July 24, 2008; see amended opinion filed October 15, 2009
Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CAB2120-06, CAB2345-06, & FEP24-06). (Hon. Geoffrey M. Alprin, Trial Judge) (Hon. Rhonda Reid-Winston, Probate Judge).
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Blackburne-rigsby, Associate Judge
Before FISHER, BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY, and THOMPSON, Associate Judges.
After the death of Ted Wolfe, doctors and lawyers who alleged that they provided medical and legal services to him prior to his death sought payment for these claims by Mr. Wolfe's estate. In these consolidated appeals, these doctors and lawyers challenge the Probate Division's dismissal of their complaints filed after the estate disallowed their claims and the Civil Division's dismissal of their consolidated complaints.*fn1
Appellants allege that (1) the Superior Court's Probate and Civil Divisions erred in respectively dismissing their consolidated complaints against the estate on the grounds that their suits should have been filed with Maryland courts and were thus improperly before the Divisions; and (2) the Civil Division erred in ordering the appellants and the District of Columbia Recorder of Deeds to release thirteen Notices of Lis Pendens from the land records when appellants' cases were still pending on appeal and undecided. We hold that the Probate Division could properly exercise jurisdiction over the appellants' claims and, therefore, we reverse and remand its dismissal of the complaints. We also reverse the Civil Division's dismissal of the appellants' consolidated complaints. Holding that the Civil Division lacked jurisdiction to order the release of the Notices of Lis Pendens because notices of appeal had been filed, which divested the Civil Division of its jurisdiction, we vacate that order.
I. Factual and Procedural Background
On February 15, 1995, Ted Wolfe executed his Last Will and Testament ("Will") in Maryland, whereby the entirety of his estate was devised to The Ted Albert Wolfe Trust ("Trust"), which was created on the same date. Mr. Wolfe died in his Maryland home on June 7, 2005. As provided for in his Will and Trust, his first cousin, appellee Sally Ann McGreevy, became Executor of the Will and Trustee of the Trust.*fn2
Appellants Dana Richard, Robert Madsen, Richard Ratner, and Prafull Dave ("Creditors") each claim that they provided medical or legal services to Mr. Wolfe and that they are owed payment for these services.
On June 10, 2005, an estate creditor, who is not a party to these complaints or appeals, initiated a probate proceeding in the District of Columbia and sought to be appointed personal representative, but the Probate Division dismissed this proceeding without prejudice in late October 2005. On July 6, 2005, Ms. McGreevy opened a probate estate in Montgomery County, Maryland. The following day Maryland issued Letters of Administration to Ms. McGreevy, who was appointed Personal Representative of the estate. On November 2, 2005, the District of Columbia probate petition was dismissed without prejudice because the Probate Division believed that the domicile issue was being litigated in Maryland.*fn3
On December 7, 2005, the Creditors presented their claims in Maryland against the estate to Ms. McGreevy in her capacity as Personal Representative. The estate issued a notice of disallowance of those claims on January 10, 2006.
On March 6, 2006, Ms. McGreevy opened an ancillary probate estate in the District of Columbia with respect to the real property located here. On March 13, 2006, without knowledge that the ancillary estate had been opened, the Creditors filed Civil Action No. 06-2345 (hereinafter "First Lawsuit") in the Civil Division of Superior Court seeking money damages in the amount of $295,000 for breach of contract and seeking the removal of Ms. McGreevy as Trustee and Personal Representative. Two days later, the Creditors filed Civil Action No. 06-2120 also in the Civil Division of Superior Court seeking money damages for breach of contract in the amount of $295,000 and seeking a declaratory judgment that Mr. Wolfe was domiciled in the District of Columbia at the time of his death. The Creditors learned of the probate estate in the District of Columbia on March 23, 2006, and re-filed Civil Action No. 06-2345 in the Civil Division the following day with an amended caption that reflected the resident agent for the estate in the District of Columbia. The Creditors demanded a jury trial in both complaints.
In April 2006, the Creditors filed thirteen Notices of Lis Pendens with the District of Columbia Recorder of Deeds and referenced Civil Action No. 06-2345 as the action that formed the basis for each of the notices. Ms. McGreevy, in her capacity as Personal Representative, filed a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint in Civil Action No. 06-2345 on May 10, 2006, in the Civil Division. She also filed a Motion to Strike Filing of Notice of Lis Pendens on May 23, 2006, in Civil Action No. 06-2345. The Civil Division trial judge responsible for Civil Action No. 06-2345 granted Ms. McGreevy's motion and ordered the Recorder of Deeds to strike all thirteen Notices of Lis Pendens on June 6, 2006. On July 7, 2006, the District of Columbia Recorder of Deeds filed a Motion to Intervene and to Vacate the Court's Order to strike the Notices of Lis Pendens because it contended that the order exceeded the Recorder of Deeds's authority because the Recorder of Deeds was not authorized to remove any of the Notices of Lis Pendens that had been recorded. Ms. McGreevy did not oppose this motion. The Creditors timely filed a Notice of Appeal of the June 6th Order striking the thirteen notices on July 10, 2006.
After it was discovered at the July 14, 2006 scheduling hearing in Civil Action No. 06-2345 that another civil action by the Creditors was pending against Ms. McGreevy (Civil Action No. 06-2120, presided over by the Honorable Geoffrey Alprin) in the Civil Division, Judge Alprin sua sponte consolidated both cases. The Civil Division granted Ms. McGreevy's Motion to Dismiss on the grounds that the Creditors were barred from asserting their claims in the District of Columbia because they had failed to comply with the Maryland statute requiring lawsuits be filed in Maryland after the disallowance of their claims and ordered that the consolidated complaints in Civil Action Nos. 06-2345 and 06-2120 be dismissed.
On August 25, 2006, the Recorder of Deeds's unopposed Motion to Vacate the earlier order to strike the thirteen Notices of Lis Pendens was granted. Thereafter, the Creditors filed a Motion to Vacate this order on September 5, 2006. On September 11, 2006, the Creditors timely filed Notices of Appeal of the September 8, 2006, Order that dismissed their consolidated complaints and the August 25, 2006, Order granting the Recorder of Deed's Motion to Vacate the order to strike ...