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Doggett v. McLachlen Bancshares Corp.

August 10, 1995

L.B. DOGGETT, GLADYS E. DOGGETT, AND DOWNTOWN PARKING CORPORATION, APPELLANTS,
v.
MCLACHLEN BANCSHARES CORPORATION, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (Hon. Harold L. Cushenberry, Jr., Trial Judge).

Before Terry and Schwelb, Associate Judges, and Pryor,* Senior Judge.

PER CURIAM: Appellants, L.B. Doggett, Jr., Gladys E. Doggett and Downtown Parking Corporation (collectively "Doggett" or "tenant"), appeal from an order of the trial court granting summary judgment in favor of appellee, McLachlen Bancshares Corporation ("McLachlen" or "landlord"). The tenant initiated the suit after the parties were unable to agree on an appraisal of land the landlord leased to the tenant. The tenant claimed that the appraisal the landlord used to compute the rent owed by the tenant did not comply with the lease and contained gross errors. On appeal, the tenant argues that (1) the trial court erred in not stating why it granted summary judgment to the landlord, and (2) the appraiser failed to follow the language of the lease and committed gross errors. Procedurally, the tenant claims that it has raised genuine issues of material fact which preclude the entry of summary judgment. We affirm.

I.

On April 26, 1967, landlord McLachlen's predecessor in interest entered into a ninety-nine-year lease with tenant Doggett's predecessors in interest for real property located at 1100-04, 1106 & 1108 G Street, N.W. The tenant subsequently built an eleven-story building which still occupies the site. Article Three of the lease set forth the procedure for computing future rental payments:

Commencing with the 26th year . . . the annual rental shall be adjusted so that it shall be 6% of the appraised value of the demised premises as unimproved ground as hereinafter determined, valued on the basis of its use for the then existing improvements. . . The appraised value shall be determined in the following manner: Landlord may request an appraisal by an appraiser designated by it. The Tenant may either accept the appraisal or reject the appraisal in which latter event it may designate a second appraiser and the two appraisers shall select a third appraiser. Each appraiser shall make independent appraisals. The value determined by the third appraiser shall govern except that if the third appraisal is below the lower of the first two appraisals the lower of the first two appraisals shall be the appraised value. If the third appraisal is higher than the higher of the first two appraisals, the higher of the first two appraisals shall be the appraised value. (Emphasis added.)

In order to comply with the first rental adjustment scheduled on May 15, 1992, the landlord submitted to the tenant an appraisal prepared by Lipman, Frizzell & Mitchell (Lipman), which valued the land at $9,650,000. The tenant rejected this appraisal and submitted an appraisal of $5,000,000 prepared by Bolan Smart Associates (BSA). The landlord rejected the tenant's appraisal. Thereafter, Lipman and BSA selected Ratcliffe, Cali, Duffy, Hughes & Company (RCDH) to make the third appraisal. On June 22, 1993, RCDH appraised the property at a market value of $8,800,000. By letter dated June 18, 1993, the landlord stated that it intended to compute future rental payments using the RCDH appraisal. *fn1

On July 6, 1993, the tenant filed a complaint seeking relief from the RCDH appraisal:

Neither the Lipman Appraisal nor the RCDH Appraisal followed the language of the Lease which specified that the Property should be valued on the basis of its use for the then existing improvements, nor complied with the standards set forth in the Lease governing appraisals, not complied with the customary professional standards applicable to appraisals of this nature. *fn2 (Emphasis added).

The tenant asked the court for a declaratory judgment that the landlord could not properly apply the RCDH Appraisal to rental payments due under the lease as of May 15, 1992. The landlord moved for summary judgment on August 6, 1993, arguing that the tenant failed to allege any grounds upon which the RCDH appraisal was subject to legal challenge. *fn3

The landlord also moved pursuant to Super. Ct. Crim. R. 26(c) to postpone the tenant's deposition of Dennis Duffy, the principal author of the RCDH appraisal, pending the trial court's ruling on the motion for summary judgment. The tenant filed its opposition to the landlord's motion for summary judgment on September 2, 1993, and submitted the affidavit of Richard Lampert, a fourth real estate appraiser, in support of its argument that there were genuine issues of material fact in dispute. On September 7, 1993, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the landlord without elaboration and entered final judgment on the complaint pursuant to Super. Ct. Civ. R. 54 (b) on October 12, 1993. *fn4

II.

The tenant contends that the trial court must explain its reasoning when granting a motion for summary judgment and that its failure to do so warrants reversal. *fn5 According to the tenant, the trial court's failure to explain its decision "deprived of a fair proceeding and rendered judicial review of the decision of this Court meaningless."

Pursuant to Super. Ct. Civ. R. 52 (a), "findings of fact and Conclusions of law are unnecessary on decisions of motions under Rule 12 or Rule 56. . . ." Thus, there is no requirement that the trial court set forth its reasoning when granting summary judgment under Super. Ct. Civ. R. 56. We review the trial court's order de novo, Osei-Kuffnor v. Argana, 618 A.2d 712, 713 (D.C. 1993), and assess the record independently. Colbert v. Georgetown Univ., 641 A.2d 469, 472 (D.C. 1994) (en banc). Accordingly, a statement of the trial Judge's legal views, while helpful, is not essential.

The tenant relies on Simpson v. District of Columbia Office of Human Rights, 597 A.2d 392 (D.C. 1991). We stated in Simpson that findings of fact and Conclusions of law in support of summary judgment orders are not required, but that explanation of the court's reasoning is often desirable, especially where a motion is based on several discrete contentions and the order does not disclose the specific ground on which the court ruled. Simpson, supra, 597 A.2d at 395 n.5. Simpson, however, did not impose a requirement that ...


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