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Stuart v. Walker

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

July 28, 2016

PAMELA B. STUART, Appellant,
v.
BARBARA J. WALKER, Appellee.

          Argued February 2, 2016

         Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia Civil Division (CAB-7923-08) (Hon. Judith N. Macaluso, Trial Judge)

          Pamela B. Stuart, pro se.

          Barbara J. Walker, pro se.

          Before Fisher and Blackburne-Rigsby, Associate Judges, and Pryor, Senior Judge.

         JUDGMENT

         This case came to be heard on the transcript of record and the briefs filed, and was argued by counsel. On consideration whereof, and as set forth in the opinion filed this date, it is now hereby

         ORDERED and ADJUDGED that the order denying appellant's motion to vacate the arbitration award is affirmed.

          OPINION

          Blackburne-Rigsby, Associate Judge

         Pro se appellant Pamela B. Stuart, a member of the District of Columbia Bar, appeals the trial court's granting of a motion to compel arbitration, pursuant to D.C. Bar R. XIII, [1] to resolve a fee dispute with her former client, pro se appellee Barbara J. Walker.[2] Ms. Stuart contends that this court lacked the authority to promulgate Rule XIII under the District of Columbia Court Reform and Criminal Procedure Act of 1970 ("Court Reform Act"), D.C. Code § 11-2501 (a) (2012 Repl.), the Home Rule Act, D.C. Code § 1-206.02 (a)(4) (2012 Repl.), and the United States Constitution. We have already upheld Rule XIII as valid and constitutional in BiotechPharma v. Ludwig & Robinson, PLLC, 98 A.3d 986 (D.C. 2014).[3] In this post-arbitration appeal, Ms. Stuart challenges Rule XIII, and she raises essentially the same arguments, save two, that this court addressed in BiotechPharma. After a brief review of the arguments raised and this court's holding in BiotechPharma, we address the two new challenges Ms. Stuart raises. For the reasons discussed below, we reject Ms. Stuart's arguments and affirm.

         I. Factual Background

         Ms. Stuart represented Ms. Walker in a lawsuit against her former employer, and entered into an oral fee agreement, which did not specifically discuss arbitration of fee disputes. Ms. Walker contested the amount of fees billed and refused to pay, prompting Ms. Stuart to file a civil claim for fraud and breach of contract against Ms. Walker for unpaid legal fees and expenses (including accrued interest) in the amount of $127, 928.30. In response, Ms. Walker filed a request to arbitrate the dispute with the District of Columbia Bar's Attorney-Client Arbitration Board, pursuant to Rule XIII. Ms. Stuart objected to arbitration, but the trial court issued an order compelling the parties to arbitrate.[4]

         The arbitration panel rendered a decision ordering Ms. Walker to pay Ms. Stuart $6, 860 within 90 days and requiring each party to bear her own costs for the arbitration. Ms. Stuart filed a motion to vacate the award and set the matter for trial, arguing that Rule XIII is invalid and unconstitutional and that the $6, 860 award was arbitrary and capricious. The trial court held a hearing and denied Ms. Stuart's motion to vacate the award based on this court's recent decision in BiotechPharma, which affirmed the validity of Rule XIII under the Court Reform Act, the Home Rule Act, and the United States Constitution. The trial court also found that Ms. Stuart's contention that the award was arbitrary and capricious was not a cognizable basis for review. See D.C. Code § 16-4423 (a) (2012 Repl.) (listing the available grounds for reviewing an arbitration award). This appeal followed.

         II.Discus ...


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