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Evans v. Dreyfuss Brothers

May 14, 2009


Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (LTB14188-05 & CAB4685-06) (Hon. Judith E. Retchin, Trial Judge).

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

Argued October 15, 2008

Before REID, Associate Judge, and KING and FARRELL,*fn1 Senior Judges.

This case involves a question as to whether the dispute between appellant, Joyce Evans, and appellees, Dreyfuss Brothers, Inc. & Tenacity 919 L Street, LLC, concerning the alleged breach of a settlement agreement and a consent judgment agreement, must be resolved in the first instance through an arbitration proceeding. The trial court lifted its stay and dismissed Ms. Evans' consolidated actions on the ground that arbitration is required. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.


The record before us shows that as of January 2004, Ms. Evans was a shareholder in the L Street Cooperative Association, Inc. ("the Cooperative"), the owner of a building located at 919 L Street in the Northwest quadrant of the District of Columbia. She occupied one of the units in the apartment building. On January 29, 2004, the President and Secretary of the Cooperative entered into a Replacement Redevelopment Agreement ("the Replacement Agreement") with Tenacity Group, LLC ("Tenacity"); the original agreement had been signed on January 12, 2004. The Replacement Agreement provided that each member of the Cooperative would be given an opportunity to purchase his or her unit under certain conditions, or would be paid a relocation allowance if he or she chose not to acquire the unit. An arbitration clause was included in the Replacement Agreement which provided, in part:

Any dispute, claim or controversy arising out of or relating to the provisions of this Agreement shall be settled by a decision of a single neutral arbitrator under the auspices of, and in accordance with the applicable rules of, the Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services, Inc. ("JAMS"). The decision of the arbitrator shall be final, binding and non-appealable, and judgment based on the arbitration decision may be entered in either the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, or the Superior Court of the District of Columbia . . . .

A dispute arose out of the Replacement Agreement, and Tenacity and five of the unit owners of the Cooperative, including Ms. Evans, proceeded to arbitration before a JAMS arbitrator.*fn2

While that arbitration was pending, Dreyfuss Brothers, Inc., t /a 919 L Street or t/a Tenacity 919 L Street, LLC, served a Complaint for Possession, which had been filed in the Landlord & Tenant Branch of the Superior court on May 2, 2005, on the arbitration respondents, including Ms. Evans ("L&T action"). Ms. Evans lodged an answer and plea of title to the complaint on August 26, 2005. In addition, on October 4, 2005, the arbitration respondents filed a motion, in the L&T action, to stay the arbitration.*fn3

On January 20, 2005, Tenacity and Ms. Evans entered into a settlement agreement under which Ms. Evans agreed to vacate her unit and deliver the keys to Tenacity no later than April 30, 2006, in exchange for a monetary consideration of $215,000 for pain and suffering, provided she met certain conditions. These conditions included: a prohibition on disparagement, or objection to any of Tenacity's actions; the dismissal of Ms. Evans' Housing and Urban Development ("HUD") discrimination complaint against Tenacity, with prejudice, and any other complaints filed, including those with JAMS. The settlement agreement further provided that if Ms. Evans breached the agreement, she would "lose all of [her] rights and benefits under the [settlement] [a]greement." Yet another paragraph of the settlement agreement included essentially the same arbitration clause as appeared in the Replacement Agreement, and one other paragraph contained a confidentiality provision under which Ms. Evans agreed not to disclose the terms of the settlement agreement. In light of the settlement agreement, Dreyfuss Brothers, Inc. and Ms. Evans filed a consent judgment agreement in the L&T action on January 26, 2006, which memorialized the settlement agreement. The settlement agreement was not attached to the consent judgment agreement, "[d]ue to privacy concerns," but was "incorporated by reference."

On April 30, 2006, Ms. Evans vacated her unit and turned in her keys. Tenacity did not pay Ms. Evans the monetary consideration mentioned in their settlement agreement. Rather, on May 2, 2006, Tenacity sent Ms. Evans a letter advising her that she had "defaulted under numerous provisions of the settlement agreement . . . and thus [was] not entitled to any of the rights and/or benefits set forth in the Settlement Agreement." Specifically, Tenacity accused Ms. Evans of (1) making disparaging comments about Tenacity to other residents of and employees associated with the L Street building, as well as to members and staff of the District's legislature; (2) failing to dismiss her HUD discrimination complaint against Tenacity; and (3) failing to abide by the confidentiality provision.

When Ms. Evans did not receive the monetary payment to which she believed she was entitled, she lodged a complaint against Tenacity in the Civil Division of the Superior Court on June 16, 2006, alleging Tenacity's breach of the settlement agreement, requesting rescission of that agreement, and seeking injunctive relief (temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction) to regain possession of her apartment unit. On June 19, 2006, Tenacity filed a motion to dismiss Ms. Evans' Civil Division complaint. On that same day, the trial court heard testimony and arguments on Ms. Evans' request for a temporary restraining order.*fn4 After hearing closing argument from Ms. Evans' counsel, the trial court summarized its reasons for denying Ms. Evans' motion for a temporary restraining order.

After the parties could not reach agreement during required mediation of Ms. Evans' complaint, the trial court entertained Tenacity's motion to dismiss and Ms. Evans' opposition. During a status hearing on July 7, 2006, the trial court announced that it considered Tenacity's dismissal motion to be "meritorious," and that "the case has to go to arbitration in light of the contract that was entered into." The court orally granted Tenacity's motion to dismiss, "referr[ed] the matter to arbitration pursuant to the settlement agreement," and stayed the case at Ms. Evans' request.

On July 12, 2006, the trial court held a hearing on Ms. Evans' request for a preliminary injunction.*fn5 That same day, Ms. Evans filed in the L&T branch a motion to enforce the terms of the consent judgment agreement that had been lodged in January 2006. On July 17, 2006, Tenacity filed an emergency motion to show cause why Ms. Evans and her counsel should not be held in contempt for violation of the July 7, 2006 order referring her Civil Division complaint to arbitration. Ms. Evans responded on ...

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