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Tauber v. Trammell Crow Real Estate Services

October 14, 1999

LASZLO N. TAUBER, M.D. & ASSOCIATES, ET AL., APPELLANTS,
V.
TRAMMELL CROW REAL ESTATE SERVICES, INC., APPELLEE.



Before Schwelb and Reid, Associate Judges, and Mack, Senior Judge.

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

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia

(Hon. Russell F. Canan, Trial Judge)

Argued March 17, 1999

This is an appeal from an order confirming an arbitration award. Appellants contend the arbitrator "exceeded his powers," and thus that the trial court's order should be vacated or, in the alternative, appropriately modified. We disagree and affirm.

I.

Appellants Laszlo N. Tauber, M.D. & Associates, et al. ("Tauber") entered into a "Commercial Leasing Agreement" ("brokerage agreement") with appellee Trammell Crow Real Estate Services, Inc. ("Trammell Crow"). The agreement named Trammell Crow the exclusive agent for "locat[ing] suitable tenants and negotiat[ing] acceptable leases" for an office building owned by Tauber. Because the building required extensive renovation, tenant occupancy was not expected for five to seven years after the agreement was signed. In exchange for their brokerage services, Trammel Crow agreed to be compensated on a commission basis.

Trammell Crow located a prospective renter, and on February 8, 1996, Tauber entered into a lease agreement with the tenant. The lease provides that the tenant will take occupancy and commence payment of rent on August 1, 2002. In accordance with their understanding of the brokerage agreement, Trammell Crow requested Tauber pay the commission fee from the date the lease was executed, February 8, 1996. Tauber refused, however, contending that the brokerage agreement did not require commission payments until the date the tenant took occupancy or until the tenant commenced payment of rent, August 1, 2002. Thus, the timing of the commission payments from Tauber to Trammell Crow forms the basis of this dispute.

In response to Tauber's refusal to make immediate payment, Trammell Crow requested Tauber arbitrate the dispute, in accordance with the brokerage agreement. Tauber refused to arbitrate, and instead filed a complaint in the District of Columbia Superior Court seeking a declaratory judgment that it had no obligation to make immediate commission payments to Trammell Crow. Trammell Crow responded to Tauber's complaint with a motion to stay the suit and compel arbitration. The trial court granted Trammell Crow's motion, and the dispute was sent to arbitration.

Following two days of hearings, the arbitrator issued an award requiring Tauber to make immediate commission payments in accordance with the brokerage agreement. *fn1 The arbitrator also found that if the tenant subsequently failed to take occupancy or make rental payments, Trammell Crow would have to refund the amount awarded. Finally, the arbitrator concluded that Tauber was required to pay interest from the date of the award at a rate of 8.25%.

Trammell Crow filed a motion in the Superior Court to confirm the arbitration award. The trial court confirmed the award and entered final judgment. Tauber appeals the trial court's confirmation of the arbitrator's ruling. *fn2

II.

On appeal, Tauber argues that the arbitrator exceeded his powers by: (1) requiring immediate payment of the commission fee; (2) awarding interest at a rate of 8.25% from the date of the arbitration decision; and (3) awarding commission payments based on an estimate of future operating expenses. *fn3

We review de novo a trial court's judgment confirming an arbitration award. Grad v. Wetherholt Galleries, 660 A.2d 903, 905 (D.C. 1995). However, "[t]he law is well-settled that judicial review of arbitration awards is limited." Shaff v. Skahill, 617 A.2d 960, 963 (D.C. 1992) (internal quotations omitted) (citations omitted). Specifically, D.C. Code § 16-4311 (a) (1997) of the Arbitration Act limits the permissible grounds for vacating an arbitration award. This limited review serves "to attain a balance between the need for speedy, inexpensive dispute resolution, on the one hand, and the need to establish justified confidence in arbitration among the public, on the other." Brandon v. Hines, 439 A.2d 496, 509 (D.C. 1981) ...


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