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Motor City Drive, L.L.C. v. Brennan Beer Gorman Monkarchitects and Interiors

January 12, 2006


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA-2126-04) (Hon. Anna Blackburne-Rigsby, Trial Judge).

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

Argued December 16, 2005

Before SCHWELB, REID and FISHER, Associate Judges.

Appellant Motor City Drive, L.L.C. ("MCD") appeals from the trial court's judgment denying its motion to vacate or modify an arbitration award in favor of appellee Brennan Beer Gorman Monk Architects and Interiors, P.L.L.C. ("BBGM"). MCD claims that the trial court (1) applied the wrong standard of review with respect to the issue of arbitrability of BBGM's claim; (2) erred in concluding that MCD waived its objection to consideration of bills incurred by Loring & Associates, Inc. ("Loring"), a mechanical, engineering, and plumbing contractor; and (3) made factual errors and incorrect legal determinations. Discerning no error, we affirm the trial court's judgment.


The record before us shows that MCD, the owner of an office building located in Bethesda, Maryland, and BBGM, an architectural firm based in the District of Columbia, entered into a "Standard Form of Agreement Between Owner and Architect with Standard Form of Architect's Services" on March 8, 2001 ("Agreement"). The Agreement involved the "Phase II extension" of MCD's office building. Paragraph of the Agreement included a standard arbitration clause: "Any claim, dispute or other matter in question arising out of or related to this Agreement shall be subject to arbitration."

The Agreement was executed following disputes between MCD and the initial architectural, and mechanical, engineering, and plumbing firms for the project. Although the Agreement indicated that the initial mechanical, engineering, and plumbing firm would continue with the project, BBGM had to engage another firm to complete the drawings required to be submitted for the proper construction permit. BBGM engaged Loring, and the terms of Loring's work were set forth in an agreement which was never signed. Nevertheless, Loring completed the work specified in the unsigned agreement.

Subsequently, a disagreement surfaced between BBGM and MCD as to the amount of the architectural fees owed to BBGM. Eventually, on May 19, 2003, BBGM filed a demand for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association ("AAA"), claiming that MCD owed it $69,683.09 plus interest. During the discovery phase of the arbitration, counsel for MCD demanded the time sheets, invoices and other documents relating to Loring. Although counsel for BBGM indicated that he was "somewhat puzzled" by the request to review the Loring documents because MCD's agent had "agreed to retain . . . Loring on [the] project and [to] compensate it on a lump sum basis," the parties arranged for a mutual review of requested documents.

Although the parties insisted during oral argument that, at the commencement of the two-day hearing (December 15-16, 2003) on MCD's arbitration demand, MCD raised a challenge to the arbitrability of a portion of BBGM's claim, and BBGM asserted that MCD had waived its challenge because of the untimeliness of its challenge, the arbitrator makes no mention of this matter in his award, dated January 2, 2004. Instead, after hearing testimony from MCD, BBGM, and Loring, assessing the credibility of those who testified, listening to the arguments of the parties, and reviewing documentary evidence provided by the parties, the arbitrator found, in part, that Loring "billed [BBGM], FORTY SEVEN THOUSAND EIGHT HUNDRED TWO DOLLARS AND EIGHTY TWO CENTS ($47,802.82) (including expenses), represent[ing] the amount of work performed by Loring through the submission of the construction documents to the County for approval. . . ." The arbitrator also asserted that MCD "acknowledged that the sum [alleged] was acceptable to it for Loring[, and] also acknowledged on various occasions both the need for a[] [mechanical, engineering, and plumbing firm], as well as the hiring of Loring." Moreover, the arbitrator "expressly [found] that [MCD] knew of, approved of, and needed the services of Loring as a sub-consultant to BBGM."

Furthermore, the arbitrator determined that:

The contract specifically provides that the "instruments of service" (in this case, in particular, the plans prepared by BBGM and Loring) remain the property of BBGM until BBGM is paid therefore. Once paid, however, those "instruments of service" become the property of [MCD] and [MCD] is then entitled to all electronic, print, and other copies or versions thereof.

Based on the services rendered by Loring and other components of BBGM's total claim, the arbitrator determined that MCD "shall pay [BBGM] the sum of SIXTY THOUSAND NINE HUNDRED SEVENTY DOLLARS AND SIXTY-SIX CENTS ($60,970.66), . . . [and]

[u]pon payment by [MCD] in full, [MCD], in turn, is entitled to the 'instruments of service' in print and electronic form from [BBGM] and Loring."

On March 29, 2004, MCD filed its motion to vacate or modify the arbitration award. The trial court "conclude[d] that the arbitrator did not exceed his powers in the Arbitration Award," and that the award "was not in disregard of the law or contrary to undisputed evidence." The trial court denied MCD's Super. Ct. ...

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