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Franco v. Dist. of Columbia

August 26, 2010

SAMUEL N. FRANCO, APPELLANT,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CAB2690-08) (Hon. Jeanette Jackson Clark, Trial Judge).

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

Argued September 30, 2009

Before GLICKMAN and FISHER, Associate Judges,and WAGNER, Senior Judge.

Appellant, Samuel N. Franco, brought this action in Superior Court for injunctive relief and monetary damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that appellee, District of Columbia (District), violated his constitutional rights by taking his private property for redevelopment solely for a private and non-public purpose. Franco claimed that the asserted public purpose for the taking was pretextual. The trial court granted summary judgment for the District on the ground that the doctrine of collateral estoppel precluded Franco from litigating his pretext claim. On appeal, Franco argues that the trial court erred in giving collateral estoppel effect to an issue resolved in a case to which he was not a party. We conclude that the trial court erred in giving collateral estoppel effect to an issue decided in a case to which Franco was neither a party nor in privity with a party. Under the circumstances of this case, it would be inappropriate to affirm on a ground not relied upon by the trial court as requested by the District. Therefore, we reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I.

We state briefly the factual background for this case and related cases. Other facts pertinent to our consideration of the issues before the court are set forth in the discussion of the issues in Section II.

A. Franco's §1983 Action

Franco is the owner of improved real property located at 2838 Alabama Avenue, S.E. and of a leasehold interest (along with Allan and Nathan Franco) in the adjacent real property located at 2834 Alabama Avenue, S.E. in the District. (referred to collectively as the "Property"). Franco owns and operates a business, Discount Mart, in the Property, which is within the Skyland Shopping Center (Skyland site) located at Alabama Avenue, Good Hope Road, and Naylor Road, S.E. Franco's property was taken through eminent domain to redevelop the Skyland site. Franco brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that the taking violated his constitutional rights because it was for a private and non-public purpose and because the asserted public purpose was pretextual.

The District filed a motion to dismiss Franco's complaint under Super. Ct. Civ. R. 12 (b)(6). It attached to the motion its Motion for Partial Summary Judgment in a related condemnation case against Franco, i.e., District of Columbia v. 0.03 Acres of Land and Samuel N. Franco, et al.,C.A. 05-5335 (hereinafter Franco Condemnation case). Also before the court was a copy of an order in a condemnation case before the Superior Court involving another property within the Skyland site described as District of Columbia v. 0.40 Acres of Land, et al.,C.A. No. 05-5336 (hereinafter DeSilva). The owner and tenant in the DeSilva case asserted as a defense to the taking a claim of pretext similar to the one advanced by Franco in the present case.

The trial court did not rule on the District's motion to dismiss immediately. It entered a scheduling order that included discovery deadlines. The District requested a stay of this case on the ground that it was duplicative of a condemnation proceeding involving Franco's property (hereinafter described), but the trial court denied the request. Before the expiration of the extended time for the close of discovery, the trial court entered an order treating the District's motion to dismiss as one for summary judgment and granted summary judgment for the District. The trial court gave as the reason for its ruling that the determination of the pretext issue against the parties in the DeSilva case collaterally estopped Franco from asserting otherwise in this case. Franco challenges that ruling in this appeal.

B. The Franco Condemnation Case

The National Capital Revitalization Corporation (NCRC), an independent instrumentality of the District of Columbia, instituted condemnation proceedings against Franco's property in the Skyland site (District of Columbia v. 0.03 Acres of Land and Samuel N. Franco, et al., CA 05-5335). Franco raised several defenses, including that the taking was pretextual in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The trial court granted the District's motion to strike Franco's defenses and dismiss his counter claim. This court concluded that the "pretext" defense raised an issue requiring proof and that the defense could not be rejected on the pleadings alone. Franco v. National Capital Revitalization Corp., 930 A.2d 160, 162 (D.C. 2007) (Franco I). Therefore, the court reversed the judgment, vacated the order granting NCRC's motion for immediate possession of Franco's property, and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings including discovery. 930 A.2d at 175.

On remand, Franco was granted broad discovery in the condemnation case. At the close of the initial discovery period, the District moved for summary judgment as to the validity of the taking. The trial court subsequently granted a series of motions for extensions of the discovery deadlines, including an order extending discovery for the review of electronic documents entered on June 29, 2009. ...


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