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Abdul-Karim v. Abdul-Karim

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

May 10, 2019

Mikail K. Abdul-Karim
Isaiah Abdul-Karim et al.

          Providence County Superior Court (KM 17-1067) Associate Justice Daniel A. Procaccini

          For Plaintiff: John V. McGreen, Esq.

          For Defendants: Isaiah Abdul-Karim, Pro Se Musa Abdul-Karim, Pro Se Karima A. Karim, Pro Se Latifa B. Karim, Pro Se

          Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.


         Before us is an appeal from a Superior Court order confirming an arbitration award and appointing a commissioner to carry out the terms of the award. The need for arbitration arose out of a dispute involving a joint tenancy-from which the plaintiff appellee Mikail K. Abdul-Karim (Mikail[1] or plaintiff) wishes to separate-in real property located at 13 Boston Street in Coventry, Rhode Island (the property). The defendants-Karima A. Karim (Karima), Musa Abdul-Karim (Musa), and Latifa B. Karim (Latifa)-who have been self-represented throughout these proceedings, argue that they were not afforded a hearing on arbitration and seek a stay of the property's sale. This case came before the Supreme Court pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues raised in this appeal should not be summarily decided. After considering the parties' written and oral submissions and reviewing the record, we conclude that cause has not been shown and that this case may be decided without further briefing or argument. In accordance with the strong public policy in favor of the finality of arbitration awards, we affirm the order of the Superior Court.

         On June 25, 2012, Mikail purchased the property by a warranty deed.[2] On September 13, 2012, Mikail signed and recorded a quitclaim deed in the Coventry land evidence records. The quitclaim deed provided Mikail with a 50 percent interest in the property, Isaiah Abdul-Karim (Isaiah)[3] with a 25 percent interest, Karima with a 12.5 percent interest, and Musa and Latifa with a share of 12.5 percent interest in the property (collectively, the tenants).

         A few days later, on September 15, 2012, the tenants entered into an "Agreement Among Joint Tenants" (the agreement) regarding the ownership of the property; the agreement was recorded in the Coventry land evidence records on September 28, 2012. In the event any of the tenants wished to alienate his or her ownership of the property, the agreement set forth a procedure to dissolve the joint tenancy. Under the agreement, Mikail had "the first option" to purchase the separating tenant's interest. If Mikail declined to purchase the interest of the separating tenant, the remaining tenants had the option to purchase it in proportion to their respective equity interest in the property. If Mikail himself wished to separate, or if the other tenants were "unwilling or unable" to purchase the separating tenant's interest, then the property was to be sold at an agreed-upon price. If the tenants were unable to agree on a price, the fair market value was to be determined by an independent real estate appraiser selected by Mikail. The proceeds would then be divided in proportion to each tenant's equity interest. Finally, the agreement provided that "any disputes between [the tenants] shall be settled by binding arbitration under the rules of the American Arbitration Association then in effect."

         Several years later, on October 6, 2017, Mikail filed an application to confirm an arbitration award in the Kent County Superior Court. The agreement and the arbitration award were attached to Mikail's application. The arbitration award was signed by an arbitrator and dated July 7, 2017, and the award indicated that the arbitrator had held a hearing on June 23, 2017 regarding a dispute concerning the enforceability of the agreement.[4] According to the parties, this hearing was conducted over the telephone.

         On October 24, 2017, Karima filed a "motion to vacate."[5] The motion briefly stated that Karima had not been a party to arbitration and that the "judgment" was based on "misleading and/or incomplete information[.]"

         On November 3, 2017, a Superior Court justice (the hearing justice) heard Mikail's application to confirm the arbitration award and Karima's motion to vacate. Convinced by defendants' testimony that they had understood the hearing to be a preliminary one-and not an arbitration hearing-the hearing justice granted Karima's motion to vacate.

         A second or "final hearing" was held by telephone on February 5, 2018 by a different arbitrator.[6] The second arbitrator issued a written award on February 8, 2018.[7] The award stated that Mikail and his attorney were present; Karima, Latifa, and Musa were present; and, Isaiah was not present. The award further stated that "[t]he parties were notified that this would be a final hearing on the matter, which occurred via telephone conference with [an American Arbitration Association] Administrator on the call as well. All parties were given the opportunity to be heard, to present evidence, and to respond to each side's contentions."[8]

         On March 11, 2018, Mikail filed an amended application to confirm the award. On March 19, 2018, Latifa filed a "motion to vacate and dismiss the judgment," alleging that there had been no second arbitration hearing and that the second award was "based on an illegal 'quitclaim' [deed] not presented to nor signed by the joint tenants."

         On March 23, 2018, a second Superior Court justice (the second hearing justice) heard Mikail's amended application to confirm the second award and Latifa's motion to vacate. Mikail's counsel was present, as were Latifa, Musa, and Karima. At the hearing, Mikail also sought the appointment of a commissioner "to enforce the award because of the difficulty * * * [Mikail] has had in listing the property[.]"

         The second hearing justice issued a decision, stating that he had considered the application to confirm the award and its attachments, including the agreement, which he observed was signed by all parties and notarized. He noted that the award "appears to be a thoughtful decision." He explained to defendants that they "got a second opportunity in front of another arbitrator," and that "[b]y everything I have in front of me that took place, it was an appropriate opportunity for you to be heard." He further stated that he saw "no legal basis to not confirm the arbitration award[.]" Consequently, ...

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