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Kreuzer v. George Washington University

April 13, 2006

DONALD W. KREUZER, D.M.D., APPELLANT,
v.
GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, APPELLEE.



Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA-3645-03) (Hon. James E. Boasberg, Trial Judge).

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

Argued February 10, 2006

Before FARRELL and REID, Associate Judges, and WYNN, Senior Judge, Superior Court of the District of Columbia.*fn1

Dr. Kreuzer, a resident of Foggy Bottom in the District of Columbia, brought suit against George Washington University (GWU or the University) alleging primarily that GWU had (1) trespassed on his property by building a ten-story residence hall that cantilevered - or extended - over a party wall that has supported Dr. Kreuzer's house since it was built in the 1800's; and (2) engaged in unlawful "blockbusting" under the D.C. Human Rights Act*fn2 in an attempt to force Dr. Kreuzer to sell his property to the University at a below-market rate. He alleged other torts as well, including fraudulent inducement, intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, nuisance, and defamation. GWU opposed the trespass claim on the ground that, because the party wall is located entirely on its property, the only right Dr. Kreuzer has with respect to the wall is the right of support, in the nature of a prescriptive easement. GWU further argued that it had not engaged in blockbusting and that, in any event, the statute of limitations barred that claim.

On the trespass claim, the trial judge granted summary judgment to the University after concluding, as a matter of law, that because the residence hall did not cross the property line, GWU was free to "increase the height of the wall without providing an ability for the adjoining property to tie into the addition, so long as the new wall [did] not interfere with the rights of support in the original wall." As to the blockbusting charge, the judge ruled that Dr. Kreuzer had not proffered evidence of such conduct occurring (if at all) within the statute of limitations provided by the Act. He likewise found no triable issues of fact on Dr. Kreuzer's remaining claims. We affirm.

I. Background

Since 1974 Dr. Kreuzer has resided in a townhouse located at 600 23rd Street, N.W. (Lot 9), in Square 43 of the District of Columbia land records. He also owns the adjoining townhouses at 602 and 604 23rd Street (Lots 8 and 7, respectively), which he rents to students. This case focused primarily on Lot 7. The only other property in Square 43, besides Dr. Kreuzer's lots and a large property known as the Remington Condominium, is current Lot 26 owned by GWU; it includes the property formerly known as Lot 6 that abuts Dr. Kreuzer's Lot 7 on the north side.

Until February 2000, a townhouse owned by GWU was situated on Lot 6. The homes on Lots 6, 7, 8, and 9 had been built simultaneously in 1879 by the same builder. The southern wall of the townhouse on Lot 6 was a wall ("a party wall") shared with the townhouse on Lot 7, providing support for both townhouses; the wall is approximately 10 inches wide. In 1891, the party wall had been extended westward to provide support for an addition to Dr. Kreuzer's townhouse, but not to any structure on Lot 6. The trial judge found this extension to be a "seamless addition" to the original wall, and thus viewed the whole structure as a single party wall. Relying on a field report in turn based on a land survey by the Bernard Locraft Company, the judge further found that the north wall of Dr. Kreuzer's Lot 7 townhouse, consisting of the party wall and the addition to it, lies north of the property line separating Lots 7 and 6, and therefore is located entirely on GWU's property.

In February 2000, the University demolished the townhouse on Lot 6 to make way for a new student residence hall. After approval by the Board of Zoning Appeals, construction of the dormitory began in 2002 and finished in 2004. Based upon an inspection by surveyor Edward Lopez in February 2004, the trial judge concluded, as a matter of law, that the residence hall as constructed does not extend beyond GWU's property line. At the time of demolition, the party wall was left in place and continues to support Dr. Kreuzer's townhouse.

The primary source of contention here (or at least a key one among Dr. Kreuzer's multiple grievances) is that, although the first three floors on the south wall of the dormitory are built straight up on GWU's Lot 6 about an inch from the north side of the party wall, when the south wall reaches the height of the party wall, the concrete floor slab cantilevers to the south over the top of the shared wall up to GWU's property line and ascends upward from there. (The residence hall does not rest on or touch the party wall; separating them is a two inch gap between the concrete floor slab and the top of the party wall.)

Before and during the course of the construction of the residence hall, GWU and its representatives had many discussions with Dr. Kreuzer about the process. Some of these discussions included negotiations for the purchase of Dr. Kreuzer's townhomes, and others responded to Dr. Kreuzer's concerns about the construction. Undoubtedly, GWU engaged in some hardball negotiation tactics with Dr. Kreuzer, and these interactions form the basis for appellant's second major claim - blockbusting in violation of the DCHRA.

II. Discussion

Following lengthy discovery, the trial judge granted judgment as a matter of law to GWU on all of Dr. Kreuzer's claims. Summary judgment is proper where "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). We review the trial court's grant of summary judgment de novo, employing the same legal standards as the trial court. See, e.g., Joeckel v. ...


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