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Bragdon v. Twenty-Five Twelve Associates Limited Partnership

September 02, 2004

NANCY H. BRAGDON, PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF ESTATE OF RAYMOND M. WILMOTTE, APPELLANT,
v.
TWENTY-FIVE TWELVE ASSOCIATES LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, ET AL., APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA-7259-00) (Hon. Rhonda Reid Winston, Trial Judge) (Hon. Steffen W. Graae, Motions Judge) (Hon. Leonard Braman, Motions Judge).

Before Glickman, Associate Judge, Steadman, Associate Judge, Retired,*fn1 and King, Senior Judge.

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

Argued April 27, 2004

This appeal arises from a jury verdict awarding the plaintiff/appellant the principal sum of $72,038 for overcharges in the daily rental rate at the defendant/appellee's community residence facility. The principal issue on appeal is whether prejudgment interest on the overcharges should have been awarded and, if so, in what amount. We hold that prejudgment interest must be awarded at the statutory rate, calculated with respect to the date of each individual overcharge. Also at issue is whether the trial court properly refused to allow an amendment to the complaint to seek punitive damages and to instruct the jury on such damages. In light of the jury's verdict finding no fraud, punitive damages would not be awardable in this case in any event.

I.

In 1981, Dr. Raymond M. Wilmotte became a resident of The Georgetown,*fn2 a community residence facility located at 2512 Q Street, N.W., in the District of Columbia. In 1985, The Georgetown notified him that it intended to raise his daily rate from $75 to $85. Dr. Wilmotte told The Georgetown that he was considering moving to another facility. An Admission Agreement executed by the parties on September 26, 1986, provided for a daily rate of $85. The Agreement itself contemplated the possibility of a change in the daily rate. However, in a letter on The Georgetown stationery, dated November 8, 1986, its executive director, noting prior "oral communication," wrote: "Please be advised that the current rate of $85.00 per day will remain in effect for the duration of your residency." Nonetheless, beginning on September 1, 1989, The Georgetown gradually increased, and Dr. Wilmotte paid, the daily rate up to an eventual amount of $112. The overcharges in principal amount totaled $72,038.

After Dr. Wilmotte's death at the age of ninety-eight in January of 2000, his personal representative, Nancy Bragdon, filed a complaint in the fall of 2000 against The Georgetown to recover the overcharged amount, alleging breach of contract and fraud.*fn3 In August of 2001, nearly a year into the suit and only a month before the discovery deadline that had already been twice extended, appellant sought to amend her complaint to add another party and to add claims for negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, and punitive damages. The trial court denied the motion. A month later, appellant filed a motion to reconsider, which was also denied. In April of 2002, appellant again requested leave to amend her complaint to add the new counts and the claim for punitive damages, which was denied.*fn4 The trial court also refused to submit to the jury an instruction proffered by appellant regarding punitive damages.

On November 13, 2002, the jury returned a verdict against The Georgetown in the principal amount of $72,038.*fn5 The jury found that the plaintiff had proved by a preponderance of the evidence that The Georgetown had breached its contract with Dr. Wilmotte and had exerted undue influence upon him in connection with the 1989 rent increase. The jury found that the plaintiff had not proved by clear and convincing evidence that The Georgetown had committed fraud upon Dr. Wilmotte. Following the verdict, appellant filed a motion for prejudgment interest in the amount of $29,135.03 and an amended motion for prejudgment interest in the amount of $206,656.77, both of which were denied.

Although the partial victor, the personal representative takes an appeal, challenging (1) the trial court's refusal to award prejudgment interest on the verdict amount, and (2) the trial court's denial of the motion to amend the complaint to include punitive damages and its refusal to submit that issue to the jury.

II.

Appellant claims that she is entitled to prejudgment interest pursuant to D.C. Code § 15-108 (2001), which reads in its entirety as follows:

In an action in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia or the Superior Court of the District of Columbia to recover a liquidated debt on which interest is payable by contract or by law or usage the judgment for the plaintiff shall include interest on the principal debt from the time when it was due and payable, at the rate fixed by the contract, if any, until paid.

Neither party disputes that the overcharges here were a "liquidated debt."*fn6 The question is whether interest was payable ...


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