Janet A. Forero and Derek Stikeleather of Goodell DeVries prevailed in the D.C. Court of Appeals, which issued a precedential opinion on the standard of appellate review for decisions applying judicial estoppel.
The D.C. Superior Court, in 2018, granted summary judgment on medical negligence claims against a physician and hospital based on the equitable doctrine of judicial estoppel. Janet's motion had argued that the plaintiffs' suit was barred because they had previously filed for bankruptcy without disclosing the potential but not-yet-filed lawsuit on their Schedule of Assets. Only after the bankruptcy court discharged their debts, did they file suit seeking more than ten million dollars. The plaintiffs appealed the judgment arguing that summary judgment required de novo review on appeal with all inferences in the plaintiffs' favor.
On the strength of Derek's appellate briefing and Janet's oral argument via Zoom in February 2021, the D.C. Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment. The precedential September 16, 2021, opinion holds for the first time that the District’s standard of review for judicial estoppel is abuse of discretion, even if the ruling is case dispositive. Rejecting plaintiffs' efforts to apply de novo review, the Court added that the standard was already "obvious" from prior rulings but had not previously been stated as a holding. Finding no abuse of discretion in the trial judge’s exercise of judicial estoppel, the Court affirmed.
"We are extremely pleased that the appellate court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court," said Janet. "The Court agreed with all of our arguments, and its published opinion establishes new law in the District."