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Williams v. Kennedy

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

July 11, 2019

Margaret Williams, et al., Appellants,
v.
James C. Kennedy, et al., Appellees.

          Argued December 21, 2018

          Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CAR-4028-16) Hon. Brian F. Holeman, Trial Judge

          Charles Gormly for appellants.

          Dorene Haney for appellees.

          David Carpman, Rachel A. Rintelmann, and Jonathan H. Levy were on the brief for the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, amicus curiae in support of appellants.

          Joel Cohn, Dennis Taylor, Amir Sadeghy, and Umar Ahmed were on the brief for the District of Columbia Office of the Tenant Advocate, amicus curiae in support of neither party.

          Karl A. Racine, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Loren L. AliKhan, Solicitor General, Caroline S. Van Zile, Deputy Solicitor General, and Lucy E. Pittman were on the brief for the District of Columbia, amicus curiae in support of appellees.

          Before Glickman and McLeese, Associate Judges, and Nebeker, Senior Judge.

          MCLEESE, ASSOCIATE JUDGE:

         Under the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act of 1980 (TOPA), D.C. Code § 42-3404.01 et seq. (2012 Repl. & 2018 Supp.), tenants have certain rights if the owner of a rental accommodation wishes to sell the accommodation, including a right to notice and a right of first refusal. Appellant Margaret Williams is a tenant in a four-unit housing accommodation. Appellees James C. Kennedy, Clara Kennedy, and Victor Robinson ("owners") have an interest in the accommodation. Ms. Williams claims that she was denied her TOPA rights in connection with a transaction in 2015 and a proposed transaction in 2016. The trial court granted summary judgment to the owners, ruling that both transactions were not covered by TOPA. We affirm.

         I. Background

         Except as noted, the following facts appear to be undisputed. In 1986, Mr. Kennedy, Barbara Martin, and Mr. Robinson formed a partnership for the purpose of purchasing and operating the accommodation. The partnership agreement granted Mr. Kennedy and Ms. Martin 40% interests in the partnership and Mr. Robinson a 20% interest in the partnership. In the same year, Mr. Kennedy, Ms. Martin, and Mr. Robinson purchased the accommodation. The deed of sale specified that Mr. Kennedy and his wife had a 40% undivided interest in the accommodation as tenants by the entirety; Ms. Martin and her husband had a 40% undivided interest as tenants by the entirety; and Mr. Robinson had a 20% undivided interest.

         In 2004, Ms. Martin, whose husband had passed away, quitclaimed her 40% interest in the accommodation to Mr. and Ms. Kennedy. Although it appears that the partnership agreement was amended in 2004, that amended partnership agreement is not part of the record in this court. In 2015, the Kennedys and Mr. Robinson executed a deed conveying some of the Kennedys' interest in the accommodation to Mr. Robinson, leaving Mr. Robinson with an undivided 85% interest in the accommodation and the Kennedys with an undivided 15% interest in the accommodation, as tenants by the entirety. The tenants of the accommodation were not given notice of the 2015 transaction.

         Finally, in 2016, the Kennedys decided to transfer their remaining interest in the accommodation to Mr. Robinson. They provided Ms. Williams with notice of that proposed transaction, but took the position that the transaction was not covered by TOPA.

         Ms. Williams sued, claiming that the 2015 transaction and the proposed 2016 transaction were sales covered by TOPA and that she had been denied her rights under TOPA. Ms. Williams had assigned TOPA rights to Christopher Hauser and Michael Kiefer, and they also are plaintiffs. (For purposes of this appeal, nothing turns on this assignment, so for ease of reference we hereinafter use "Ms. Williams" to refer to the plaintiffs.) The owners moved for summary judgment, arguing that the transactions at issue were not sales within the meaning of TOPA. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment to the owners.

         II. Standard of Review

         "To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, a party must demonstrate that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Bartel v. Bank of Am. Corp., 128 A.3d 1043, 1045 (D.C. 2015) (brackets and internal quotation marks omitted). "This court's review of orders granting summary judgment is de novo, with the court conducting an independent review of the record and applying the same substantive standard used by the trial court. We construe the record in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment." Id.

         We decide issues of statutory interpretation de novo. Facebook, Inc. v. Wint, 199 A.3d 625, 628 (D.C. 2019). "We first look to see whether the statutory language at issue is plain and admits of no more than one meaning. We will give effect to the plain meaning of a statute when the language is unambiguous and does not produce an absurd result." Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). We also consider statutory context and structure, evident legislative purpose, and the potential consequences of adopting a given interpretation. E.g., J.P. v. District of Columbia, 189 A.3d 212, 219 (D.C. 2018); Cherry v. District of Columbia, 164 A.3d 922, 928 (D.C. 2017); Frey v. United States, 137 A.3d 1000, 1004 (D.C. 2016). "We may ...


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