August 31, 2009 *fn1
THE ESTATE OF LINDA BLACKWELL, AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE,
MARIE EDELIN, APPELLANT,
PETER CAMPBELL, APPELLEE.
Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (No. LTB20171-05) (Hon. Lynn Leibovitz, Trial Judge).
Submitted July 21, 2009
Before WASHINGTON, Chief Judge, and PRYOR and KERN, Senior Judges.
The instant appeal arises out of a protracted litigation between appellee-landlord Peter Campbell, proceeding pro se, and the estate of appellant-tenant Linda Blackwell regarding rental increases during the lifetime of tenant.
The record reflects that tenant rented housing from landlord for $555 per month in Northeast, Washington, D.C., commencing in August, 1997. In January, 2004, landlord provided to tenant written notice of his intent to raise the monthly rent from $555 to $850*fn2. Tenant refused to pay the higher rent and continued to pay landlord $555 each month.
Some eighteen months later, on June 20, 2005, landlord filed a complaint for possession of the premises based on tenant's failure to pay the requested amount. Tenant filed an answer on July 29, 2005, contending that the apartment was not registered as a rental accommodation and that landlord was attempting to charge an illegal amount of rent. She also filed a tenant petition with the Rental Accommodations and Conversion Division ("RACD"), asserting six claims against landlord.*fn3 Pursuant to Drayton v. Poretsky Mgmt., Inc., 462 A.2d 1115 (D.C. 1983), the trial court stayed the landlord-tenant action pending the outcome of the RACD proceeding and entered a protective order, which required tenant to pay the current rent of $555 into the court registry each month.
In October, 2005, RACD held a hearing on tenant's petition at which landlord did not appear. Tenant passed away on August 14, 2006, and her personal representative proceeded with the actions on behalf of the estate. Some six months after her death, on March 28, 2007, RACD issued a written order, ruling that the dwelling had not been properly registered and that the landlord had attempted to charge an illegal level of rent. Importantly, we note that RACD further determined, citing to D.C. Code § 42-3509.01(a) (2001),*fn4 14 DCMR §§ 4217.3 and 3826,*fn5 and Kapusta v. District of Columbia Rental Housing Com'n, 704 A.2d 286 (D.C. 1997) (upholding RACD's order for "rent refund" of money demanded but never paid) (emphasis supplied), that tenant was entitled to a "refund" of the excess rent charged, but never paid. This amounted to $5,900, plus interest.*fn6
Landlord did not appeal the RACD order to the Rental Housing Commission ("RHC").*fn7 A judge of the trial court entered the RACD order as a money-judgment against the landlord on November 13, 2007 (2007-CA-003918 C).
In September of 2007, tenant moved for summary judgment on the initial complaint for possession that landlord had filed some two years earlier in the Landlord and Tenant Branch (2005-LT-210171). Tenant argued, in essence, that the RACD decision was binding on the trial court under the doctrine of collateral estoppel and that the court should award the judgment from the funds then held in the court registry. On November 9, 2007, the trial court denied the motion in an oral ruling. The record reflects that the court was troubled by the requirement in the RACD order that the landlord repay money that tenant had not paid. Thus, the trial court explained that it read the order as stating only that the landlord charged illegal levels of rent and "decline[d] to find as a matter of law that the [tenant] has paid money that in fact she never paid." Accordingly, the trial court refused to order a refund in connection with tenant's motion for summary judgment.
On December 26, 2007, tenant filed a motion in the Landlord and Tenant case (2005-LTB-020171) to attach funds in the court registry in order to satisfy the judgment she had obtained in the Civil Division case (2007-CA-003918). On January 18, 2008, the court denied the motion to attach, stating that the funds in the registry were the subject of a pending McNeal (v. Haab, 346 A.2d 508 (D.C. 1975)) hearing*fn8 and were not rent that had been paid.
On February 4, 2008, following the McNeal proceeding before a jury, tenant orally renewed her motion to have the judgment satisfied out of the money held in the court registry. The court responded, "I decline to use the result of this case as a vehicle for your collection of that judgment in a separate matter." Tenant replied that the judgment would be recorded at the Office of the Reporter of Deeds. The court noted that "the judgment is the judgment... [a]nd I don't believe it's appropriate for me to satisfy the judgment as a result of this case." Accordingly, the court released the court registry funds to the landlord and closed the Landlord and Tenant case.
In the instant appeal, tenant now contends that "the Superior Court erred by failing to grant [tenant's] motion for summary judgment," and "by refusing to attach the funds in the registry of the court."
Initially, we note that this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over tenant's first claim, because we have jurisdiction to review only final orders, D.C. Code § 11-721(a)(1) (2001), and a refusal to grant a motion for summary judgment is not a final, appealable order. In re Brown, 974 A.2d 884, 888 (D.C. 2009). Nor does it fall within any exceptions to that jurisdictional requirement. Id. at 889; see also Cohen v. Beneficial Indus. Loan Corp., 337 U.S. 541 (1949).
As to tenant's second claim, we note that this court has established that a tenant is entitled to the money demanded by the landlord which is in excess of the legal rent level. See Kaputsa, 704 A.2d at 287. Therefore, we are constrained under the circumstances here to remand this case to the trial court for the appropriate action by the trial court to have the money demanded by the landlord paid to the tenant.