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Rhys W. Robinson v. Georgetown Court

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COURT OF APPEALS


March 22, 2012

RHYS W. ROBINSON, ET AL., APPELLANTS,
v.
GEORGETOWN COURT CONDOMINIUM, LLC, APPELLEE.

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CAB8633-08) (Hon. Brian Holeman, Trial Judge)

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

(Argued December 15, 2011)

Before FISHER and THOMPSON, Associate Judges, and STEADMAN, Senior Judge.

D.C. Code § 15-102 (a) (2001) provides, in its portion relevant to this appeal, that "[e]ach final judgment or decree for the payment of money" rendered by the Superior Court, "from the date such judgment or decree is filed and recorded in the office of the Recorder of Deeds of the District of Columbia . . . shall constitute a lien on all the freehold and leasehold estates . . . of the defendants bound by such judgment [or] decree . . . ."*fn1 This appeal requires us to decide whether the filing and recordation in the Office of the Recorder of Deeds of a certified copy of the docket sheet in a Landlord and Tenant Branch ("Landlord Tenant court") case sufficed to create a lien on the real property of an individual against whom the Landlord and Tenant court had entered a money judgment, as shown by one (at least) of the entries on the docket sheet. We hold that filing and recordation of the certified docket sheet did create a lien, in favor of appellee Georgetown Court Condominium, LLC ("Georgetown Court"). Accordingly, we affirm the order of the trial court granting Georgetown Court's motion for summary judgment and denying appellants' cross-motion.

I.

The relevant facts are not in dispute. In July 2006, Georgetown Court filed a complaint for non-payment of rent against its commercial tenant Scott Wandling. On October 20, 2006, the Landlord Tenant court entered a consent judgment, including a judgment for possession and a money judgment, against Wandling. Thereafter, Georgetown Court requested a certified copy of the money judgment from the Superior Court. What the Superior Court's Clerk's Office provided in response was (1) a three-and-a-fraction-page docket sheet, bearing the heading "2006 LTB 024778 Georgetown Court Condominium v. Scott Wandling, T/A Georgetown Billards L&TC" and containing forty separately-dated docket items, and (2) an accompanying "Authentication," signed by a Deputy Clerk of the court, "certif[ying] that the document(s) annexed to this certificate is a true copy of the original on file and of record in [the Superior] Court."*fn2 On July 9, 2007, Georgetown Court filed the certified docket sheet with the Recorder of Deeds and requested that it be "record[ed] . . . as a lien against any real property deeded to Mr. Wandling in the District of Columbia." The same day, the certified docket sheet was recorded at Instrument No. 2007089936.

As of the date of recordation of the certified docket sheet, Wandling owned certain real property located on 38th Street, N.W. ("the 38th Street property"). On or about September 28, 2007, Wandling sold the 38th Street property to appellant Rhys W. Robinson. The deed and deeds of trust associated with this conveyance were recorded with the Recorder of Deeds on October 15, 2007.

On December 10, 2008, with Wandling having failed to pay the Landlord Tenant court money-judgment amount owed to Georgetown Court, Georgetown Court filed a "Complaint for Judicial Foreclosure," by which it sought a decree "ordering the sale of the Property and the distribution of the proceeds of the sale . . . to satisfy its judgment lien." The Superior Court granted summary judgment in favor of Georgetown Court. The court denied the cross-motion brought by Robinson and his mortgage lender (appellant First Tennessee Bank, N.A., successor to PNC Mortgage), rejecting their arguments that (1) Georgetown Court's filing and recordation of the docket sheet and docket entries with the Recorder of Deeds did not amount to the filing and recordation of a "judgment' within the meaning of D.C. Code § 15-102 (a), and therefore (2) no enforceable judgment lien had been created against the 38th Street property prior to the conveyance to Robinson.

This appeal followed. Our review of the trial court's grant of a summary judgment is de novo. Payne v. Clark, 25 A.3d 918, 924 (D.C. 2011).

II.

Section 15-102 (a) has provided since 1966 that the filing and recordation of a judgment with the Recorder of Deeds is necessary to create a lien on real property. See Pub. L. No. 89-745, 80 Stat. 1177 (Nov. 2, 1966). However, neither § 15-102 nor any other section of the D.C. Code chapter in which it is found (D.C. Code Title 15, Chapter 1, "Judgments and Decrees") contains a definition of the term "judgment" or specifies what form a judgment must take to create a lien when filed with the Recorder of Deeds. The focus of the 1966 legislation was on recordation of judgments in one central place (the Office of the Recorder of Deeds), in order to relieve interested persons from having to go through the index of every judgment docketed in the then-Court of General Sessions or in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, to ascertain whether a judgment had been entered that might affect a property.*fn3 The focus of the 1966 legislation was not on what constitutes a recordable judgment or on the form such a judgment must take. The legislative history of earlier versions of the statutory provision now codified as D.C. Code § 15-102 (which provided that a judgment of the Court of General Sessions did not become a lien on interests in real property until docketed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia) likewise appears to contain no discussion of the form of a recordable judgment.*fn4

