Carter v. Urban Serv. Sys. Corp., Civil Action No. 18-643 (RDM)

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Writing for the CourtRANDOLPH D. MOSS, United States District Judge
Citation324 F.Supp.3d 19
Parties Richard CARTER et al., Plaintiffs, v. URBAN SERVICE SYSTEMS CORPORATION et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 18-643 (RDM)
Decision Date13 August 2018

324 F.Supp.3d 19

Richard CARTER et al., Plaintiffs,

Civil Action No. 18-643 (RDM)

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

Signed August 13, 2018

324 F.Supp.3d 21

David L. Feinberg, Brenna M. Spinner, Benjamin E. Horowitz, Venable, LLP, Washington, DC, for Plaintiffs.

Reginald J. Richter, Richter Law Group, PLLC, New York, NY, Latif Selassie Doman, Doman Attorneys, Washington, DC, for Defendants.


RANDOLPH D. MOSS, United States District Judge

This case raises the question whether a party to a stock purchase agreement and corresponding promissory note and security agreement may decline to make payments due under those agreements based on a defense of fraudulent inducement, while simultaneously affirming the stock purchase agreement and treating the acquired stock as his own. As explained below, the Court concludes that, at least in the circumstances of this case, he may not do so, and that his remedy for fraudulent inducement lies, if at all, in an action for damages.

The parties to this action are Plaintiffs Richard and Jonita Carter, who were the sole shareholders in Urban Service Systems Corporation ("Urban Systems") prior to the transaction at issue, and Defendants Urban Systems and William Keating. In 2016, the Carters decided to retire, and they agreed to sell their interest in Urban Systems to Keating. But because Keating lacked the funds to purchase the company outright, the sale was made, in effect, on credit. Richard Carter returned all of his shares to Urban Systems in exchange for a promise, secured by those shares, that Urban Systems would make monthly payments to him over a period of almost five years, for a total of $1,032,246. Jonita Carter also returned most of her shares to Urban Systems on similar terms requiring monthly payments totaling $137,175, and she sold her remaining shares to Keating in return for a promise, again secured by the corresponding shares, that Keating would pay her $68,579, plus interest, over a similar period of time. Pursuant to these agreements, Keating would become the sole shareholder in Urban Systems; Urban Systems would pay the Carters the bulk of the purchase price from the company's profits over a period of about five years; and Keating would acquire the company, along with its new debt to the Carters, for $68,579. In theory, all would gain from the transaction. The Carters would receive $1,238,000 for the company, and Keating would acquire the company for a relatively modest upfront amount.

That theory, however, turned on the assumption that the company would earn a substantial profit on its sole contract, which was with the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority ("D.C. Water"). When it failed to do so, the company and Keating stopped making the required payments to the Carters. The Carters, in response, eventually notified Urban Systems and Keating that they were in default under the promissory notes, and the Carters exercised their rights under the security agreements to demand the return of their shares. When Urban Systems and Keating failed to cure their defaults or to return the stock, the Carters commenced this action. Subsequently, they moved for a preliminary injunction, seeking to compel

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Urban Systems and Keating to return their shares.

With the agreement of the parties, the Court consolidated Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction with briefing and argument on summary judgment, set a further briefing schedule, and held a hearing on the consolidated motions. Urban Systems and Keating answered the Carters' motions, and Keating filed counterclaims against the Carters alleging fraudulent inducement and negligent misrepresentation. Neither Urban Systems nor Keating disputes the Carters' allegations of nonpayment of the amounts specified in the payment schedules. They do, however, dispute that Plaintiffs are entitled to relief, arguing that Richard Carter fraudulently induced Keating to enter into the transaction by misrepresenting the profitability of Urban Systems' D.C. Water contract. According to Keating, he is the injured party; neither he nor Urban Systems should be required to return the shares; and the Carters are liable to him for compensatory damages. Finally, Urban Systems and Keating contend that, in any event, the entry of a preliminary injunction or summary judgment is premature because they have not yet had the opportunity to conduct discovery relating to their fraudulent inducement and negligent misrepresentation defenses.

