Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (CA-8616-00). (Hon. Jeanette Clark, Trial Judge).
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Belson, Senior Judge
Before TERRY and REID, Associate Judges, and BELSON, Senior Judge.
Appellant, Rona F. LaPrade, brought an action against appellees, Maryann Rosinsky and her husband, Charles Rosinsky, for damages for breach of an agreement to sell to LaPrade an undivided one-half interest in certain residential real property, and for the partition and sale of that property. The Rosinskys answered and counterclaimed, alleging slander of title and adverse possession and seeking imposition of a constructive trust, an order quieting title, an accounting and punitive damages. Upon consideration of cross motions for summary judgment, the trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the Rosinskys. On appeal, LaPrade argues: (1) summary judgment was inappropriate as there were genuine issues of material fact regarding the validity of the deed at issue; and (2) the trial court erroneously failed to apply laches to bar the Rosinskys' claim that the deed was void. We affirm.
This case arose out of a dispute over title to a one-half interest in a single family dwelling located at 411 Sixth Street, N.E., Washington, D.C ("property"). On January 27, 1976, the Rosinskys signed a contract to sell to LaPrade "an undivided one-half interest" in the property, even though the property, at that time, still belonged to LaPrade and her then husband. Mr. Rosinsky later testified at his deposition that he signed the contract, although he did not know that what he signed was a contract when he signed it. Mrs. Rosinsky testified to the same effect. Subsequent to the execution of the contract, two deeds to the property were executed. The first deed was executed on March 12, 1976 ("March deed"). Through it LaPrade and her husband granted the property to the Rosinskys in fee simple. By the second, on its face dated and signed on May 3, 1976 ("May deed"), the Rosinskys reconveyed an undivided one-half interest in the property to LaPrade. Bearing the apparent signatures of both the Rosinskys and a notary public, Jean Stamback, the May deed was recorded with the Recorder of Deeds about a year later. However, according to Mr. Rosinsky, he neither signed the May deed nor authorized any person to sign it for him. He avers that he did not become aware of its existence until he attempted to apply for a loan to remodel the kitchen of the premises in question in 1985.
In a letter to LaPrade dated August 21, 1985, attorney Stephanie Y. Bradley wrote on behalf of the Rosinskys that Mr. Rosinsky did not have any knowledge of, or sign, the May deed, and that it was Mrs. Rosinsky who was induced by misrepresentation to sign both her name and her husband's without the consent of the latter. Bradley urged LaPrade to execute a quitclaim deed to reconvey the one-half interest to the Rosinskys. Otherwise, she stated, the Rosinskys would resort to appropriate legal action. However, they had taken no such action as of the time they answered LaPrade's complaint in this case in December 2000.
In 1986, the Rosinskys, through Bradley, filed a complaint with the Office of the Secretary of the District of Columbia in opposition to the reappointment of the notary commission of Jean Stamback, who had notarized the signatures on the May deed. They contended that Stamback falsely notarized the signature of Mr. Rosinsky affixed to the May deed by certifying a signature of Mrs. Rosinsky as Mr. Rosinsky's. As a result, the Office of the Secretary initiated an investigation into the complaint and sent a letter to LaPrade on March 24, 1986, requesting that she provide an affidavit regarding the events that occurred on or about the time the May deed was executed.
In response to the letter of the Office of the Secretary, LaPrade submitted an affidavit, as did her husband. The record on appeal does not include the affidavit of LaPrade's husband. LaPrade's affidavit of April 28, 1986, stated that Stamback personally observed the signatures of the Rosinskys when she notarized the May 1976 deed, but gave no indication that LaPrade had personal knowledge that Stamback did so. LaPrade further stated that she made the first few payments on the mortgage on the property, and that the Rosinskys did not retain Bradley to contest title to LaPrade's one-half interest until after LaPrade declined to sign a loan agreement through which the Rosinskys would finance the remodeling of their kitchen. The order of the Office of the Secretary states that Stamback testified that she and Mr. LaPrade went to the property to notarize some documents and found that only Ms. Rosinsky was at home, and that she witnessed the signature of Ms. Rosinsky at the property and later that day the signature of Mr. Rosinsky at the office of John LaPrade. The Office of the Secretary credited the testimony of the Rosinskys over the testimony of Stamback and the affidavits of LaPrade and her husband, and found that Mr. Rosinsky did not sign the deed, and that Stamback falsely notarized the signature of Mr. Rosinsky by certifying the signature of Mrs. Rosinsky as Mr. Rosinsky's "act and deed." The Office of the Secretary issued an order on November 2, 1987, denying Stamback's application for reappointment as a notary public, but made no conclusion as to the validity of the deed.
