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Douglas v. Lyles

January 15, 2004


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (No. CA-43-02) (Hon. Neal E. Kravitz, Trial Judge)

Before Wagner, Chief Judge, and Steadman and Farrell, Associate Judges.

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

Submitted September 23, 2003

Appellant seeks reversal of the trial court's grant of summary judgment to appellees in her action for specific performance of a contract to sell to appellant a house at 63 Quincy Place, N.W. The trial court held that appellees could not be compelled to convey the property through a grant of specific performance because the appellees did not hold clear title to the property. We conclude that the appellees have both a duty and the apparent ability to provide marketable title under the contract for sale. Accordingly, we reverse the grant of summary judgment and remand for further proceedings.


The house at 63 Quincy Place N.W. ("the property") was owned in fee simple by Chauncey Herman Lyles, Sr. ("Lyles, Sr."), when he died intestate on September 4, 1991, domiciled in the District of Columbia. Lyles, Sr. was survived by his wife, Ernestine Lyles, and five children: the four appellees (Victor Lyles, Saundra Jenkins, Sheila Darnell, and Patricia Matthews) and Chauncey Lyles, Jr. (deceased and hereinafter referred to as "Lyles, Jr.").

As a consequence of the intestate death of Lyles, Sr., his wife and children inherited the property upon the completion of probate proceedings. Ernestine Lyles held a one-third (1/3) share of the property and each of the five surviving children held one-fifth (1/5) of the remaining two-thirds (2/3) of the property, as tenants in common. D.C. Code § 19-301 (2001).

Approximately five years later, on June 21, 1996, Lyles, Jr. died intestate with no surviving children or spouse. In accordance with the intestate laws of the District, his mother, Ernestine Lyles, stood to inherit the estate of Lyles, Jr., including his 2/15 interest in the property. D.C. Code § 19-308 (2001). Two years after the death of Lyles, Jr., on April 3, 1998, his sister, appellee Patricia Matthews, was appointed unsupervised personal representative of his estate. D.C. Code § 20-501 (2001).

Ernestine Lyles then died intestate on August 11, 1998. At the time of her death, she held a 1/3 interest in the property, acquired from her husband, and all inchoate rights in her son Lyles Jr.'s estate, which included a 2/15 interest in the property. Although the probate of Lyles Jr.'s estate had not been completed at the time of Ernestine Lyles' death, it is clear that "[w]hen a person entitled to distribution dies before distribution is made, [her] share goes to [her] estate or legal representatives." D.C. Code § 19-313 (2001). The intestate heirs of Ernestine Lyles' estate are her surviving children: appellees Victor Lyles, Sheila Darnell, Saundra Jenkins, and Patricia Matthews. Appellee Victor Lyles was appointed unsupervised personal representative of his mother's estate on March 29, 2001.

D.C. Code § 20-501 (2001).

Appellant initially offered Victor Lyles the amount of $55,000 for the property on June 17, 2000. This offer was rejected. Thereafter, appellant raised her offer to a cash sale price of $70,000, and Victor Lyles accepted. This agreement led to the subsequently executed sales contract at issue in this case. The contract was executed by appellant and all four appellees (the surviving children of Ernestine Lyles) on January 3, 2001, with an earnest money deposit of $1000 delivered to the closing agent as per the terms of the contract.

The contract contained a standard clause relating to the obligation of the seller to deliver good title. *fn1 Based on a preliminary title search, the closing agent required further information from appellees about Ernestine Lyles and Lyles, Jr., both of whom were named in the title search. Appellees proposed a renegotiation of the sales contract for a higher purchase price. Appellant refused and filed this action for specific performance and damages on January 3, 2002. *fn2

All parties appeared on January 15, 2002, and appellees agreed to stay a sale or other disposition of the property until a hearing on appellant's motion for a preliminary injunction. On March 15, the trial court continued the stay and directed the parties to submit further legal arguments. Appellees filed a motion for summary judgment, and appellant filed an opposition thereto.

On July 23, 2002, the trial court granted appellees' motion for summary judgment, ruling that the equitable remedy of specific performance was not available because (1) the appellees intended to convey the entire property and not only their partial shares and (2) the estates of Ernestine Lyles and Lyles, Jr. were not parties to the sales contract. ...

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