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Papageorge v. Zucker

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

September 21, 2017

George C. Papageorge, Appellant,
Jonathan Zucker & Patricia Daus, Appellees.

          Argued April 14, 2017

         Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CAB-462-15) (Hon. Herbert B. Dixon, Jr., Trial Judge)

          Emily Whelden, with whom Patrick C. Horrell was on the brief, for appellant.

          Matthew D. Berkowitz, with whom Mariana D. Bravo and Sarah W. Conkright were on the brief, for appellee.

          Before Beckwith and Easterly, Associate Judges, and Reid, Senior Judge.

          Beckwith, Associate Judge.

         The 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.


         Mr. 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 100%."

         Mr. 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.

         Mr. 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).[1] Mr. Papageorge appeals from this dismissal.


         Because 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.

         A. ...

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