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In re Estate of Jordan

September 18, 2008

IN RE ESTATE OF HERBERT B. JORDAN; CALVIN BROOKS, ET AL., APPELLANTS.


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (ADM -1599-99) (Hon. A. Franklin Burgess, Jr., Trial Judge).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nebeker, Senior Judge

Submitted September 10, 2008

Before NEBEKER, TERRY and SCHWELB, Senior Judges.

Appellants Calvin Brooks and Dalton Howard, former counsel for James Nero in his capacity as personal representative of the estate of Herbert Jordan, appeal from the trial court's denial of their petition to order Nero to pay outstanding attorney fees.*fn1 Specifically, appellants argue the trial court erred in ruling the estate was closed, barring their claim against Nero. Appellants also contend the trial court failed to determine whether the statute of limitations for personal liability claims against personal representatives precluded their claim against Nero. We cannot accept their arguments, and accordingly, affirm.

I.

Because appellants have provided us with very few facts and a minimal record, we set forth only the facts that find support in the relevant hearing transcript and appellants'appendix. In November 1999, Nero retained appellants to represent him as personal representative of Jordan's estate.*fn2 After the probate of the estate, Nero filed a final accounting with the Register of Wills on January 3, 2005. On March 11, 2005, the Probate Division of the Superior Court sent Nero a Notice of Audit, requesting explanations for certain expenses detailed on the final accounting. Appellants also received a copy of the Notice of Audit some time after March 11, 2005, but were not aware Nero had filed a final accounting. According to appellants, they told Nero he should not have filed the final accounting without their assistance and directed him to consult with them prior to taking any other action with the court.

The next communication documented in the record before us took place over a year later in June 2006.*fn3 In a letter dated June 20, 2006, Nero referenced a June 9, 2006, letter from appellants attaching their revised invoice for attorney fees totaling $8,177.50. Nero explained that he had already sent appellants a check for $150, which they had listed as the only outstanding balance on a "Statement of Account" submitted to the Probate Division of the Superior Court.*fn4 Nero also stated the estate was closed, and therefore, appellants' request was "outside the ruling of the Court." Appellants responded by letter dated June 28, 2006, and referenced a phone conversation between the parties the previous day. Appellants also repeated their demand that Nero send a check for the outstanding attorney fees.

On July 28, 2006, after Nero failed to respond to appellants' requests for payment, appellants filed a "Petition to Order [Nero as personal representative] to Perform His Official Duties." Specifically, appellants asked the trial court to order Nero to pay the $8,177.50 in attorney fees they claimed he owed. By order dated August 23, 2006, the trial court ordered the parties to submit briefs to determine whether the court had jurisdiction to entertain the petition.*fn5 The trial court held a hearing to address the motion and the issue of jurisdiction on December 8, 2006, and denied appellants' motion the same day. The trial court found the estate was closed according to the governing statutory provisions. The trial court also noted, and appellants did not dispute, that the estate had no money because all distributions had been made. Next, the trial court concluded appellants were unable to show good cause for re-opening the estate despite their claim that Nero owed them just over $8,000 in legal fees. The trial court based its conclusion on the fact that appellants (1) indicated in a January 9, 2005, letter*fn6 to Nero that they were planning on sending him a revised invoice within a few weeks; and (2) failed to object to the closing of the estate until July 28, 2006, when they filed their petition with the court. Moreover, the trial judge found that the delayed filing of appellants' petition exceeded the limitations period.

II.

A.

Appellants first argue the trial court erred in concluding the estate was closed pursuant to the provisions of D.C. Code § 20-1301 (c) (2001).*fn7 They further contend that, notwithstanding subsection (c), Nero was obligated to pay the attorney fees appellants claim he owes. We discern no error in the trial court's conclusions that the estate was closed and that appellants failed to show good cause for re-opening it.

D.C. Code § 20-1301 (b) states that, unless good cause is shown, "an estate administered in an unsupervised administration shall be closed" by either the personal representative's filing a Certificate of Completion with the court or, if no Certificate is filed, then by termination of the appointment of the personal representative as set forth in subsection (c). Section 20-1301 (c) states in relevant part:

If no Certificate of Completion is filed by a personal representative in an unsupervised administration, then the appointment of the personal representative shall terminate automatically on the date which is 3 years after the appointment of the personal representative, or on the later expiration of any extension of the appointment granted by the Court.

Section 20-1301 (d) provides that "[n]either the closing of the estate nor the termination of the personal representative's appointment shall prohibit the personal representative from thereafter performing whatever final administrative actions may be necessary to complete the affairs of the estate." We review the trial court's ...


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