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Boyd v. Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

July 20, 2017

John W. Boyd, Jr., Appellant,
v.
Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, et al., Appellees.

          Argued January 24, 2017

         Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CAB-2782-14) (Hon. Herbert B. Dixon, Jr., Trial Judge)

          Keith Lively, for appellant.

          Charles Davant IV, with John K. Villa, and Roy S. Awabdeh, Williams & Connolly LLP, for appellee Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, LLP.

          Alan L. Balaran for appellee Dennis M. Gingold.

          Before Thompson and McLeese, Associate Judges, and Belson, Senior Judge.

          OPINION

          BELSON, SENIOR JUDGE.

         Appellant John W. Boyd, Jr., seeks reversal of trial court orders granting motions to dismiss brought under Superior Court Rule 12 (b)(6) by appellees Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, LLP (Kilpatrick Townsend) and Dennis M. Gingold (Gingold). Appellant argues that the trial court erred by (1) dismissing his claims for unjust enrichment against both appellees as time-barred; (2) dismissing his claim for quantum meruit (breach of an implied-in-fact contract)[1] against Gingold as time-barred; and (3) determining that appellant had failed to state facts sufficient to establish a claim for breach of an implied-in-fact contract against Kilpatrick Townsend.

         In concluding that appellant's unjust enrichment claims against both appellees and his breach of an implied-in-fact contract claim against Gingold were time-barred, the trial court applied the "last rendition of services" test, which posits that a claim accrues upon a plaintiffs last rendition of services to a defendant. On appeal, appellant argues that the trial court should not have applied this test, and asserts that the statute of limitations did not begin to run on his claims until the benefit of his services was conferred upon appellees, which, he argues, took place when appellees were awarded attorneys' fees in the underlying case. Under this theory, the aforementioned claims would not be barred by the three-year statutes of limitations for unjust enrichment and breach of an implied-in-fact contract.

         We (1) affirm the trial court's dismissal of appellant's claim for breach of an implied-in-fact contract against Gingold as time-barred; (2) affirm the trial court's determination that appellant failed to state a claim for breach of an implied-in-fact contract against Kilpatrick Townsend; (3) vacate the trial court's dismissal of appellant's claims for unjust enrichment against both appellees as time-barred; and (4) remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I.

         We summarize the facts as they are stated in appellant's complaint. Appellees Kilpatrick Townsend, an international law firm, and Gingold, a sole practitioner, represented the Native American plaintiffs in Cobell v. Salazar, [2] a class action lawsuit against the United States Department of the Interior for mismanagement of trust funds. In December 2009, the Cobell plaintiffs and the plaintiffs in a separate class action lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture concerning past discrimination against black farmers, Pigford v. Vilsack, [3] reached a joint settlement agreement with the Government. Appellant, who was then President of the National Black Farmers Association, became involved in Pigford by lobbying for minority farmers who had missed an earlier filing deadline to be compensated under a consent decree.[4] A second lawsuit was filed on behalf of these late-filers, and through the efforts of appellant and many others, was eventually combined with the other Cobell and Pigford litigants into a joint settlement agreement. The settlement agreement compensating the Cobell and Pigford plaintiffs required funding by a congressional appropriation.

         On March 5, 2010, John Loving, a government relations advisor at Kilpatrick Townsend, contacted appellant and requested his assistance in lobbying for the passage of the Claims Resolution Act (CRA), the funding bill for the Cobell and Pigford plaintiffs. Mr. Loving "asked [appellant] to use his extensive contacts ... to drum up the necessary support for the . . . legislation." Appellant and Mr. Loving did not discuss appellant's fees or any specific tasks to be performed. Appellant also spoke with Geoffrey Rempel, an accountant the Cobell plaintiffs hired, in order to coordinate lobbying efforts.

         Soon thereafter, on June 1, 2010, appellant met Messrs. Rempel and Gingold for lunch at the Laughing Man Tavern, a pub in the District of Columbia. Appellant's complaint states that:

[During that lunch at the Laughing Man Tavern, appellant] specifically told both Defendant Gingold and Mr. Rempel that he expected to be paid for this efforts to secure funding for the Cobell settlement. In response, Defendant Gingold encouraged [appellant] to continue working with and for Defendants. Defendant Gingold never indicated to [appellant] at any time at the restaurant, or at any subsequent time thereafter, that [appellant] would not be compensated for his efforts. . . . Every time [appellant] raised issues of compensation or the amount of such compensation, Defendant Gingold always indicated to him that compensation should not concern him - clearly indicating to [appellant] that payment would be forthcoming. Indeed, according to Defendant Gingold, the issue of payment was not whether [appellant] would be compensated, but when Eloise Cobell would focus on the amount of compensation for him. (emphasis omitted).

         After the lunch meeting, appellant continued to lobby for passage of the CRA, which President Obama signed into law on December 8, 2010. The complaint alleged no further communications between appellant and appellees after the bill was signed.[5]

         II.

         After appellant learned that the Pigford litigation team did not plan to pay him for the services he allegedly rendered for them concerning the CRA's passage, he filed a lawsuit against them on November 21, 2012, in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.[6] On August 2, 2013, the District Court dismissed appellant's lawsuit, having concluded that his allegations of breach of an implied-in-fact contract and quantum meruit failed to state a cause of action, as they consisted largely of "naked allegations of verbal promises"[7] and conclusory statements "devoid of factual details."[8]

         On May 6, 2014, well after the District Court had dismissed his complaint against the Pigford counsel, appellant filed his complaint against appellees in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Subsequently, appellees filed motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted under Super. Ct. Civ. R. 12 (b)(6). The trial court granted those motions in separate orders on June 11, 2015.

         Regarding Gingold's motion to dismiss, the trial court determined that, assuming appellant's allegations were true, he had sufficiently pled claims for unjust enrichment and breach of an implied-in-fact contract. However, the trial court determined that appellant's claims against Gingold were time-barred under the "last rendition of services" test because appellant's work for Gingold had ended, at the latest, on December 8, 2010, when President Obama signed the CRA into law. The trial court noted that appellant had not "delivered a bill to the defendants during the time period he lobbied for the passage of the CRA" or "within a reasonable time after his services ended." Indeed, the court observed, appellant did not demand payment from appellees until April 28, 2014, when his attorney sent a letter demanding payment accompanied by a draft copy of the complaint that was filed in the Superior Court ...


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