As explained below, the Court agrees that it is premature to resolve Keating's counterclaims. That does not mean, however, that it is premature to decide whether the Carters are entitled to the return of their shares under the promissory notes and security agreements. Those agreements are clear: The promissory notes are payable "without offset," and, in the event of a default, Urban Systems and Keating agreed to return the shares to the Carters. To be sure, fraudulent inducement may, at times, provide a basis for rescinding a contract. But the party asserting fraudulent inducement must elect either to rescind the contract—which, here, would result, among other things, in the return of the shares to the Carters—or to affirm the contract and to sue for damages. Although Keating would like to have it both ways, he is not entitled to do so; he cannot affirm the portion of the contract that grants him ownership of Urban Systems, while disaffirming the portion that requires that he and Urban Systems make monthly payments to the Carters. Having continued to exercise control of Urban Systems to this day, his sole recourse is to return the shares, as required by the agreements, and then, if appropriate, to sue for damages.

The Court will, accordingly, grant partial summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs and deny Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction as moot.


For purposes of resolving Plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment, the Court takes "the facts in the record and all reasonable inferences derived therefrom in the light most favorable" to Defendants. Coleman v. Duke , 867 F.3d 204, 209 (D.C. Cir. 2017) (quoting Al-Saffy v. Vilsack , 827 F.3d 85, 89 (D.C. Cir. 2016) ).

A. Negotiations

Plaintiffs Richard and Jonita Carter are the former owners and operators of Urban Systems, a waste collection, disposal, and processing company. Dkt. 11-18 at 2 (Carter Decl. ¶ 3). In February 2016, Richard Carter (hereinafter "Carter") proposed to sell Urban Systems to Defendant William Keating, Dkt. 20 at 113–14, who had served as President of the company from 2005 to 2013, id. at 85. Because Keating lacked the capital to purchase the company outright, Carter suggested that Urban Systems fund the bulk of the purchase

324 F.Supp.3d 23

price from the company's future profits on its contract with D.C. Water. Id. at 114 ("[Carter] said that the [company's] contract would ... pay the cost of the purchase and still have some profit remaining."). That contract—known as the Grit Contract—dated back to approximately 2005 and was Urban Systems' sole existing contract (and source of revenue) at the time of the negotiations and sale. Id. at 13, 63–64; Dkt. 14-1 at 1 (Keating Decl. ¶¶ 3–5).

Under the Grit Contract, Urban Systems disposed of heavy solid materials—or "grit"—removed from wastewater on behalf of D.C. Water. Id. (Keating Decl. ¶ 3); Dkt. 20 at 12–13. The company picked up the grit from D.C. Water's wastewater treatment plant and transported it to a disposal site, and, in return, received a per-ton fee. Dkt. 20 at 74. Given the nature of the contract, however, both the revenue and costs were subject to fluctuation. Id. at 18. Because Urban Systems was paid on a per-ton basis, the revenue varied based on the amount of grit generated each month. Id. at 74. Likewise, Urban Systems' costs—and, in particular, its disposal costs—also varied. Id. at 28. As Eunice Liu, the company's former comptroller, explained, different disposal sites charged different amounts; those that are further away from the District of Columbia charged less for disposal, but travel to those more distant sites resulted in larger transportation costs. See id. at 95. Urban Systems negotiated separate per-ton disposal rates with the various disposal sites. Id. at 88.

According to Keating, when Carter proposed in February 2016 that Keating purchase Urban Systems, Carter represented that the Grit Contract would generate sufficient profits to cover the purchase price, while still leaving some return for Keating. Id. at 114; Dkt. 14-1 at 1 (Keating Decl. ¶ 5) ("Mr. Carter represented to me that he would submit ... a bid for the [c]ontract at sufficient profit margins to enable the [c]ompany to pay him approximately $1 million in monthly increments of approximately $20,000 over a period of approximately five years."). Carter backed this representation up with a spreadsheet, which he asked Liu to send to Keating, "reflect[ing] the expenses and ... [profit] margins associated with servicing the [c]ontract." Id. at 2 (Keating Decl. ¶ 11). The spreadsheet, which is captioned "Grit Hauling Cost Proposal," includes a separate page for each...

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