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Barimany v. Urban Pace LLC

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

August 1, 2013

Rachelle Barimany, ET AL., Appellants
Urban Pace LLC, Appellee.

Argued March 20, 2013

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CAB-6941-10), Hon. Natalia Combs Greene, Trial Judge.

Leslie McAdoo Gordon, for appellants.

Christopher B. Mead, with whom Mark London, Bradley Clements, and Lance Robinson were on the brief, for appellee.

Before Beckwith and Easterly, Associate Judges, and Reid, Senior Judge.


Easterly, Associate Judge

Appellants Rachelle Barimany and Erik Dove appeal the trial court's dismissal of their tort action against Appellee Urban Pace LLC ("Urban Pace") for wrongful involvement in litigation. They argue that the trial court improperly applied Virginia law instead of District of Columbia law; alternatively, they argue that, even if Virginia law (specifically the Virginia Condominium Act, Va. Code Ann. §§ 55-79.39 to -79.103 (2010)) applied, it did not immunize Urban Pace from liability. We need not determine whether the trial court properly looked to Virginia law to determine if Ms. Barimany and Mr. Dove had a claim for wrongful involvement in litigation, in light of our determination that (1) the Virginia Condominium Act does not conflict with District of Columbia law, and thus was properly applied by the trial court, and (2) that statute shielded Urban Pace from liability. Accordingly, we affirm.

I. Facts and Procedural History

In January 2007, Ms. Barimany and Mr. Dove entered into a purchase agreement with Abdo Clarendon LLC ("Abdo"), a condominium developer, for a condominium unit and parking spaces located in Virginia. Ms. Barimany and Mr. Dove were already Virginia residents. Urban Pace, a District of Columbia LLC, acted as Abdo's sales agent for this transaction.

Although the condominium unit was sold in accordance with an initial Public Offering Statement ("POS"), Abdo amended the Public Offering Statement pertaining to the condominium unit in March 2007 ("Amended POS"). Ms. Barimany and Mr. Dove allege that they never received a copy of the Amended POS. An Urban Pace employee sent Ms. Barimany and Mr. Dove a document with their signatures on it, acknowledging receipt of the Amended POS, but they assert that their signatures were forged by employees or agents of Urban Pace.

In October 2007, after receiving a copy of the Amended POS purportedly bearing their signatures, Ms. Barimany and Mr. Dove sought to rescind the purchase agreement. Abdo then filed suit in Virginia against, inter alia, Ms. Barimany and Mr. Dove, alleging breach of contract, defamation, and conspiracy to injure Abdo's reputation and business and seeking a declaratory judgment ("the Virginia litigation"). Ms. Barimany and Mr. Dove filed a counterclaim in the Virginia litigation, also requesting a declaratory judgment, and alleging various statutory violations as well as breach of contract. After a three-day trial, the Virginia court found for Ms. Barimany and Mr. Dove on their counterclaim for breach of contract and ruled that they were entitled to a return of their deposit plus interest. The Virginia court specifically found that Ms. Barimany and Mr. Dove never received the Amended POS.[1]

Ms. Barimany and Mr. Dove subsequently brought their own suit in D.C. Superior Court against Urban Pace in which they contended that Urban Pace's alleged forgery of the amendment receipt had forced them to defend themselves and to seek counterclaims against Abdo in the Virginia litigation. Suing under the tort of wrongful involvement in litigation, they sought to recoup from Urban Pace, inter alia, the attorney's fees expended in that litigation with Abdo. Urban Pace filed its Motion in Limine to Determine that Virginia Law Governs this Action, which the trial court granted. Urban Pace then filed its Rule 12 (c) Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings Because Controlling Virginia Law Requires Dismissal with Prejudice in which it argued that the tort of wrongful involvement in litigation is not recognized by Virginia courts and that, in any event, it was statutorily protected from liability by the Virginia Condominium Act. The trial court granted this motion as well. This appeal followed.

II. Standard of Review

We review "choice of law questions de novo." In re Estate of Delaney, 819 A.2d 968, 987 (D.C. 2003). And we review a dismissal pursuant to Rule 12 (c) under the same standard as dismissal pursuant to Super. Ct. Civ. R. 12 (b)(6). District of Columbia v. Beretta, U.S.A., Corp., 872 A.2d 633, 639 (D.C. 2005) (en banc)). "'When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief" Potomac Dev. Corp. v. District of Columbia, 28 A.3d 531, 544 (D.C. 2011) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009)).

III. Analysis

Appellant's preliminary argument is that the trial court erred in choosing to apply Virginia law over District of Columbia law. This contention prompted a vigorous debate, reflected both in the parties' briefs and at oral argument, as to the correctness of the trial court's choice of law analysis; both parties examined whether the trial court properly employed the requisite "constructive blending" of the governmental interest analysis and the most significant relationship test to determine which jurisdiction's law to apply in this case.[2] But application of this analysis requires a conflict of law. As explained more fully below, we see no conflict that requires resolution by means of the constructive blending analysis.[3]First, because it could not affect the outcome of the case, there is no need to decide if there is a conflict between Virginia's and the District of Columbia's law regarding the ...

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