George C. Papageorge, Appellant,
Jonathan Zucker & Patricia Daus, Appellees.
April 14, 2017
from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia
(CAB-462-15) (Hon. Herbert B. Dixon, Jr., Trial Judge)
Whelden, with whom Patrick C. Horrell was on the brief, for
Matthew D. Berkowitz, with whom Mariana D. Bravo and Sarah W.
Conkright were on the brief, for appellee.
Beckwith and Easterly, Associate Judges, and Reid, Senior
Beckwith, Associate Judge.
appellant, George Papageorge, had a contract with his
acquaintance, Matt Banks, that entitled Mr. Papageorge to
most of the proceeds of a wrongful eviction claim Mr. Banks
was pursuing. When that claim was settled, Mr. Papageorge
informed Mr. Banks's lawyers, appellees Jonathan Zucker
and Patricia Daus, of his purported right to the proceeds,
and then sued them for negligence and conversion when they
disbursed the proceeds to their client, Mr. Banks, instead of
to Mr. Papageorge. The trial court dismissed Mr.
Papageorge's claims, and we now affirm that judgment.
Banks was renting a room in a single-family house in the
District of Columbia when Eastern Savings Bank (ESB)
foreclosed on the property. Mr. Banks assigned his rights
under the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA), D.C.
Code §§ 42-3404.01 et seq. (2012 Repl.),
to Mr. Papageorge, but continued living in the house for
several years until ESB evicted him unlawfully. A week after
this court held for Mr. Banks in the appeal from the eviction
proceeding and reversed the judgment for possession that the
trial court had entered in ESB's favor, see Banks v.
E. Sav. Bank, 8 A.3d 1239 (D.C. 2010), Mr. Banks and his
cotenant entered into an agreement with Mr. Papageorge. That
agreement stated that the two tenants planned to sue ESB for
unlawful eviction and that Mr. Papageorge, who had financed
"extensive litigation to enforce, maintain and
protect" the tenants' rights since 2001, would
receive the lion's share of the proceeds from the
wrongful eviction claim. Specifically, it provided that
"[a]ny and all monies obtained from a suit for wrongful
eviction and/or the relinquishment of tenant rights and/or
any other sources shall be distributed" in the following
manner: Mr. Papageorge would be reimbursed "for all
legal costs expended since 2001 involving ESB and the subject
property" and would also receive 75 percent of the
remaining sum, while Mr. Banks and his cotenant would each
receive 12.5 percent. The agreement stated that "[i]t is
further understood and agreed that Papageorge has financed
all rent monies and will be reimbursed at the rate of
Banks hired Mr. Zucker and Ms. Daus to represent him in the
wrongful eviction case against ESB. Before any suit was
filed, Mr. Banks signed a settlement with ESB that gave Mr.
Banks $100, 000 in exchange for a release of the wrongful
eviction and other claims. Mr. Papageorge learned of the
settlement two days later, and his lawyer told Mr. Zucker
that Mr. Papageorge had a claim to the settlement money. The
same day, Mr. Papageorge showed Ms. Daus a copy of his
agreement with Mr. Banks and his cotenant along with
documentation of $88, 740.86 in costs and fees he claimed he
was owed. Despite Mr. Papageorge's repeated demands, Mr.
Zucker and Ms. Daus refused to pay him out of the settlement
money, and instead disbursed the money to their client, Mr.
Banks. Mr. Papageorge asked the lawyers to stop payment on a
check they had already given Mr. Banks, warning that the
money would soon be gone because Mr. Banks would spend it,
but they rebuffed him.
Papageorge subsequently brought a breach of contract suit
against Mr. Banks for the money. The trial court granted
summary judgment against Mr. Papageorge, but this court
reversed. See Papageorge v. Banks, 81 A.3d 311, 313
(D.C. 2013). After our remand, Mr. Papageorge and Mr. Banks
reached a settlement under which Mr. Banks gave Mr.
Papageorge $20, 000 in exchange for Mr. Papageorge's
dismissal of the lawsuit with prejudice and release of his
claims against Mr. Banks. The following month, Mr. Papageorge
sued Mr. Banks's attorneys for conversion and, in the
alternative, negligence. The trial court granted the
attorneys' motion to dismiss under Rule 12
(b)(6). Mr. Papageorge appeals from this
this is an appeal from a motion to dismiss, we take all
factual allegations in the complaint as true. Solers,
Inc. v. Doe, 977 A.2d 941, 947-48 (D.C. 2009). Our
review of legal questions is de novo. Id.