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Fields v. Tillerson

March 04, 1999


Before Steadman, Farrell and Ruiz, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Steadman, Associate Judge

Notice: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the Atlantic and Maryland Reporters. Users are requested to notify the Clerk of the Court of any formal errors so that corrections may be made before the bound volumes go to press.

Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (Hon. Lee F. Satterfield, Trial Judge)

Argued September 30, 1998

George E. Tillerson III was a principal in the law firm of Roxborough & Tillerson, Chartered. Appellants obtained a legal malpractice judgment against the firm and Tillerson individually in 1993 in the amount of approximately $300,000. The instant appeal arises out of the Fields' efforts to collect on the judgment by writs of attachment against the rents due on commercial rental property at 3001 Georgia Ave, N.W. The trial court by order dated August 28, 1996, quashed the writs after Tillerson asserted that, following the foreclosure on a second deed of trust, record title to the property was no longer in the name of the law firm but rather in Tillerson and his wife as tenants by the entireties, and thus exempt from execution for his sole indebtedness.

Subsequent to the granting of the order to quash, Tillerson sought further relief by filing a motion for "declaratory relief and protective order" on September 16, 1996. He asserted that a settlement agreement with the other principal of the law firm, Claude Roxborough, had fully satisfied the 1993 judgment and that all attempts of any type to execute upon the judgment should therefore be barred. The trial court denied this motion by order dated October 10, 1996.

The Fields appeal the grant of the motion to quash, contending inter alia that the quashing order was improperly entered without a hearing and without supporting findings of fact. Tillerson cross-appeals the denial of his motion for a protective order, contending that the trial court committed legal error in failing to apply the settlement agreement. We affirm the order denying the motion for a protective order but vacate the order quashing the writs of attachment and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


This dispute has its origins in the 1990 purchase by the Fields of a home in which title difficulties appeared following the closing. The law firm represented the Fields in the transaction. In 1993, the Fields subsequently obtained a malpractice judgment by default against both the firm and Tillerson individually for $292,174.32.

Subsequent to the entry of this judgment, the Fields filed a second suit, this one against Claude Roxborough individually, apparently at the insistence of the firm's malpractice insurer. On June 20, 1995, the Fields and Roxborough entered into a settlement praecipe whereby Roxborough agreed to pay the Fields $90,000. In the praecipe, the Fields also agreed that if a third law suit then pending established that they in fact had good title to the home, they would release the $292,174.32 judgment. The insurance company paid the Fields $75,000, but Roxborough was unable to pay the additional $15,000. Therefore, about a month later, on July 18, 1995, by stipulation of counsel for the Fields and Roxborough acknowledging that "the defendant is unable to comply with the terms of settlement," the praecipe of June 21, 1995, dismissing the Roxborough suit was set aside, the case was reinstated, and a judgment entered for $90,000 against Roxborough, to which the $75,000 was to be a credit. *fn1

Collection efforts by the Fields then resumed on the 1993 judgment. In March 1996, the Fields began filing a series of writs of attachment against the rent due from tenants on the Georgia Avenue property. At the time the judgment was entered against the law firm and Tillerson on November 16, 1993, that property was in the name of the law firm as owner, subject to first and second deeds of trust securing promissory notes executed by the law firm, both dated February 19, 1993. On December 15, 1995, a foreclosure sale was held under the second deed of trust, but the foreclosure was apparently invalid because of a defect in advertising. On or about that date, in a series of events whose details are, to say the least, not clear, *fn2 the Tillersons apparently became the indorsees of the promissory note secured by the second deed of trust and held a renewed foreclosure sale on May 15, 1996. The Tillersons asserted that they purchased the equity interest at this foreclosure sale and received a trustee's deed to the property, subject to the first deed of trust, conveying the property to them as tenants by the entireties. The trustee's deed was recorded on July 11, 1996.

The Tillersons' original motion to quash, filed on May 17, 1996, was denied by the trial court on July 3, 1996. However, after the Tillersons had recorded their trustee's deed, they filed an "emergency motion to amend order" on July 18, 1996. The Fields filed a response on July 30, 1996, in which they raised their various theories and asked for thirty days additional time to obtain deposition testimony if the trial court was not prepared to deny the motion forthwith. Nonetheless, the trial court granted the motion on August 28, 1996, as to all outstanding writs of attachment not served and answered prior to the recordation date of July 11, 1996. The Fields filed a timely appeal of this order after the denial of their motion for reconsideration (96-CV-1673).

Thereafter, on September 16, 1996, the Tillersons filed a "motion for declaratory relief and for protective order." In the motion, the Tillersons claimed that any obligation arising out of the 1993 judgment had been fully satisfied by the terms of the June 20, 1995, settlement of the suit against Roxborough individually. The trial court ...

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