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In re Estate of Green

April 13, 2006

IN RE ESTATE OF LOUISE O. GREEN; ANNE MEISTER, APPELLANT.


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (ADM-2882-90) (Hon. Jose M. Lopez, Trial Judge).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Washington, Chief Judge

Argued February 23, 2005

Before WASHINGTON, Chief Judge,*fn1 RUIZ, Associate Judge, and KING, Senior Judge.

Appellant Anne Meister ("special master") appeals from the trial court's ruling denying her compensation for defending an appeal before the Court of Appeals. Specifically, the special master challenges the trial court's determination that requests for compensation for defending an appeal should have been sought in the Court of Appeals pursuant to D.C. App. R. 39 (d)(1). The special master states that the Superior Court, pursuant to Super. Ct. Civ. R. 53 (a), is the proper venue for court appointed special masters to seek awards of supplemental compensation. We agree with the special master and reverse the decision of the trial court.

I.

This is the second appeal we have heard regarding the estate of Louise Green. See In re Estate of Louise Green, 816 A.2d 14 (D.C. 2003) ("Green I"). Although a detailed account of the facts can be found in Green I, a brief recitation may be of benefit to the reader. Old Republic Surety Company ("Old Republic") is the surety for David Avery, the original personal representative of the estate of Louise Green. Mr. Avery was removed as personal representative by the trial court for failing to comply with the trial court's accounting requirements. As a result, the trial court appointed Anne Meister as special master of Louise Green's estate to determine the estate's assets and to file the requisite accountings. Three months after her appointment, the special master submitted her report along with a petition for compensation seeking $3,197.48 to be paid from Old Republic's bond. Old Republic, however, denied liability on the bond and challenged the special master's petition. The trial court sided with the special master, approved her report and ordered Old Republic to compensate her for her work. Old Republic appealed the trial court's order. On January 30, 2003, we issued an opinion affirming the trial court's order requiring Old Republic to pay the special master $3,197.48 in fees. See Green I, supra, 816 A.2d at 20-21.

Twenty days later, on February 19, 2003, the special master, once again in front of the trial court, filed a supplemental petition for compensation in the amount of $10,618.46 for services related to her defense of the appeal before the Court of Appeals. On February 21, 2003, we issued the mandate from Green I.

Old Republic objected to the special master's petition for supplemental compensation. Specifically, Old Republic claimed that the Superior Court lacked jurisdiction because any petition for supplemental compensation should have been presented to the Court of Appeals pursuant to D.C. App. R. 39 (d). Old Republic also argued that, in seeking further compensation from the Superior Court, the special master was effectively seeking to amend the previous judgment*fn2 of the trial court. This attempt to alter or amend the previous judgment, Old Republic asserted, should be denied because of the special master's failure to comply with the time limits prescribed by Super. Ct. Civ. R. 59 (requiring that motions to alter or amend judgment be filed within ten days after entry of judgment). The special master, on the other hand, denied attempting to alter or amend the previous judgment and further argued that the trial court retained jurisdiction to award her supplemental compensation pursuant to Super. Ct. Civ. R. 53 (a).

The trial court agreed with Old Republic's reasoning and on July 2, 2003, denied the special master's petition for supplemental compensation on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction and untimeliness. The special master filed a timely notice of appeal.

II.

Although a trial court's decision to grant or deny a request for fees and costs is generally reviewed for abuse of discretion,see Valentine v. Elliott (In re Estate of Delaney), 819 A.2d 968, 994 (D.C. 2003), the issue of whether a trial court possesses the statutory authority to award particular fees and costs is reviewed de novo. See Del Rosario v. Wang, 804 A.2d 292, 294 (D.C. 2002).

In this case, the issue before the court is whether the trial court erred as a matter of law in concluding that it was precluded from awarding compensation for the efforts of a special master appointed by the Superior Court in defending the trial court's decision on appeal. This issue is purely one of law, and thus our review is de novo.

A.

The exclusive authority to compensate a special master for work done in connection with her appointment by the Superior Court is found in Super. Ct. Civ. R. 53 ...


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