April 23, 2015
from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia Civil
Division (CAB-2456-92), Hon. Michael L. Rankin, Trial Judge)
(Hon. William M. Jackson, Trial Judge)
F. Karl, Jr. for appellant.
Vail, with whom Ferris R. Bond and M. Azhar Khan were on the
brief, for appellee.
A. Adams, Interim Attorney General at the time the briefs
were filed, with whom Todd S. Kim, Solicitor General, Loren
L. AliKhan, Deputy Solicitor General, and Donna M. Murasky,
Senior Assistant Attorney General, were on the brief for
amicus curiae, the District of Columbia, in support of
BEFORE: Thompson and Beckwith, Associate Judges; and King,
case came to be heard on the transcript of record, the briefs
filed, and was argued by counsel. On consideration whereof,
and as set forth in the opinion filed this date, it is now
and ADJUDGED that the trial court's decision is reversed,
and the case is remanded for proceedings consistent with this
CORINNE BECKWITH ASSOCIATE JUDGE.
the second trial held in this matter, a jury sided with
appellant Sarah Landise and against appellee Thomas Mauro,
finding that the two had entered into a partnership to
practice law in the District of Columbia, that Ms. Landise
was entitled to fifty percent of the partnership's
profits and losses, and that Mr. Mauro breached his fiduciary
duties by converting partnership funds. Because the trial
court decided that the case was sufficiently complex to merit
bifurcation, the court limited the jury to the question of
liability and ordered an accounting to determine the damages.
Even though the court appointed a special master to conduct a
final accounting of the partnership funds in June 2003, that
accounting never happened. A string of conflicts and
misunderstandings between the parties got in the way of the
accounting, and each party blames the other for this failure.
The case languished for over a decade before the trial court
granted Mr. Mauro's Motion To Dismiss for Failure To
Prosecute in August 2013.
Landise makes three main arguments on appeal: first, she
argues that the trial court erred in taking the calculation
of damages away from the jury, contending that the
judge's decision to order an accounting ran afoul both of
District of Columbia partnership law and the Seventh
Amendment's right to a jury trial; second, Ms. Landise
attacks the constitutionality of D.C. Code § 15-703
(2012 Repl.), which is a provision that allows a defendant to
require a nonresident plaintiff to post security to cover
potential court costs; and, third, Ms. Landise argues that it
was an abuse of discretion for the trial court to attribute
the long delay in the accounting process to Ms. Landise's
failure to prosecute her case in a diligent fashion.
reject Ms. Landise's first two arguments, but accept her
third. In our view, the fact that the accounting never came
to fruition appears to be the product of an unclear trial
court order, rather than any tactical delay on Ms.
Landise's part. The trial court's order appointing
the master did not meet the requirements of Super. Ct. Civ.
R. 53 (b), which is entitled "Order appointing
master" and specifies information that such an order
must include. The purpose of Rule 53 (b) is to eliminate
precisely the confusion that resulted in this case. We
therefore reverse the trial court's ruling and remand the
matter for the trial court to appoint a special master in
accordance with the requirements of that rule.
case began in 1992, when Sarah Landise brought suit against
Thomas Mauro, alleging breach of an oral partnership
agreement, conversion of partnership funds, and breach of
fiduciary duty. The complaint alleged that Ms. Landise and
Mr. Mauro had formed a law partnership in the District of
Columbia, and the complaint requested an accounting of the
partnership's assets. A jury trial was held, at which Mr.
Mauro argued that there was no such partnership, and that
there could be no partnership because Ms. Landise was not
licensed to practice law in the District. See Landise v.
Mauro (Landise I), 725 A.2d 445, 445–47 (D.C.
1998). The jury at the first trial sided with Mr. Mauro,
finding that Ms. Landise and Mr. Mauro had not entered into
an oral partnership agreement, and that Ms. Landise had
engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in the District
of Columbia. Id. at 446.
division of this court reversed and remanded for a new trial.
Id. at 446– 47. The Landise I court
clarified that Ms. Landise's lack of a license to
practice law in the District (Ms. Landise was licensed only
in Virginia) did not preclude her claim for breach of
partnership against Mr. Mauro, and the court held that-
because the evidence of partnership was
"overwhelming"-the jury's confusion about the
legal consequences of Ms. Landise's unauthorized practice
might have infected the jury's verdict. Landise
I, 725 A.2d at 446–47, 454. After this court
remanded for a new trial, Mr. Mauro moved to require Ms.
