United States District Court, D. Columbia.
LASHAWN D. LEWIS, et al., Plaintiffs,
DARRYL S. PARKER, et al., Defendants
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
For LASHAWN D. LEWIS, LACREASHA A. KENNEDY-JARVIS, DEREK N. JARVIS, Plaintiffs: Jaime T. Zeas, Bethesda, MD.
DARRYL S. PARKER, Defendant, Pro se, Washington, DC.
For C. HOPE BROWN, Defendant: Claronell Hope Brown, LEAD ATTORNEY, LAW OFFICES OF C. HOPE BROWN, Washington, DC.
BERYL A. HOWELL, United States District Judge.
The instant suit is the latest iteration of a " long arduous and unnecessary journey of 10 years" of litigation over the estate of James Jarvis (the " James Jarvis Estate" ), who died in 2003. Compl. ¶ 106, ECF No. 1; see id. ¶ ¶ 4-8, 15. The plaintiffs, who include LaCreasha Kennedy-Jarvis, the decedent's spouse, and Lashawn Lewis and Derek Jarvis, who are two out of at least four of the decedent's children, are dissatisfied with the administration of the James Jarvis Estate by the defendants, Daryl S. Parker and C. Hope Brown (collectively, the " defendants" ), who served,
successively, as the personal representatives of the estate. See generally Compl., ECF No 1. The plaintiffs bring this action for breach of fiduciary duty against both defendants, see Compl. ¶ ¶ 116-22, 129-35, and for civil conversion against Defendant Parker, see id. ¶ ¶ 123-128.  Pending before the Court are three motions: Defendant Parker's Motion to Dismiss, Def. Parker's Mot. Dismiss (" Def. Parker Mot." ) at 1, ECF No. 11; Defendant Brown's Motion to Dismiss or, in the alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment, Def. Brown's Mot. Dismiss Alt. Mot. Summ. J. (" Def. Brown Mot." ) at 1, ECF No. 12; and the plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, (" Pls.' Mot." ), ECF No. 16. For the reasons below, the defendants' motions are granted.
Both defendants assert that the plaintiffs' claims are barred on res judicata grounds including claim and issue preclusion, see Def. Parker's Mot. ¶ ¶ 3-4; Def. Brown's Mot. at 1. Thus, a review of the history of proceedings involving the James Jarvis Estate before the District of Columbia Probate Court and Court of Appeals is necessary, before turning to the litigation in this United States District Court.
A. D.C. Probate Court Proceedings
Defendant Parker was appointed personal representative to the James Jarvis Estate in 2004, following the preclusion of one of Jarvis' daughters, Greer Burriss (" Burriss" ), from appointment as a Special Administrator. See Compl. ¶ ¶ 18-22. In
his role as Personal Representative, Defendant Parker secured a settlement, following court-ordered mediation, with Burriss regarding " a 2003 Cadillac automobile allegedly titled in the name of the decedent." See Compl. Ex. L (District of Columbia Probate Court Consent Order, February 23, 2005, filed in In re James P. Jarvis, 2003 ADM 1036) (the " Consent Order" )at 1, ECF No. 4-1. As part of the settlement, the James Jarvis Estate agreed to " forgo any further claims the Estate might raise against Greer M. Burriss," and Burriss " agree[d] to waive, relinquish and surrender her share as an heir in the net Estate of James P. Jarvis." Id.
Following entry of the Consent Order, the plaintiffs filed suit, on July 8, 2005, in District of Columbia Probate Court alleging that Defendant Parker " breached his fiduciary duty in administering the Estate." Compl. Ex. N (District of Columbia Probate Court Order, March 10, 2009, filed in Jarvis v. Parker, 2003 ADM 1036) (the " Removal Order" )at 1, ECF No. 4-1. The majority of the breaches the plaintiffs accuse Defendant Parker of committing stem from the terms of the Consent Order, which the plaintiffs contend was improperly entered because " Burriss had undervalued the Estate and had stolen items from the decedent's abode shortly after his death." Compl. ¶ ¶ 19; see id. ¶ 27.
