Owens v. Tiber Island Condominium Ass'n, 10120.

Decision Date10 May 1977
Docket NumberNo. 10120.,10120.
Citation373 A.2d 890
PartiesJames N. and Kathleen L. OWENS, Appellants, v. TIBER ISLAND CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATION et al., Appellees.
CourtD.C. Court of Appeals

James N. Owens, pro se.

Anne White Foley, Washington D. C., with whom James A. Hourihan and Robert B. Cornell, Washington, D. C., were on the brief, for appellees. Thomas H. Truitt, Washington, D. C., also entered an appearance for appellees.

Before NEWMAN, Chief Judge, and KELLY and MACK, Associate Judges.

KELLY, Associate Judge:

Appellee Tiber Island Condominium, which is located between 4th and 6th and M and N Streets, S.W., is organized under the District of Columbia's Horizontal Property Act. D.C.Code 1973, § 5-901 et seq. Appellants James and Kathleen Owens own a condominium unit in Tiber Island and are, therefore, subject to Tiber Island's Bylaws. D.C.Code 1973, § 5-913(c); Bylaws of Tiber Island Condominium, Art. III, § C. In a suit between the parties, the trial court granted summary judgment for Tiber Island on the Owens' original claim and on its own counterclaim. In determining whether these rulings were proper, the key issue is whether Tiber Island's Board of Directors was authorized to file a suit against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) protesting construction of a subway in the area where the condominium is located.

The dispute began on September 10, 1971, when WMATA circulated a notice of public hearing on the construction of a subway tunnel and a Waterfront Metro Station to be located under M Street, S.W., between 3rd and 6th Streets. Feeling that their lives and property values might be adversely affected by the subway construction, residents of Tiber Island sought specific information about construction sites, noise levels, hours and length of construction, possible acquisition of property, ground vibration, location of vent shafts, effects on utilities and the like. The Board did not obtain the desired information and after an unsatisfactory meeting with WMATA representatives on March 19, 1973, requested its counsel, Mr. Thomas Truitt, to assess its legal options. At the next Board meeting on March 26, 1974, Mr. Truitt reported that in his opinion WMATA was unlikely to cooperate or negotiate with Tiber Island unless it was clear that the condominium would, if necessary, resort to court action. It was decided that the Board had the authority to bring a suit against WMATA and a resolution authorizing retention of legal counsel to institute legal proceedings if a voluntary settlement could not be reached was adopted.

Subsequent negotiations were unsuccessful and on June 24, 1974, Tiber Island filed suit in the District Court for the District of Columbia seeking an injunction against construction, scheduled to begin June 28, until WMATA had complied with the requirements of D.C.Code 1973, § 1-1431 et seq. On June 29, the Owens and two other co-owners threatened to intervene in the law suit if Tiber Island did not withdraw as a named plaintiff. Before a motion to intervene could be filed, however, WMATA and Tiber Island reached a settlement agreement.

On July 5, 1974, the Board notified the condominium owners of a special meeting to be held July 23, 1974, for the purpose of voting on a revised budget for 1974, including an assessment for legal fees incurred in reaching the agreement with WMATA. At the meeting thirty-six owners were there in person and twenty-one by proxy. The Owens were present and registered their protest of the Board's actions in bringing the suit as being unlawful per se. Nevertheless, the owners approved a resolution revising the budget and authorizing the Board to assess the members a total of $7,300 to fund the revision. The additional assessment was to be paid in five monthly installments. The Owens' pro rata share was $163.70.

The Owens refused to pay the subsequent assessment and filed the present action, alleging that the Board had unlawfully instituted the civil action against WMATA, had illegally assessed the Owens for its maintenance, and had breached its fiduciary duty to the condominium owners. Tiber Island counterclaimed for the amount of the assessment. Tiber Island's subsequent motion for summary judgment on both claims were granted and the Owens appeal.

I.

The Owens' contention that the trial court abused its discretion in permitting Tiber Island to file a counterclaim to their complaint is without merit. Their argument that the counterclaim merely duplicates the main claim is specious. Had the Owens failed to prevail on their claim against Tiber Island, the condominium would still have been obliged to file suit if the Owens continued to refuse to pay the assessment voted by the Board. As the claim for the assessment is a compulsory counterclaim under Rule 13(a), such an action would otherwise have been barred. Southern Construction Co. v. Pickard, 371 U.S. 57, 83 S.Ct. 108, 9 L.Ed.2d 31 (1962). Tiber Island was, therefore, compelled to counterclaim in the Owens suit.

There is also no merit in the contention that Tiber Island should have counterclaimed in equity since the assessment was a lien against the Owens' property under D.C.Code 1973, § 5-916(d). That Code section provides only that amounts due may be assessed as liens,1 not that they must be and Tiber Island did not purport to file any such lien but proceeded in an action at law. The assertions that Tiber Island failed to comply with requirements of § 5-916(d) are, therefore, irrelevant.

The argument that the counterclaim should have been dismissed under Super.Ct. Civ.R. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted is equally without merit. Dismissal for this reason is impermissible "unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief," Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45, 78 S.Ct. 99, 102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957), and Tiber Island's claim obviously does not fall into this category. Therefore the trial court correctly granted Tiber Island's motion to file a counterclaim.

II

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Tiber Island on the Owens' claim and on its counterclaim2 In reviewing these rulings our function is to determine whether any issue of fact pertinent to the ruling exists, International Underwriters, Inc. v. Boyle, D.C.App., 365 A.2d 779, 782 (1976), and in doing so we are not bound by the findings of the trial court. Id. If no such issues exist, we must then decide if Tiber Island is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. Poller v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc., 368 U.S. 464, 82 S.Ct. 486, 7 L.Ed.2d 458 (1962).

There are no factual issues in dispute here. In support of its motion Tiber Island filed a statement of material facts which were not in dispute, supporting affidavits from its secretary-treasurer, the minutes of the meetings of March 26 and July 23, 1974, and copies of pertinent sections of its bylaws. Appellants filed nothing with their oppositions to controvert the facts3 alleged by Tiber...

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    ...the plaintiff[s] can prove no set of facts in support of [their] claim[s] which would entitle [them] to relief." Owens v. Tiber Island Condo. Ass'n, 373 A.2d 890, 893 (D.C.1977). See also Diamond v. Davis, 680 A.2d 364, 371 (D.C.1996) ("Under the Superior Court Civil Rules ... the plaintiff......
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    ...that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Owens v. Tiber Island Condominium Ass'n, 373 A.2d 890, 893 (D.C.1977) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45, 78 S.Ct. 99, 101-02, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)); accord, Vincent, 621 A.2d at ......
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    ...him to relief,' Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45, 78 S.Ct. 99, 102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957). . . ." Owens v. Tiber Island Condominium Association, D.C.App., 373 A.2d 890, 893 (1977). The complaint was properly dismissed as to B & O because of the failure to allege an intentional, willful or wa......
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