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Perkins v. District of Columbia

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

August 11, 2016

Nelda Perkins, Appellant,
v.
District of Columbia, et al., Appellees.

          Submitted May 5, 2016

         Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CAB-7416-12)(Hon. Jeanette Jackson Clark, Trial Judge)

          Michael C. Forster for appellant.

          Karl A. Racine, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Todd S. Kim, Solicitor General, Loren L. AliKhan, Deputy Solicitor General, and Mary L. Wilson, Senior Assistant Attorney General, were on the brief for appellee.

          Before Glickman and Thompson, Associate Judges, and Farrell, Senior Judge.

         JUDGMENT

         This case was submitted to the court on the transcript of record and the briefs filed, and without presentation of oral argument. On consideration whereof, and for the reasons set forth in the opinion filed this date, it is now hereby

         ORDERED and ADJUDGED that the judgment of the Superior Court is affirmed.

          OPINION

          PHYLLIS D. THOMPSON ASSOCIATE JUDGE.

         In March 2012, appellant Nelda Perkins sued the District of Columbia ("the District"), alleging breach of an oral settlement agreement. The Superior Court granted summary judgment in favor of the District on the ground that the District employee who allegedly agreed to a settlement on the District's behalf had no actual authority to bind the District. Appellant argues that the ruling was erroneous because there were material facts in dispute regarding the employee's authority to bind the District. Appellant also argues that the motion judge erred in concluding that appellant could not have reasonably relied on a representation that the employee had authority to enter into the putative agreement. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.

         I.

         On June 6, 2005, the side wall of a house owned by appellant collapsed after being damaged by a storm. The next day, the District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs ("DCRA") issued a Notice of Violation ("NOV") ordering appellant to make repairs. When appellant failed to repair the property, DCRA authorized a contractor to stabilize the wall at a cost of $36, 500. Once the work was performed (in June 2005), the District issued a special tax assessment for the cost of repairs and, thereafter, filed a tax lien against the property. Appellant alleges that she did not learn of the tax lien until August 2009, by which time, because of accrued interest, the lien amount was $67, 314.02. Mortgagee SunTrust Mortgage Company ("SunTrust") paid the lien and added the cost to appellant's outstanding mortgage indebtedness on the property.

         On January 18, 2011, appellant filed a hearing request in the District of Columbia Office of Administrative Hearings ("OAH"), challenging the NOV and the tax lien. On March 8, 2011, the assigned Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") ordered the parties (appellant and DCRA) to participate in mediation.[1]

         Appellant and her counsel attended the mediation session along with Lisa Branscomb, a non-attorney Civil Advocate, who appeared on behalf of DCRA. Before the mediation commenced, the parties signed a standard "Agreement to Mediate, " which stated, inter alia, that the signatory for each party has "full authority to negotiate on behalf of and enter into a settlement for themselves and the party or parties whom they represent." The agreement gave the parties the option of asking the mediator to reduce to writing any settlement reached, preparing a consent order for the assigned ALJ's approval, or agreeing to jointly dismiss the case once a settlement was reached. Per the Agreement to Mediate, if no settlement was reached, "a formal administrative hearing" would be held.

         The mediation took place before an OAH mediator on April 12, 2011, even though, on April 11, 2011, DCRA had filed a motion to dismiss the OAH action.[2]Afterwards, the mediator completed a form indicating that appellant would file "[a] motion to dismiss [with] prejudice [n]o later than 30 days from mediation date if all actions are taken per settlement agreement." On July 13, 2011, however, the ALJ scheduled a status hearing after concluding that "the mediation has not resulted in a resolution of this matter." On August 18, 2011, appellant withdrew her request for a hearing. On August 24, 2011, ...


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