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Leslie v. Laprade

March 11, 1999


Before Farrell and Ruiz, Associate Judges, and Mack, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Farrell, 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.

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (Hon. Michael L. Rankin, Trial Judge)

Argued December 8, 1998

This case is before us on review of an order granting summary judgment to appellees on the ground of res judicata, as well as an order imposing the sanction of attorney's fees against appellants under Super. Ct. Civ. R. 16. We sustain the judgment in part, but hold that it could not properly be entered on that ground with respect to certain claims that could not have been raised at the time of the order said to have had preclusive effect. We also hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in imposing the sanction of attorney's fees.

I. The Facts

In 1990, Attorney John Laprade sued Ernest Antignani to recover a fee for legal services provided to a company known as Gallagher's on the Hill for which Antignani was a guarantor (No. 90-CA-4686). In 1992, Laprade was awarded a creditor's judgment of $14,314. Four months after the judgment, but before it was recorded, Antignani transferred two wholly-owned real properties and a one-half interest in a third into an irrevocable living trust, naming himself as trustee and beneficiary. After Laprade recorded his judgment, he obtained a writ of execution on one of the real properties held in trust, 615 10th Street, N.E. (the "10th Street property"). Around this time Laprade also filed another lawsuit against Antignani personally and as trustee (No. 93-CA-5260), seeking a declaratory judgment that the trust did not hold clear title to the properties.

At a Marshal's sale on July 7, 1993, Laprade, who presumably was the only bidder, bought the 10th Street property for one dollar and had it deeded to himself and his wife, Rona Laprade, as tenants by the entireties. After the sale, Laprade filed a praecipe requesting that suit No. 93-CA-5260 be dismissed without prejudice. It was not reinstated, and has no further relevance to this appeal.

On August 5, 1993, Laprade obtained a second writ of execution, this time on the property at 1810 Kilbourne Place, N.W. (the "Kilbourne property"), of which the Antignani trust owned half. Antignani, alleging wrongful conduct by Laprade, *fn1 then moved the court in No. 90-CA-4686 to set aside the Marshal's sale of the 10th Street property, strike the writ of execution on the Kilbourne property, and enjoin Laprade from obtaining any further such writs on property belonging to the trust. Pending resolution of this motion, he sought to restrain the sale of the Kilbourne property. Judge Suda denied Antignani's motion in chambers on December 1, 1993, without opinion. Antignani took no appeal from this order.

On December 7, 1993, Bruce Leslie, "successor trustee" to Antignani, filed the action now before this court on behalf of the trust, initially naming only John Laprade as defendant (No. 93-CA-13743). In the complaint, he sought to enjoin the proposed sale of the Kilbourne property scheduled for December 9th, and to vacate the prior sale of the 10th Street property. The parties agree that on December 9, 1993, at the proposed sale of the Kilbourne property, Antignani and Laprade entered into a written agreement that appeared to settle the original creditor's judgment for additional consideration. One week later, however, Leslie amended the complaint in No. 93-CA-13743 to include a claim of unjust enrichment stemming from an alleged breach of this settlement agreement. The complaint was amended a second time to include claims of conspiracy and wrongful taking against Rona Laprade, who was later joined as a co-defendant. The second amended complaint also named Antignani as a plaintiff.

Rona Laprade was granted sixty days in which to conduct discovery, terminating at the end of October 1995. A pretrial conference was scheduled for October 5, 1995, but the plaintiffs' counsel, apparently believing the dates for pretrial and trial were to be reset since Rona Laprade still had discovery requests outstanding, did not appear at the conference. The trial court dismissed the action for want of prosecution, but then vacated the dismissal upon request and reinstated the case, conditional upon the plaintiffs' paying the Laprade's relevant attorney's fees and costs. Judge Rankin later set this amount at $3,610.

On February 21, 1997, the plaintiffs and Rona Laprade each moved for summary judgment. Following a hearing on the motions, Judge Rankin granted summary judgment for both defendants on the ground that res judicata, arising out of Judge Suda's December 1, 1993 denial of the motion to set aside the sale in No. 90-CA-4686, barred all of the plaintiffs' claims. The plaintiffs now appeal.

II. Discussion

A. Summary ...

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