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Bridgforth v. Gateway Georgetown Condominium, Inc.

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

August 29, 2019

David Bridgforth, Appellant/Cross-Appellee,
v.
Gateway Georgetown Condominium, Inc., Appellee/Cross-Appellant, and Zalco Realty, Inc., Appellee/Cross-Appellant.

          Argued January 8, 2019

          Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CAB-8278-15) (Hon. Todd E. Edelman, Trial Judge

          Adam L. Van Grack for appellant/cross-appellee. Paul Strauss and Crystal K. McBee were on the brief for appellant/cross-appellee.

          Thomas C. Mugavero for appellees/cross-appellants Gateway Georgetown Condominium, Inc. and Zalco Realty, Inc.

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

          MCLEESE, ASSOCIATE JUDGE

         These cross-appeals arise from a dispute between condominium owner David Bridgforth and the condominium association of which he is a member, Gateway Georgetown Condominium, Inc. Mr. Bridgforth argues that the Nonprofit Corporation Act of 2010, D.C. Code § 29-401.01 et seq. (2013 Repl.) entitles him to get access to certain records related to Gateway's financial dealings. Mr. Bridgforth further argues that the trial court erred by concluding that the provision on which Mr. Bridgforth relies must give way to a conflicting provision in the Condominium Act, D.C. Code § 42-1901.01 et seq. (2012 Repl. & 2019 Supp.). Mr. Bridgforth and Gateway also challenge the trial court's denial of their respective requests for attorney's fees. We affirm the trial court's ruling on the merits and remand for further proceedings with regard to attorney's fees.

         I.

         The following facts appear to be undisputed. Mr. Bridgforth owns two condominiums in a building in the District of Columbia. Gateway is the condominium association for the building and is incorporated in the District as a nonprofit corporation. Mr. Bridgforth is one of Gateway's members. In October 2015, Mr. Bridgforth filed a suit alleging that Gateway and its management agency, appellee/cross-appellant Zalco Realty, failed to provide him with records that he had requested pursuant to the Nonprofit Act. (For ease of reference, we refer to appellees/cross-appellants collectively as Gateway.)

         At trial, Mr. Bridgforth sought enforcement of fifteen requests for information he had made to Gateway in various forms over the preceding three years. The trial court found that eleven of Mr. Bridgforth's fifteen requests did not comply with the requirements of the Nonprofit Act. See D.C. Code § 29-413.02(b)-(c) (requiring, among other things, that requests be made by signed notice, be made in good faith and for proper purpose, and describe requested records with reasonable particularity). The trial court further determined that the remaining requests were largely directed at information -- regarding personnel matters, pending or anticipated litigation, or files of members or individual unit owners -- that Gateway could properly withhold under § 42-1903.14(c)(1) of the Condominium Act. The trial court therefore denied Mr. Bridgforth's claim except as to portions of two of Mr. Bridgforth's requests that were directed at information not subject to withholding --namely, documentation of Gateway's expenditures related to air-conditioning units in the building.

         The trial court denied Mr. Bridgforth's request for attorney's fees under § 29-413.04(c) of the Nonprofit Act, on the ground that Gateway had acted in good faith. The court noted that the only two requests requiring a response were buried in a large number of unwarranted requests and that Gateway thus had possessed a reasonable basis for doubting whether Mr. Bridgforth had a right to inspect the records he requested. Finally, the trial court denied Gateway's request for attorney's fees under § 42-1902.09 of the Condominium Act, interpreting that provision to apply only where a case was brought by a unit-owners' association against a unit owner.

         II.

         Mr. Bridgforth does not contest the trial court's denial of many of his requests under the Nonprofit Act. Rather, Mr. Bridgforth challenges the trial court's ruling that Gateway was entitled under the Condominium Act to withhold certain information that would otherwise have been subject to disclosure under the Nonprofit Act. Mr. Bridgforth's challenge thus turns on the interaction ...


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