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Leeuwen v. Blodnikar

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

August 11, 2016

David M. van Leeuwen, et al., Appellants/Cross-Appellees,
v.
Eric Blodnikar, et al., Appellees/Cross-Appellants, and Sam H. Paylor, Appellee.

          Argued March 10, 2016

         Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CAB-3502-13) Hon. Stuart G. Nash, Trial Judge

          Carol S. Blumenthal for appellants/cross-appellees David M. van Leeuwen and Meghan R. van Leeuwen.

          Lorenzo B. Cellini, with whom Jonathan K. Tycko was on the brief, for appellees/cross-appellants Eric Blodnikar and Terra Blodnikar.

          John F. Pressley, Jr., for appellee Sam H. Paylor.

          Before Thompson and McLeese, Associate Judges, and Belson, 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 judgment of the Superior Court is affirmed in part and vacated in part, and the case is remanded for further proceedings.

          McLeese, Associate Judge

         After a bench trial, the trial court ruled that appellees/cross-appellants Eric and Terra Blodnikar have an enforceable contract to purchase a building owned by appellee Sam H. Paylor. Appellants/cross-appellees David M. and Meghan R. van Leeuwen challenge that ruling, arguing that they rather than the Blodnikars have an enforceable contract to purchase the building. In their cross-appeal, the Blodnikars argue that the trial court erroneously failed to award them attorney's fees against Mr. Paylor. We affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand the case for further proceedings.

         I.

         The following facts appear to be undisputed. Mr. Paylor owned a three-unit apartment building subject to the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act of 1980 (TOPA), D.C. Code § 42-3404.01 et seq. (2012 Repl.). On February 12, 2013, Mr. Paylor sent the building's tenants an offer of sale, giving the tenants an opportunity to purchase the building. The offer of sale stated a price of $480, 000 and included the following material term: "5% earnest money deposit with a contract, and the balance at settlement."

         On February 26, 2013, Mr. Paylor and the van Leeuwens -- who were not tenants of the building -- entered into a contract for the van Leeuwens to buy the building for $538, 000. The van Leeuwens deposited $25, 000 in earnest money. On March 1 and 2, 2013, all of the buildings' tenants assigned Mr. Blodnikar their rights under TOPA to purchase the building. See D.C. Code § 42-3404.06 (tenants may assign rights under TOPA). On March 4, 2013, the Blodnikars sent a letter to Mr. Paylor stating that the Blodnikars were accepting the February 12, 2013, offer of sale. The Blodnikars did not include a deposit with their letter.

         On March 10, 2013, Mr. Paylor sent the tenants a second offer of sale, this time with a price of $538, 000. Mr. Paylor attached the contract with the van Leeuwens. In response, the Blodnikars sent letters to Mr. Paylor stating that they had already accepted the first offer of sale and that ...


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