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Young v. District of Columbia

May 25, 2000

WILLIE D. YOUNG, APPELLANT,
V.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, APPELLEE.



Before Wagner, Chief Judge, and Steadman and Farrell, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wagner, Chief Judge

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (Hon. Frederick H. Weisberg, Trial Judge)

(Argued December 15, 1998 Decided May 25, 2000)

Appellant, Willie D. Young, appeals from an order of the trial court granting summary judgment to appellee, District of Columbia (District), on Young's complaint for damages for wrongful eviction, negligence, and deprivation of constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In his complaint, Young alleged that the District, acting through officers of the Metropolitan Police Department, assisted his sublessor in wrongfully evicting him from property in which he claimed to be a sublessee. Concluding that Young was "a mere occupant, arguably a trespasser, wrongfully in possession," the trial court dismissed the wrongful eviction claim. The court dismissed the constitutional claim for lack of evidence to establish a protectable interest, and the negligence claim, for failure to designate an expert witness. Young argues for reversal, contending that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because: (1) the District assisted his sublessor in wrongfully evicting him; (2) no expert witness is required to prove negligence because Young's claim is that the District failed to provide any training for police enlisted to assist with evictions; and (3) evidence of the District's past practice of assisting with evictions contrary to law formed an adequate basis for his constitutional claims. We hold that a material disputed issue of fact on Young's wrongful eviction claim precludes summary judgment. Finding no error in the trial court's ruling on the remaining claims, we affirm summary judgment with respect to those claims.

I.

A. Factual Background

For purposes of the summary judgment motion, except as otherwise indicated, the following facts were undisputed. William Bibbs leased an apartment at 1360 Peabody Street, N.W. from Washington Realty Company under the terms of a lease agreement which prohibited Bibbs from subletting or transferring possession of the premises in whole or in part. Several years later, Bibbs allowed Young to live in the apartment with Bibbs' son. Bibbs did not occupy the apartment. In early April 1994, Bibbs notified his landlord that he would vacate the apartment on April 30, 1994. Although Bibbs informed Young of his plans, demanded his keys and said that he would no longer pay rent for the apartment, Young would not leave. *fn1 Young filed an application with the landlord to rent the apartment in his own name, but, according to his deposition testimony, his application was "squashed." After Bibbs had vacated the apartment, the landlord contacted him and explained that he was responsible for getting all occupants out, or he would remain liable. Bibbs again explained this situation to Young and requested him to vacate, but Young still refused to leave. *fn2 Finally, on May 14th, Bibbs summoned the police for assistance. Police officers came to the building two times that day in connection with this matter. *fn3 Initially, a police officer told Bibbs that he could not remove Young from the premises. Finally, an officer arrived who informed Young that Bibbs had said Young was a trespasser and wanted him to leave and turn over his keys. When Young inquired about the basis for the officer's authority, the officer pointed to his shield. Young told the officer that he would not give him his keys, but would place them on the table. Young also took the keys from Bibbs' son, who was apparently to leave also, and placed them next to his, and told the officer he would have to pick up the keys himself. *fn4 The officer picked up the keys and put both Young and Bibbs' son out of the apartment. Bibbs' version of these events differs from Young's. Bibbs stated in a sworn response to an interrogatory that he had no conversation with Young on May 14, 1994, the day of Young's ouster. It was Bibbs' recollection that his wife spoke to Young that day and that "[s]he explained the situation to the police." Four days later, Young secured a temporary restraining order requiring Bibbs to allow him to re-enter the apartment; however, by the time Young returned, his possessions were no longer there.

The parties also dispute the circumstances surrounding Young's occupancy. According to Bibbs, he allowed Young to stay in the apartment with his son temporarily, while he looked for a place to live because Young had no job and was homeless. Bibbs stated that he paid the rent and bought food for his son and for Young and that he did not charge Young rent. According to Bibbs, from time to time, Young offered small amounts of cash to help out with the food and rental expenses that Bibbs was paying, but they never had any agreement that Young would be a subtenant, and Young never paid rent. According to Young, the lease was in Bibbs' name, and he sublet the premises to his son before Young moved in. In describing his agreement with Bibbs, Young stated in response to interrogatories that

When he [Young] moved into the premises in 1983, . . . Bibbs was paying the rent for his son. My agreement with [Bibbs] was that I was to pay half the rent for the premises. I paid the rent ($200 a month) to . . . Bibbs.

B. Trial Court's Ruling

The trial court granted summary judgment for the District. The court concluded that Young was "a mere occupant, arguably a trespasser" and a stranger to the landlord. The court reasoned further that Young's rights, if any, derived from Bibbs who had relinquished possession. Therefore, the actions of the police in ejecting Young were against someone wrongfully in possession. The trial court also concluded that the wrongful eviction claim must fail because such a claim will lie only against a landlord, and the District was not a landlord and had no possessory interest in the property involved.

The court granted summary judgment for the District on the negligent training claim because Young did not designate an expert witness to establish the standard of care for training police officers assisting with evictions at the request of the person lawfully in possession. When the trial court granted summary judgment, the time for designating an expert witness had expired, and discovery was closed. The court also rejected Young's § 1983 claim because: (1) Young's right to remain in the property was not a federally protected right; and (2) in opposition to the motion for summary judgment, Young had failed to show a pattern of police conduct, "from which a de facto government policy to violate the statutory right of tenants may be inferred." For similar reasons, the trial court granted summary judgment for the District on Young's remaining constitutional claims. The court also concluded that the District could not be held liable under a respondeat superior theory for Young's remaining constitutional claims.

II.

Young argues on appeal that the trial court erred in concluding that he was not lawfully in possession as Bibbs' subtenant. Therefore, he contends, Bibbs could not evict him without court process, and the District is jointly and severally liable with Bibbs for assisting in his wrongful eviction. It is well settled in this jurisdiction that a landlord may not use self-help to evict a tenant and that "the legislatively created remedies for reacquiring possession [of real property] are exclusive." Mendes v. Johnson, 389 A.2d 781, 787 (D.C. 1978). "A tenant has a right not to have his or her possession interfered with except by lawful process, and violation of that right gives rise to a cause of action in tort." Id. The District acknowledges that Young's wrongful eviction claim may go forward if Young was Bibbs' tenant at the time of the eviction. The District contends, however, that the undisputed facts show that Young was not Bibbs' tenant, but an invitee or roomer who became a trespasser by refusing to ...


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