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DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA HOUSING FIN. AGCY. v. HARPER

February 12, 1998

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA HOUSING FINANCE AGENCY, ET AL., APPELLANTS/CROSS-APPELLEES,
V.
CHARLES L. HARPER, SR., ET AL., APPELLEES/CROSS-APPELLANTS.



APPEAL FROM SUPERIOR COURT, GREGORY MIZE, J.

Before Terry and Steadman, Associate Judges and Pryor, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Pryor, Senior Judge:

This dispute arose out of circumstances surrounding the lease of real property by appellees, a partnership consisting of Charles Harper and John Raye (the partnership), to appellant District of Columbia Housing Finance Agency (DCHFA). After the grant of partial summary judgment in favor of appellees on the issue of liability under the lease, and a subsequent assessment of damages, these appeals followed. DCHFA raises a variety of questions bearing on liability and the measure of damages. *fn1 Given our view of [707 A2d Page 54]

the case, we address DCHFA's primary claim that, because of genuine issues of material facts with respect to the validity of the lease, the trial judge erred in ruling, by summary judgment, that the lease was enforceable and that appellant was liable for breach of the agreement. We also review the trial court's ruling that appellant's motion to reconsider its summary judgment was untimely. Because we conclude that the trial judge erred with respect to the latter question, it is necessary that the case be remanded for further proceedings.

FACTS

In December 1989, appellant DCHFA signed an agreement to lease property on Rhode Island Avenue from the partnership for a period of ten years. The lease was signed on behalf of the lessor by Samuel Cofer, *fn2 an agent of the partnership, and on behalf of the lessee by Mary Louise Carstarphen, then Executive Director of DCHFA. Appellant vacated and surrendered the property on October 14, 1992, giving notice that it considered the lease agreement terminated. Appellees filed a complaint, seeking enforcement of the lease, against DCHFA and the District of Columbia on October 18, 1993.

In November of 1993, appellees moved for summary judgment; appellants also moved for summary judgment in December of 1993. DCHFA contended that, under D.C. Code § 45-306 as it read at the time the lease was executed, the lease was void because it had not been signed by the owner of the property but rather by his agent. In addition, they asserted there were "improprieties" in the procurement of the lease that rendered it unenforceable.

The trial judge, the Honorable Gregory Mize, granted partial summary judgment on the issue of liability to appellees on June 27, 1994. The court found the 1992 amendment to D.C. Code § 45-306, which changed the pre-existing law so as to permit an agent to sign a lease on behalf of the lessor, applied retroactively, and therefore covered the parties' lease. The court also found that DCHFA waived its statute of frauds defense under § 45-306 by stating in its answer and counterclaim that a lease existed. On the issue of the alleged improprieties, the court found that there was inadequate evidence to either grant summary judgment in favor of DCHFA or to prevent summary judgment in favor of the partnership.

On July 15, 1994, DCHFA filed a motion for reconsideration of the court's June 27th order. On August 31, 1994, Judge Mize reversed his June 27th order on two grounds. He concluded the 1992 amendment to D.C. Code § 45-306 should not be applied retroactively, and accordingly found the lease in violation of the statute of frauds. He also concluded that DCHFA did not waive its statute of frauds defense under § 45-306 in conceding the existence of the lease.

On November 21, 1994, Judge Mize granted the District of Columbia's motion to dismiss. At that time, the court also granted appellees' oral motion to reconsider the court's August 31st order. Ultimately, on February 17, 1995, Judge Mize reversed the August 31st order, and reinstated his initial ruling of June 27th upholding the lease.

On May 2, 1995, appellant filed a motion for reconsideration of the court's June 27, 1994 and February 17, 1995 orders. In that motion, DCHFA contended that, at the time the court initially granted summary judgment [707 A2d Page 55]

in favor of the appellees, there was a genuine dispute of material fact regarding the issue of fraud so as to make the court's ruling on summary judgment an error of law. The court denied DCHFA's motion in a memorandum order on June 26, 1995. It viewed the motion as being within the purview of Super. Ct. Civ. R. 59(e) and, as such, untimely.

The parties appeared before the Honorable Geoffrey Alprin on July 17, 1995 to address the question of damages. The parties contested the amount of cleaning expenses for which DCHFA would be reimbursed, the amount of taxes for which DCHFA would be liable, and the amount of interest that should apply to the award post-judgment. On December 5, 1995, the court entered judgment for the appellees in the amount of $267,616.19. The judge found that appellant should be reimbursed for the cleaning expenses it had paid, that appellant had conceded that it owed $3,411.30 in real estate taxes, and that the interest rate specified in the lease, 10%, applied post-judgment as well as ...


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