Before trial in Probate Court, the plaintiffs sought clarification of a ruling that limited the plaintiffs' possible relief to the removal of Defendant Parker as a personal representative. See Pls.' Opp'n Def. Brown's Mot. Dismiss Ex. A (District of Columbia Probate Court Order, July 25, 2007, filed in In re Estate of James P. Jarvis, 2003 ADM 1036) (the " Clarification Order" )at 1, ECF No. 17-4. Instead, the plaintiffs sought the ability to seek both " relief in equity and/or at law for damages owed the Jarvis Estate by Defendant Parker . . . ." See id. at 1. Prompted by the plaintiffs' request, the Probate Court issued the Clarification Order, which summarized the prior history, through 2007, of the probate litigation. See generally id.
Of particular relevance to the instant matter are two issues addressed in the Clarification Order. First, critically, the Probate Court rejected all of the plaintiffs' requests for damages based on certain purported assets not being included in the inventories and accountings of the James Jarvis Estate that Defendant Parker filed with the Probate Court. See Clarification Order at 6, 9-10. The court pointed out that the plaintiffs failed timely to object to Defendant Parker's inventories and accountings, thus waiving their right to later challenge the accuracy of those filings. See id. at 6. Consequently, the allegedly missing assets, for which the plaintiffs sought damages in their Complaint, were merely " assets that [the plaintiffs] believe the Estate might have had." Id. at 9 (emphasis in original). The court explained
that the plaintiffs could not recover damages based on assets not listed on the inventories of the James Jarvis Estate to which the plaintiffs had ample opportunity, but declined or failed to challenge within the time provided for by the relevant statute. See id. Rather, the plaintiffs would only be able to secure damages, if at all, against Defendant Parker if they could prove that certain assets were lost from the James Jarvis Estate that were properly inventoried as part of the Estate and were no longer available due to Defendant Parker's alleged breaches of fiduciary duty. See id. at 9-10.
Second, the Probate Court rejected the plaintiffs' attack on the legitimacy of the Consent Order and their allegations that Defendant Parker breached his fiduciary duty by filing the Consent Order. See id. at 6-8. The court opined that " the Court, when deciding whether to grant the petition to settle, must have determined that the settlement was in the best interest of the estate." See id. at 6. Consequently, " Mr. Parker's decision to settle with Ms. Burriss would appear able to withstand Plaintiffs' challenge of any breach," especially considering that the plaintiffs had the opportunity, pursuant to D.C. Code § 20-521, to seek an order restraining Defendant Parker from joining the Consent Decree and the plaintiffs failed to do so. See id. at 7.
The court also considered, in the context of the Clarification Order, a motion filed by the plaintiffs seeking to set aside the Consent Order, under D.C. S.Ct. Civ. R. 60, based on " newly discovered evidence." Id. at 8. The court denied this motion because the plaintiffs, as non-parties to the Consent Order, had no standing to pursue such a motion and only the successor personal representative, if Defendant Parker were removed, would be able to file such a motion " if appropriate." Id. 
The Probate Court then held a trial on eight allegations, posited by the plaintiffs as warranting Defendant Parker's removal as personal representative. The allegations were that Defendant Parker: (1) failed " to marshal for the estate a 1995 Cadillac El Dorado that the decedent owned when he died," Removal Order at 1; (2) failed " to seek to become Successor Personal Representative of the estate of Charles Jarvis, James Jarvis' father, for which James Jarvis had been Personal Representative before his death," id. at 2; (3) failed " to attempt to recoup for the estate moneys debited from the decedent's bank account in the form of automatic debits made after his death," id. ; (4) failed " to attempt to secure funds from a stale payroll check of the decedent," id. ; (5) failed " to marshal estate real property in the states of New Jersey and South Carolina owned by the decedent," id. at 1; (6) failed " to marshal for the estate certain personal property that the decedent owned at the time of his death," id. at 1-2; (7) failed " to communicate with the heirs about the administration of the estate," id. at 2; and (8) failed " to pay creditors in a timely fashion," id.
