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Stiffler v. WU Locust Partners

February 13, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baylson, J.


Plaintiff Mark A. Stiffler ("Stiffler") initiated this action against Defendants WU Locust Partners L.P. ("WU") and David Douglas William, Inc. d/b/a Coldwell Banker Realty Corp. Associates ("Coldwell Banker"), seeking the return of earnest money that Stiffler provided to Defendants in anticipation of Stiffler's purchasing a condominium constructed by WU. Presently before this Court is Coldwell Banker's "Motion for Summary Judgment and to Interplead Funds." (Doc. 14). For the reasons that follow, Coldwell Banker's Motion will be denied.

I. Background and Procedural History

This litigation arises out of a purchase agreement between Stiffler and WU, entered into on December 2, 2005, whereby Stiffler agreed to purchase a condominium that WU would be constructing at the Western Union Building Condominium Residences. (Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ¶ 1). Pursuant to the agreement, Stiffler made a deposit of $207,900 on December 17, 2005 as earnest money (Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ¶ 5), which Stiffler alleges is being held by Coldwell Banker (Compl. ¶ 10). Stiffler alleges in his Complaint that WU was required to close on the condominium no later than two years after the date the purchase agreement was signed, which was on December 2, 2007. (Compl. ¶¶ 11-12). According to Stiffler, the purchase agreement also provided that Stiffler was not required to close on the purchase until there was a "substantial completion" of the condominium building common areas, including the lobby, elevators, and the gym. (Compl. ¶ 13). However, as of December 2, 2007, Stiffler alleges that WU had not substantially completed the common areas and were in breach of the purchase agreement. (Compl. ¶¶ 14-19). Seeking to terminate the contract, Stiffler provided notice to Defendants of his intent to withdraw from the agreement and requested the return of his earnest money. (Compl. ¶¶ 22-26). In response to his demand, Stiffler alleges that Coldwell Banker refused to return the earnest money. (Compl. ¶¶ 24-26).

Stiffler subsequently filed the current proceeding against WU and Coldwell Banker, alleging the above facts and seeking the return of his earnest money from Coldwell Banker. (Doc. 1). After WU filed an answer and counterclaims (Doc. 4) and after Stiffler answered the coutnerclaims (Doc. 5), Coldwell Banker also answered the Stiffler Complaint with several affirmative defenses. (Doc. 8). Importantly, Coldwell Banker did not make any counterclaims against any of the parties. Coldwell Banker then filed the Motion for Summary Judgment and to Interplead Funds, which is currently before this Court. (Doc. 14).

II. Jurisdiction and Legal Standard

A. Jurisdiction

As the parties in this case have diverse citizenship and because the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000, this Court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1).

B. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). An issue is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the case under governing law. Id.

A party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility for informing the district court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Where the non-moving party bears the burden of proof on a particular issue at trial, the moving party's initial burden can be met simply by "pointing out to the district court that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Id. at 325. After the moving party has met its initial burden, the adverse party's response must, "by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this rule [ ] set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). Summary judgment is appropriate if the non-moving party fails to rebut by making a factual showing "sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Under Rule 56, the Court must view the evidence presented on the motion in the light most favorable to the opposing party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

III. Discussion

Coldwell Banker files the current "Motion for Summary Judgment and to Interplead Funds" by relying on, as the name suggests, the legal device of interpleader:

Coldwell Banker has no interest in the enforcement of the agreement of sale, and holds the funds solely for the benefit of the parties, i.e., it is a mere stakeholder. As it has no interest in the funds, and neither Mr. Stiffler nor WULP have asserted any positive claims against Coldwell Banker, the procedural device of interpleading the funds into Court and dismissing Coldwell ...

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