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In re Estate of Barnes

May 18, 2000

IN RE ESTATE OF ALLENE BARNES THEODORE J. AND GERALDINE E. SCHEVE, APPELLANTS.


Before Schwelb, Ruiz, and Glickman, Associate Judges.

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

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (Hon. Cheryl M. Long, Trial Judge)

(Argued April 6, 2000 Decided May 18, 2000)

In an order entered on November 30, 1998, the trial judge disallowed the claim of Theodore J. Scheve and Geraldine E. Scheve against the estate of Allene Barnes. The Scheves appeal. We reverse.

I.

Prior to 1980, Allene W. Barnes was the owner of a home located at 1429 Parkwood Place, N.W., in Washington, D.C. In January, 1980, the property was auctioned for unpaid real estate taxes, and the Scheves purchased it at a tax sale. The Scheves received a tax deed on June 3, 1983. The deed was recorded four days later.

Allene Barnes died intestate on November 9, 1983. Her daughter, Traci Barnes, continued to reside at her deceased mother's home. In September 1987, the Scheves brought suit against Ms. Barnes in the Superior Court for possession of the premises. Ms. Barnes was represented in this action by attorneys from the Neighborhood Legal Services Program. Ms. Barnes' attorneys demanded a jury trial, and the case was certified to the Civil Division for trial pursuant to Super. Ct. L&T R. 6. *fn1 On December 4, 1990, the trial judge directed a verdict in Ms. Barnes' favor, concluding as a matter of law that the Scheves' tax deed was invalid.

On December 17, 1990, the trial judge imposed a lien in the Scheves' favor for the amount of taxes that they had paid, plus statutory interest at the rate of 6% per annum. See D.C. Code § 47-1308 (1997). The parties entered into a post-trial stipulation as to the amount of taxes and interest owed. The stipulation was signed by counsel for all parties and approved by the court.

Ms. Barnes appealed from the trial court's order. On November 18, 1993, this court held that the Landlord and Tenant Branch lacked authority to impose a lien. See Barnes v. Scheve, 633 A.2d 62 (D.C. 1993). The Scheves' lien was therefore set aside. The decision in Barnes I was based entirely on the limited authority of the Landlord and Tenant Branch, see Super. Ct. L&T R. 1, 3, & 5, and the court made no ruling with respect to the stipulated determination as to the taxes paid by the Scheves.

Although Barnes I was decided almost exactly ten years after Allene Barnes' death, no decedent's estate had been opened and no personal representative had been designated. On December 20, 1994, in an attempt to facilitate repayment of the taxes he had paid on the decedent's property, Theodore J. Scheve filed a "petition for standard probate." In that petition Mr. Scheve requested that he be designated the decedent's personal representative on the basis that he was a "major creditor" of the estate. *fn2 In detailing the decedent's unsecured debts, however, Mr. Scheve went further and indicated, in effect, that he was a judgment creditor:

Judgment entered for petitioner Theodore J. Scheve and spouse in CA No. 9388-87 in the amount of $11,923.95 plus pre and post judgment interest, making amount owed $14,729.34

Repairs and improvements made by petitioner to 1429 Parkwood Pl., NW 1,650.00

In fact, Mr. Scheve was not a judgment creditor, for the judgment in CA No. 9388-87 had been reversed in Barnes I.

On March 26, 1996, Judge Kaye K. Christian of the Superior Court's Probate Division issued an order appointing Mr. Scheve to be personal representative of the estate of Allene Barnes. More than a year later, on May 22, 1997, Traci Barnes, who was at that time represented by her present counsel, filed a motion ...


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