After hearing evidence at the trial, the Probate Court found that the plaintiffs had proven the first four allegations but not the last four, and removed Defendant Parker as Personal Representative. Removal Order at 24-25. Specifically, the Probate Court concluded that (1) Defendant Parker " mismanaged property, specifically the funds represented by [a] $618.00 [payroll]
check made payable to James Jarvis by a District of Columbia Agency; " (2) that Defendant Parker " failed, without reasonable excuse, to fulfill the duties of his office" by (a)" failing to conduct the basic investigation/verification required to make informed decisions about" declining to marshal the 1995 Cadillac to the James Jarvis Estate, (b) foregoing " any claims by the James Jarvis [E]state to any funds from the Charles Jarvis estate," and (c) not seeking " the return from the bank or any other individual of moneys withdrawn from James Jarvis' bank account after his death." Id. The Probate Court concluded the plaintiffs failed to prove that Defendant Parker was derelict in his duty to marshal to the estate personal property owned by the decedent, real property allegedly owned by the decedent in New Jersey and South Carolina, id. at 17-18, or that Defendant Parker failed materially to communicate with the heirs or pay creditors in a timely fashion, id. at 12-13.
Following the removal of Defendant Parker as the Estate's Personal Representative, he filed a " Petition for Award of Compensation for Personal Representative," which the Probate Court granted in part and denied in part. See Def. Brown's Mem. Supp. Def. Brown's Mot. (" Def. Brown's Mem." ) Ex. 5 (District of Columbia Probate Court Order Granting Petition for Compensation, Dec. 7, 2009, filed in Jarvis v. Parker, 2003 ADM 1036) (" Def. Parker Fees Order" ) at 1, ECF No. 12-5. The Court granted compensation to Defendant Parker in the amount of $10,762.50 for approximately seventy hours of service in the case but denied his request for an unspecified additional amount in compensation. Id. at 2. By contrast, the Probate Court denied entirely the plaintiffs' " Petition for Award of Attorney's Fees, Investigatory Fees, and Administrative Costs by Counsel for Plaintiffs, Heirs, and Beneficiaries," noting that " the litigation tactics in which this counsel engaged throughout his involvement in this litigation actually harmed the estate financially, costing it far more harm [than] by any inaction by the Removed Personal Representative." Def. Brown's Mem. Ex. 6 (District of Columbia Probate Court Order Denying Petition for Compensation, Dec. 7, 2009, filed in Jarvis v. Parker, 2003 ADM 1036) (" Pls.' Counsel Fees Order" ) at 1, ECF No. 12-6. The Probate Court further described plaintiffs' counsel's actions as " border[ing] on abuse of the litigation process, which cannot be rewarded," and opined that the plaintiffs' counsel's " lack of familiarity with the law and lack of litigation experience and skills contributed to much delay at the hearings and trial in this matter." Id. 
Defendant Brown was appointed in 2009 as successor Personal Representative following the removal of Defendant Parker. See Compl. ¶ 73. She notified the plaintiffs that she did " not plan to file" a Rule 60(b)
motion seeking to vacate the Consent Order approved by the Probate Court in 2005 and that, in her view, the plaintiffs' appeal of portions of the Probate Court's Clarification Order and Removal Order were " not meritorious." Compl. Ex. R (Email Correspondence from Defendant Brown to Plaintiffs' Counsel, December 8-12, 2011) at 1, ECF No. 5-1.
B. District of Columbia Court of Appeals Ruling
Defendant Parker appealed the Removal Order and the plaintiffs appealed portions of the Probate Court's Clarification Order and Removal Order. See Compl. Ex. M (Mem. Op. and J., Nos. 09-PR-1131 and 10-PR-0248, In re Estate of James P. Jarvis (D.C. Apr. 30, 2012) (the " 2012 Appeal" )) at 1, ECF No. 4-1. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals affirmed the Clarification Order and the Removal Order " in all respects." See id. The appellate court considered explicitly the plaintiffs' " claim [that] the trial court erred in denying their motion to vacate a consent order secured by Mr. Parker as personal representative, and that the trial court improperly deprived appellants of their right to seek damages against Mr. Parker." Id. The D.C. Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's finding that the plaintiffs " lack standing to challenge the [Consent] [O]rder" because " [i]f, as appellants allege, the 2005 Consent Order was procured by fraud, the remedy is to have the personal representative removed in favor of a successor personal representative who has the authority to seek relief from that order of the trial court." Id. at 2. The D.C. Court of Appeals also held that the trial court was correct " in not awarding damages against Mr. Parker for breach of his fiduciary duties," since it " reserved the right to consider the issue of damages upon the removal of Mr. Parker as personal representative and the appointment of a successor personal representative." Id. The court stated that it was not " constru[ing] the trial court's order as foreclosing appellants' opportunity to obtain damages from Mr. Parker if the ...