Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA-10305-02 ) (Hon. James E. Boasberg, Motions Judge) (Hon. Patricia A. Broderick, Motions Judge).
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fisher, Associate Judge
Before RUIZ, GLICKMAN, and FISHER, Associate Judges.
Appellant Shirley Bolton ("Bolton") asks us to reverse orders of the Superior Court granting summary judgment to appellee Bernabei & Katz, PLLC ("B&K"). We affirm those portions of the judgment which confirmed an arbitration award and dismissed Bolton's counter-complaint, but remand for further consideration of Bolton's motion to amend or clarify her answer.
This appeal was generated by B&K's attempts to enforce an arbitration award. In December 1998, the parties entered into a retainer agreement governing B&K's representation of Bolton, who was contesting the failure of the United States Army to promote her to the rank of Colonel. In a letter dated November 11, 1999, B&K terminated its representation, citing Bolton's failure to pay the retainer and accruing legal fees. B&K reaffirmed the termination in a letter dated February 21, 2000, and some time later returned Bolton's file to her.
Meanwhile, Bolton repeatedly failed to pay B&K's legal fees. Ultimately, she retained new counsel, James C. Strouse, Esquire, who disputed the fee totals and raised the possibility that B&K was guilty of negligence and malpractice. On July 26, 2001, acting in response to Bolton's request for arbitration and pursuant to the arbitration provision of the retainer agreement, B&K petitioned the Attorney/Client Arbitration Board ("ACAB") of the District of Columbia Bar to arbitrate the fee dispute. ACAB accepted the dispute on July 31, 2001, and conducted an arbitration hearing on October 2, 2002. ACAB ruled in favor of B&K and ordered Bolton to pay "$5,268 for legal fees owed." Bolton refused to pay the award, however, prompting B&K to initiate the litigation which brings the parties here.
II. Procedural Background
On December 11, 2002, B&K began the process of enforcing its October 3, 2002, arbitration award by filing a Motion to Enroll in the Superior Court.*fn1 Acting pro se, Bolton filed her Answer on March 11, 2003. Almost six months later, on September 5, 2003, Bolton filed a counter-complaint against B&K for malpractice. On April 5, 2004, the court granted B&K's Motion for Summary Judgment on the Counter-Complaint, concluding that the "[three year] statute of limitations for legal malpractice" began when Bolton "knew of possible legal malpractice in July 2000" and thus expired before "the Counter-Complaint was filed in Sept. 2003[.]"
Six months later, on October 8, 2004, Michael P. Coyle, Esquire, entered an appearance on Bolton's behalf and, on November 19, 2004, he filed a Motion to Amend, or in the Alternative, Clarify (Bolton's) Answer to the motion to confirm. This motion sought to "amend [the] Answer to include an 'omitted' Counterclaim" or, in the alternative, to obtain "an order from the [c]court clarifying that her original Answer, filed pro se in this matter does, in fact, allege a Counterclaim against [B&K]." The court denied this motion on December 14, 2004.
On February 18, 2005, B&K filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on its motion to confirm. Bolton opposed that motion and filed her own Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment. The court granted B&K's motion and denied Bolton's cross-motion on June 30, 2005. The court refused to vacate the arbitration award, finding that "[t]here is no evidence that  ACAB excluded any material evidence that prejudiced [Bolton's] rights, or that the arbitrators disregarded the law." The court also found that "there is no evidence that [Bolton] has paid [B&K]" and thus "[B&K] has a right to have the arbitration award enrolled [by] this Court."For those reasons, the court "confirmed" and "enrolled" the arbitration award.
III. Confirmation of the Arbitration Award
Bolton concedes that she has not paid the award, but she challenges the confirmation (and the award) by attacking the arbitration proceedings. She alleges ACAB "refused to hear evidence material to the controversy," D.C. Code § 16-4311 (a)(4) (2001), when it denied her request to "read from a prepared statement" and refused to admit a piece of evidence. Bolton also claims that the hearing was "procedurally defective" because she "never formally agreed to arbitrate the amount ultimately before [ACAB]." We construe this last claim to be an argument that vacation is warranted because the "arbitrators exceeded their powers[.]" D.C. Code § 16-4311 (a)(3).*fn2
"Judicial review of an arbitrator's decision is extremely limited, and a party seeking to set it aside has a heavy burden." Lopata v. Coyne, 735 A.2d 931, 940 (D.C. 1999) (internal citations omitted). See D.C. Code § 16-4311 (a) ...