were in dispute and that appellees were entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The trial court denied appellant's motion and dismissed the case, sua sponte. In his opinion, the trial Judge explained that, although appellant was the procuring cause of the sale, there was a conflict in precedent case law *fn3 and he, therefore, adopted the Restatement's view *fn4 that absent bad faith by the principal, a broker is not entitled to a commission where a prospective buyer located by him purchases the property after the period of the broker's exclusive listing had expired. The court concluded that appellant implicitly conceded that the terms upon which it agreed to earn its commission were not fulfilled and, therefore, appellees were entitled to judgment as a matter of law. From this standpoint, we address appellant's claims.

II.

In reviewing a trial court's summary judgment, we look to whether a factual issue existed which would preclude the grant of summary judgment. Word v. Ham, 495 A.2d 748, 750 (D.C. 1985) (citing Dresser v. Sunderland Apartments Tenants Ass'n, 465 A.2d 835 (D.C. 1983)). Appellant concedes that the facts are undisputed. [Tr. 9] *fn5 Where facts are not in dispute and a question of law is before an appellate court, reversal of the trial court's judgment is warranted if the trial court reached an erroneous Conclusion. Woods v. Poor, 29 App. D.C. 397 (1907). However, a trial court's decision must be affirmed if the result is correct, despite the fact that the court may have relied upon a wrongful ground. Marinopoliski v. Irish, 445 A.2d 339, 340 (D.C. 1982) (citing Helvering v. Gowran, 302 U.S. 238, 82 L. Ed. 224, 58 S. Ct. 154 (1937)). We are left to decide whether the trial court misinterpreted this jurisdiction's precedent case law and whether the precedent case law supports the appellant's ex contractu claim for a commission.

III.

Unlike the trial court, we find no inconsistency in precedent in our reading of Rieffer and Facchina. The issue in both cases was the factual one of whether the broker was the procuring cause of the sale. In Rieffer, there was an expired exclusive listing agreement and a trial court's finding that the broker was not the procuring cause of the sale. This finding was supported by the fact that the purchaser "knew the owner and knew all about the property, because she was actually occupying it long before the plaintiff broker came upon the scene." Rieffer, supra note 3, 53 A.2d at 786. In addition, this Court was persuaded by the fact that there was no evidence of fraud or mispresentation. Id. In Facchina, there was a non-exclusive listing agreement and a trial court's finding that the broker was the procuring cause of the sale. In that case, this Court found no error with the trial court's finding because the evidence demonstrated that the buyers were first interested in the property by the broker's advertisement, they were shown the property through the broker, and submitted an offer through the broker, which was rejected. Facchina, supra note 3, 109 ...


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