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07/22/93 JOANN D. NICKLES v. DISTRICT COLUMBIA

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COURT OF APPEALS


July 22, 1993

JOANN D. NICKLES, APPELLANT
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL, APPELLEES

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. Richard S. Salzman, Trial Judge)

Before Ferren and Farrell, Associate Judges, and Kern, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kern

KERN, Senior Judge : Appellant, appearing pro se, challenges the pretrial dismissal of her complaint against the District of Columbia for want of prosecution. Appellant argues that the trial court abused its discretion in dismissing her complaint for her failure to appear at the initial pretrial conference. We reverse and remand for the reasons stated below.

Appellant initiated this action in a complaint dated May 14, 1991, against the Department of Public Works, the Bureau of Adjudication, and three of its employees seeking the recovery of her 1982 automobile and $10,000 in damages. *fn1 On May 24, 1991, the trial court granted appellant's application for a writ of replevin, and on August 12, 1991, the trial court dismissed the complaint against the Department of Public Works and the Bureau of Adjudication for lack of jurisdiction. See Braxton v. National Capital Housing Authority, 396 A.2d 215, 216 (D.C. 1978)("A non-corporate department or other body within a municipal corporation is not sui juris.").

The court also quashed service as well as dismissed the complaint as to defendant/employee Gwen Mitchell of the Bureau of Adjudication. On August 16, 1991, Ms. Nickles failed to appear at the initial scheduling and settlement conference regarding her complaint against the two remaining employees. The trial court dismissed the case for want of prosecution upon appellee's oral motion. *fn2

In Durham v. District of Columbia, 494 A.2d 1346 (D.C. 1985), appellant's attorney failed to appear at an initial pretrial scheduling conference, and the trial court granted appellee's motion to dismiss appellant's complaint for failure to prosecute. There, "the sole issue presented" was "whether the trial court abused its discretion in imposing the severe sanction of dismissal following appellant's counsel's failure to attend a pretrial conference." Id. at 1349. This court, in reversing the trial court's dismissal, held that "in exercising the discretion duly entrusted to a trial court in this area, a Judge must state the reasons for the sanctions imposed. Given the varied demands upon a trial Judge, the explanation may be concise but should highlight evidence in the record reflecting unjustified delays, or noncompliance with the court rules, attributable to appellant or his attorney." This court concluded that "in light of the sparse record, and in the absence of any findings on the record by the trial court explaining the basis for its order, we cannot affirm the extreme sanction imposed by the trial court." Id. at 1351, 1352. *fn3

In the instant case the record, as was the case in Durham, is sparse and the trial court gave no indication of why it chose dismissal over less severe sanctions. *fn4 Under these particular circumstances we cannot affirm the extreme sanctions imposed by the trial court here. Accordingly, we reverse and remand this case for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.

So ordered.


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