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Saeedi v. Greyhound Lines

January 19, 1995

ESMAT SAEEDI, APPELLANT
v.
GREYHOUND LINES, INC. AND WILLIAM CARROLL, APPELLEES



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (Hon. Steffen W. Graae, Motions Judge).

Before Ferren and Schwelb, Associate Judges, and Reilly, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ferren

FERREN, Associate Judge: Appellant, Esmat Saeedi, appeals the denial of her motion for reconsideration of an order sustaining dismissal of her civil action against Greyhound Lines, Inc. without prejudice for failure to prosecute. See Super. Ct. Civ. R. 41-I. Because appellant's lawsuit was automatically stayed as a result of appellee Greyhound's Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, federal law precluded appellant from taking any further action to pursue her case. We therefore reverse and remand for entry of a trial court order reinstating the complaint.

I.

On July 6, 1990, appellant filed a complaint against Greyhound Lines, Inc. (Greyhound), Greyhound/Trailways Bus System, and Greyhound's agent, "John Doe" Carroll, for assault, battery, false arrest, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, all arising from an incident that occurred on July 7, 1989. A month earlier, on June 4, 1990, Greyhound had filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the Federal Bankruptcy Code, 11 U.S.C. §§ 1101 et seq. (1988). On July 11, 1990, in response to the complaint, Greyhound sent appellant a letter ("the 1990 letter") informing her of Greyhound's Chapter 11 filing and of the automatic stay pursuant to § 362 of the Bankruptcy Code. Melanie Scofield, Greyhound's Associate General Counsel, sent a copy of this letter to the Clerk of the Superior Court on July 16, 1990.

As a result of the information supplied by Greyhound's 1990 letter, appellant took no further action on her claim. On April 16, 1991, appellant received a computer-generated order from the Superior Court requiring her to show cause why her suit should not be dismissed pursuant to Rule 41-I(a) for failure to prosecute. On July 5, 1991, Judge Huhn (now Judge Nan Shuker) *fn1 granted appellant's motion to vacate the computer-generated order and docketed an order to that effect on July 11, "conditioned on the filing of proper notice to stay pending bankruptcy no later than August 2, 1991." (Apparently, this order meant that appellant was required to file a suitable notice in Superior Court reflecting the federal stay in effect while Greyhound's bankruptcy proceeding was pending.) Aware of this order (it is not clear how), Greyhound's Scofield apparently sent another letter addressed to the Clerk of the Superior Court on July 31, 1991 ("the 1991 letter"), informing the court that "Greyhound Lines, Inc. has not emerged from the bankruptcy proceeding and that the Stay Order issued by the Federal Court [on August 10, 1990], a copy of which is enclosed, remains in effect." *fn2 On August 2, 1991, appellant filed a praecipe stating that she would not oppose Greyhound's efforts to stay Superior Court proceedings.

Several months later, on January 6, 1993, appellant filed another praecipe noting that Greyhound's bankruptcy proceedings had been terminated and requesting a scheduling conference for appellant's case. The court did not respond. Five months later, on June 8, 1993, the Superior Court issued a second computer-generated Rule 41-I order dismissing the case for failure to prosecute. On June 14, 1993, appellant filed a motion to vacate that order, arguing that the case had been automatically stayed under 11 U.S.C. § 362 (a). On July 12, 1993, the motions Judge upheld the dismissal order on several grounds:

Defendant has never properly appeared in this case; Plaintiff did not timely file certificates of service; *fn3 this case has never been stayed; *fn4 although Plaintiff has served Greyhound, Plaintiff has never moved for default; Judge Huhn's [Shuker's] order has never been complied with; and Plaintiff has not been serving his motions and praecipes on an attorney authorized to represent Greyhound. *fn5 [Footnotes added].

The Judge further ruled that, because appellant's original complaint had named "John Doe" Carroll as a defendant instead of "William" Carroll, William Carroll was not a party to the action. *fn6 Appellant filed a motion for reconsideration. *fn7 This was denied on September 29, 1993. *fn8 She now appeals this denial.

II.

A.

Appellant filed her case at a time when Greyhound was in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. Consequently, pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 362 (a), appellant's case was automatically stayed; *fn9 federal law precluded appellant from taking any further action on her lawsuit until Greyhound's bankruptcy case was closed, dismissed, or discharged. See 11 U.S.C. §§ 362 (a)(1) -362 (c)(2). *fn10 For one simple, straightforward reason, therefore - federal bankruptcy law - the motions Judge erred in sustaining dismissal of appellant's lawsuit for failure to prosecute. His reasoning that appellant's case had "never been stayed," and that appellant had failed to take a number of actions she was required to take to keep her claim alive, is not sound - as elaborated below.

B.

The motions Judge's Conclusion that appellant's civil action against Greyhound had not been stayed is apparently premised on a belief that, irrespective of the federal bankruptcy Judge's authority to stay a Superior Court lawsuit, such a stay could not prevent the Superior Court from dismissing the lawsuit when the plaintiff fails to give the Superior Court formal notice of the stay and to take various other steps to keep it alive. Thus, the motions Judge dismissed appellant's lawsuit, and denied reconsideration of that dismissal, because of his finding that appellant had not complied with the condition Judge ...


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