Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA-1637-97) (Hon. Geoffrey M. Alprin, Trial Judge)
Before Ruiz, Reid, and Glickman, Associate Judges.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ruiz, Associate Judge
Argued September 23, 2003
These consolidated appeals arise from the trial court's decision on remand to deny appellants' motions for attorneys' fees. Because we are satisfied that the trial court's denial of fees was not an abuse of discretion, we affirm.
On March 5, 1997, Yok T. Jung filed suit against her brothers, Bow G. Jung and Wee G. Jung, alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress arising from several family arguments over the disposition of their mother's estate.*fn1 Yok sought damages for the emotional distress caused by threats she alleged her brothers made against her, including threats to "fight till the death" and to file false criminal charges against her.*fn2 During discovery, the parties' conduct was no more harmonious than it had been during their family discussions. As a consequence of extreme tardiness, incomplete and evasive discovery responses, failure to meet court-ordered discovery obligations, and frivolous filings for protective orders, the motions judge imposed discovery sanctions on Yok, including an award of attorneys' fees to Bow and Wee amounting to $12,320. Both Bow and Wee then moved for summary judgment, but were denied. The motions court explained that "[w]hile most of plaintiff's allegations are very general in nature . . . the plaintiff's affidavits also make claims regarding purported death threats and the bringing of false criminal charges which is sufficient to defeat summary judgment or partial summary judgment." The court's conclusion was based on Yok's sworn statements that "Bow Jung and Wee Jung have threatened to fight me to the death, as recorded on the tapes," that they "threatened my job," and that they "threatened me with criminal charges." Thereafter, Bow and Wee filed several counterclaims, alleging that Yok invaded their privacy, harassed their families in the course of service of process and disseminated scandalous personal information through court documents.
The case proceeded to trial in January of 1999. After hearing Yok's case in chief, the trial judge entered judgment as a matter of law for Bow and Wee, concluding that no reasonable jury could have found that their conduct was extreme and outrageous, or that they intended to cause Yok severe emotional distress. On Bow's and Wee's counterclaims, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Yok.
Invoking the bad faith exception to the so-called "American rule" on attorneys' fees, Bow and Wee separately moved to alter or amend the judgment in their favor in order to secure costs and attorneys' fees.*fn3 In an order dated March 23, 1999, the court summarily denied both requests for fees without findings of fact or conclusions of law.
Yok then appealed the judgment as a matter of law dismissing her claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress and the imposition of discovery sanctions. Both Bow and Wee cross-appealed the denial of attorneys' fees. See Jung, 791 A.2d at 48. On September 20, 1999, however, Bow filed a stipulation of dismissal with this court that effectively terminated his appeal of the trial court's March 23 order denying fees. On February 7, 2002, this court issued an opinion that affirmed the imposition of discovery sanctions and the entry of judgment as a matter of law against Yok. With respect to the cross-appeals, we vacated the trial court's March 23 order denying attorneys' fees to Wee and remanded the case "so that the trial judge may revisit the motion and grant or deny it as he sees fit, with findings and conclusions or other appropriate explanation."*fn4 Id. at 51-52. In remanding the case for reconsideration of Wee's motion for attorneys' fees, the court reasoned that because Wee had made a "strong showing" that Yok had litigated against him in bad faith, the trial court was required to render a decision sufficient to support appellate review. Id. The court intimated no view, however, on how the trial judge should rule. Id.
C. The Proceedings on Remand
On May 17, 2002, the trial court conducted a hearing on the remanded issue of attorneys' fees. Following oral arguments, the court stated,
I am going to reconsider. That's a given. I decided the issue that was left to me by the Court of Appeals this way in this fashion. I will reconsider ...