Landise to post security costs pursuant to D.C. Code §
15-703, a little-used provision of the D.C. Code that allows
a defendant to require a nonresident plaintiff to "give
security for costs and charges that may be adjudged against
him on the final disposition of the cause." Judge
Wendell P. Gardner, Jr., directed Ms. Landise to post
security for the costs and fees of the litigation, and Ms.
Landise complied, depositing $3, 139.33 with the Clerk of the
Superior Court in July 1999.
second jury trial was held, before Judge William M. Jackson,
in July 2000. This time it was Mr. Mauro who requested an
accounting, while Ms. Landise took the position that the
amount of damages was not overly complicated and could be
determined by the jury. While Ms. Landise identified eight
payments totaling $444, 190.33 by Mauro & Landise clients
that, she claimed, Mr. Mauro deposited into his personal bank
account, Mr. Mauro argued that the alleged partnership
actually had more than eighty open cases, and so any
calculation of damages would be sufficiently complex to
require an accounting.
Jackson agreed with Mr. Mauro about the complexity of the
damages. As a result, the trial court restricted the
jury's consideration to six liability questions on a
Special Verdict Form. The jury found for Ms. Landise,
concluding that there was a partnership, that Ms. Landise was
entitled to fifty percent of profits and losses, and that Mr.
Mauro had breached his fiduciary duties. Judge Jackson did
not let the jury compute damages or consider punitive
damages, but directed counsel to select an auditor to conduct
the accounting to determine the damages. Ms. Landise
continued to argue that no accounting was necessary and filed
a motion for entry of final judgment, which was denied by
Judge Michael L. Rankin-who had taken over the matter-on
February 23, 2001. The denial was "without prejudice to
the filing of such an order following an accounting."
10, 2003, Judge Rankin appointed Anita Isaacson as special
master to conduct an accounting. The Order Appointing Special
Master was a sparse one-page document "appoint[ing] [Ms.
Isaacson] as special master to this case for the purpose of
conducting a final accounting of the partnership funds";
it did not make any findings or mention the requirements of
Super. Ct. Civ. R. 53, entitled "Masters."
2004, after having appointed the special master, Judge Rankin
granted Mr. Mauro's motion to increase the amount of the
bond that Ms. Landise was required to pay as a nonresident
plaintiff under D.C. Code § 15-703. Ms. Landise
deposited an additional $5, 000 into the Superior Court
registry and then appealed the order to this court. See
Landise v. Mauro (Landise II), 927 A.2d 1026 (D.C.
2007). The Landise II court dismissed that appeal,
finding that the court lacked jurisdiction over the order
directing Ms. Landise to pay an additional $5, 000 because it
was not a final trial court order. See id. at
1027–28. The court's opinion in Landise II
acknowledged that Mr. Mauro's motion seeking an increased
bond stemmed from a dispute between the parties regarding the
costs and implementation of the accounting that Judge Rankin
At some point, a dispute arose between the parties regarding
the costs of the accounting. Mauro claimed that Landise was
refusing to pay her share of the costs related to copying and
scanning certain documents, and Landise alleged that Mauro
had disregarded an agreement that the copying be done in a
particular fashion. As a result of this dispute, Mauro filed
a motion to increase the security for costs pursuant to D.C.
Code § 15–703(b), requesting that the trial court
order Landise to pay an additional $25, 000 into the court
registry. In his motion, Mauro represented that "[t]he
cost in this accounting process is expected to increase
substantially, therefore the security must be
increased." In opposing the motion, Landise argued that
she should not be required to post an additional bond because
she "won at trial and a money judgment will be entered
into [sic] her favor." In response to
Mauro's motion, the trial court ordered Landise to
deposit an additional $5, 000 into the court registry as
security for costs related to the accounting process. Landise
Id. at 1028–29.
same issues that delayed the full accounting before
Landise II continued, and the accounting that was
ordered never happened. Each party blames the other for this
failure: Ms. Landise argues that Mr. "Mauro took no
action after the second remand to obtain the accounting he
claimed he sought, " while Mr. Mauro argues that it was
Ms. Landise who failed to prosecute her case. On April 4,
2013, at the request of Ms. Landise, a status conference was
held before Judge Rankin. At that ...