Appellants contend that we must look to Superior Court Civil Rules 54 and 58*fn5 as establishing the requirements for what constitutes a "judgment" within the meaning of § 15-102 (a).*fn6 Super. Ct. Civ. R. 54 (a) ("Rule 54 (a)"), entitled "Definition; form," provides that "'[j]udgment' as used in these Rules includes a decree and any order from which an appeal lies," but "shall not contain a recital of pleadings, the report of a master, or the record of prior proceedings." Super. Ct. Civ. R. 58 ("Rule 58 ") provides in relevant part that "[e]very judgment shall be set forth on a separate document."*fn7 Appellants assert that, contrary to Rule 54 (a), the docket sheet that Georgetown Court filed with the Recorder of Deeds contained recitals and records of prior proceedings and, contrary to Rule 58, did not constitute or contain a judgment "set forth on a separate document." Therefore, appellants contend, Georgetown Court's filing was not sufficient or effective to create a lien against the 38th Street property.

We can quickly dispose of appellants' argument that the separate-document requirement of Rule 58 dictates what may be deemed a "judgment" for purposes of section 15-102 (a). Like most of the other Superior Court Civil Procedure Rules, Rule 58 was "derived directly from the correspondingly numbered Federal Rules [of Civil Procedure],"*fn8 and its separate-document sentence is almost identical to the separate-document clause of Fed. R. Civ. P. 58 (a). In this circumstance, we look to federal court decisions interpreting the counterpart federal rule "as persuasive authority in interpreting" the Superior Court rule.*fn9 Here, we look to the Supreme Court's explanation in Bankers Trust Co. v. Mallis, 435 U.S. 381 (1978) (per curiam), that the "sole purpose of the separate-document requirement [of Fed. R. Civ. P. 58] . . . was to clarify when the time for appeal . . . begins to run." Id. at 384 (italics added).*fn10 That "sole purpose" of the Rule 58 separate-document requirement dictates against relying on that requirement as a litmus test of what, when filed and recorded with the Recorder of Deeds, creates a lien on real property.

Appellants' argument that we should turn to Rule 54 for guidance is more persuasive. Rule 54 was not drafted or adopted to implement section 15-102 (a) as enacted in 1963,*fn11 and it also was not adopted to implement the 1966 amendments to the statute,*fn12 but it is reasonable to surmise that the drafters of section 15-102 (a) were familiar with how Rule 54 (a) defines and circumscribes a "judgment."*fn13 In any event, for purposes of resolving this appeal, we can assume without deciding that Rule 54 sets out a useful definition of "judgment" as the term is used in section 15-102 (a). We can do so because the asserted failure of Georgetown Court's filing to conform to that definition is the remaining basis of appellants' challenge to the effectiveness of the filing to create a lien, and because, as we explain below, we are satisfied that the filing contained a docket entry that sufficiently conformed to Rule 54 (a) to create a lien in favor of Georgetown Court.*fn14

As already described, the certified docket sheet that Georgetown Court filed with the Recorder of Deeds bore a heading indicating the names of the parties to the Landlord and Tenant Branch action: "Georgetown Court Condominium v. Scott Wandling." The following docket entry of October 20, 2006, appears on the second page of the docket sheet:

10/20/06 Plaintiff Granted Money Judgment in the amount of $78,946.85 at 5% per annum. Entered on Docket 10/20/06. J/Kravitz PG

This docket entry plainly is a "decree for the payment of money." D.C. Code § 15-102

(a).*fn15 It is a separately dated item, demarcating it as distinct from the other thirty-nine entries on the docket sheet. It decrees, in brief and simple terms, that "Plaintiff [is] Granted [a] Money Judgment in the amount of $78,946.85 at 5% per annum." It contains no recital of pleadings and no history or record of prior proceedings, and therefore comports with the Rule 54 (a) proscription that a judgment "shall not contain a recital of pleadings, the report of a master, or the record of prior proceedings." It also contains no fact-finding or legal reasoning, or other extrinsic matter. It states plainly in whose favor the judgment was entered (Plaintiff's), and, since it appears on a docket sheet bearing the caption of the case, anyone reading it can see against whom the judgment was entered (Wandling). It recites the date when it was entered, allowing computation of the "5% per annum" interest amount. We discern no reason why the docket entry should not be deemed to be a judgment in conformity with Rule 54 (a).*fn16 We note, moreover, that while Rule 54 (a) states that "[a] judgment shall not contain a recital of pleadings, . . . or the record of prior proceedings" (emphasis added), it does not state that a judgment may not be accompanied on a docket sheet by separate entries that contain such material.

Accordingly, we conclude that the filing and recordation of the certified docket sheet containing the entry, "Plaintiff Granted Money Judgment in the amount of $78,946.85 at 5% annum. Entered on Docket 10/20/06, J/Kravitz PG," constituted the filing and recordation of a judgment within the meaning of D.C. Code § 15-102 (a). Since the docket sheet was filed and recorded in the Office of the Recorder of Deeds on July 9, 2007, a lien against the 38th Street property, in favor of the judgment holder Georgetown Court, was created as of that date. And since that lien arose prior to the date when appellants acquired and recorded their interest in the property, the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of Georgetown Court on its complaint for judicial foreclosure.*fn17

Wherefore, the judgment of the trial court is

Affirmed.


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