LaPrade filed the instant action against the Rosinskys in November 2000, alleging breach of contract and seeking an order partitioning the property. In their answer, appellees raised various defenses including laches, statute of limitations and fraud, and advanced the counterclaims identified above. LaPrade moved for summary judgment on all counts of her complaint and all of the Rosinskys' counterclaims. The Rosinskys then filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment on LaPrade's claims. The Rosinskys alleged that the May deed was void on the grounds that Mr. Rosinsky did not sign, or authorize Mrs. Rosinsky to sign, the deed and that the execution of the deed was not actually witnessed by the notary public. In support of her motion for summary judgment and her opposition to the Rosinskys' cross-motion, LaPrade offered the affidavit she had submitted to the Office of the Secretary in 1986.*fn1
The trial court granted the Rosinskys' motion for summary judgment. It ruled, inter alia, that LaPrade's action for damages for breach of contract was barred by the applicable three-year statute of limitations, D.C. Code § 12-301 (7) (1981), and that LaPrade was not entitled to partition as the deed that would have vested a one-half interest in the property in LaPrade was void because Mr. Rosinsky did not sign it or authorize Mrs. Rosinsky to do so in his behalf. Accordingly, the trial court went on to deny LaPrade's motion for summary judgment on the counts of her complaint, granted the Rosinskys' cross-motion for summary judgment on those counts, and dismissed as moot the Rosinskys' counterclaims asserting adverse possession and constructive trust, and seeking to quiet title. In addition, the court ruled that the Rosinskys had failed to establish a prima facie case for their counterclaims for slander of title and punitive damages, and granted LaPrade's motion for summary judgment on those counts. As a result, the only claim that survived the trial court's rulings on the cross-motions for summary judgment was the Rosinskys' action for an accounting. Later, the Rosinskys voluntarily dismissed it. This appeal followed.
The trial judge addressed first the Rosinskys' motion for partial summary judgment on LaPrade's complaint.*fn2 Summary judgment is proper if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Super. Ct. Civ. R. 56 (c); Chang v. Institute for Public-Private P'ships, Inc., 846 A.2d 318, 323 (D.C. 2004). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, after which the burden shifts to the non-moving party to designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Musa v. Continental Ins. Co., 644 A.2d 999, 1002 (D.C. 1994) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986)). To carry this burden, the non-moving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). "The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence . . . will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party]." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). Further, in deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, drawing all reasonable inferences from the evidence in her favor. Herbin v. Hoeffel, 806 A.2d 186, 191 (D.C. 2002). The role of the court is not to try an issue as factfinder, but rather to decide whether there are genuine issue of material fact to be decided by the jury. Holland v. Hannan, 456 A.2d 807, 814-15 (D.C. 1983).
After listing certain material facts it deemed undisputed, the trial court addressed plaintiff's claim of breach of the January 1976 agreement of the Rosinskys to convey to Mrs. LaPrade an undivided one-half interest in the property.*fn3 LaPrade did not commence her action to recover for the alleged breach until November 29, 2000. As the trial court observed in its order granting defendants' motion, even if it is assumed that LaPrade was not aware that the May 1976 deed was not in fact executed by Charles Rosinsky until the ruling of the Office of the Secretary of the District of Columbia to that effect on November 2, 1987, LaPrade was required by the applicable three-year statute of limitations to file her action for breach of contract by November 2, 1990 rather than ten years later as she did. The court's assumption represents a generous view of the facts, one ...