Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA 3978-00) (Hon. Herbert B. Dixon, Trial Judge)
Before Farrell, Ruiz, and Reid, Associate Judges.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Farrell, Associate Judge
Submitted October 9, 2001
Appellant (hereafter Mr. Wilson), a federal prisoner serving a life sentence, contends that the trial court erroneously dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction, and without allowing discovery, his suit against his former spouse (Mrs. Wilson) which alleged that she had converted or failed to account for certain jointly owned personalty and a portion of proceeds from the sale of their townhouse in the District of Columbia. We agree that dismissal was premature, and therefore vacate and remand the case for further proceedings.
Mr. Wilson's pro se complaint alleges that he has been a permanent resident of the District of Columbia since 1980, although he has been in federal custody since his arrest (and conviction for certain crimes) following his return from overseas in 1982. According to the complaint, he owned a property in the District of Columbia which served as an office and residence and contained office furniture, equipment, and a law library valued altogether at over $600,000. Following his divorce from Mrs. Wilson in 1980 (he later corrected this to 1981), he filed for bankruptcy and a trustee was appointed to manage his estate. Mrs. Wilson was allowed to "manage her one half regarding the distribution of the estate's assets," and eventually all of the estate's properties were liquidated, including the District of Columbia office/residence. In connection with the sale of this property - Mr. Wilson alleged - Mrs. Wilson "received undivided real estate commissions" representing an asset to the estate, and denied to the couple's two children "any legal or equitable benefits occurring from the division of the estate." As relief, the complaint asked that she be required to account for all property "sold and retained by her" as a result of the sale, and to share with the children "all personal and real property . . . represented by furniture, paintings[,] . . . antiques" and other property.
Mrs. Wilson filed no answer but instead moved to stay discovery and dismiss for lack of subject matter and personal jurisdiction. *fn1 After the motion to stay was granted, Mr. Wilson filed a pro se opposition to the motion to dismiss. In it, as relevant here, he asserted that he and Mrs. Wilson had jointly owned the District of Columbia property - "a townhouse/office" - from approximately 1975 until it was sold as part of the bankruptcy liquidation in about 1985. Mrs. Wilson "was co-owner, operator and profited by business activity at the location." Specifically, from 1975 until 1983, and particularly while Mr. Wilson had been "working overseas," Mrs. Wilson "supervised and administered the property, paid bills, [and] received a majority of income from it [as well as] other property she supervised until all the real property was sold by [the] trustee." *fn2
Mr. Wilson repeated and elaborated upon the allegation that his former wife had committed "mal-administration and illegal acts of settling the plaintiff's estate." Specifically, he claimed that she had
(a) "removed some $40,000 of valuable furniture from the [District of Columbia] location after or before it was sold";
(b) "removed a valuable law library costing some $20,000 [from that property] and failed to divide the income with the estate or the plaintiff"; and
(c) "fail[ed] to properly supervise the sale of the . . . Washington, D.C. property in cooperation with the trustee and distribute the proceeds to the estate." In particular, she had "fail[ed] to divide real estate commissions on the property" which she had received personally in connection with the sale.
Mr. Wilson asked for discovery concerning these allegations, having earlier submitted interrogatories (contrary to the stay order) that asked Mrs. Wilson to "[f]urnish records of sale or retention by [her]self of all . . . real and personal property as a result of [the] . . . division of property by the . . . bankruptcy proceedings."
The trial court dismissed the suit for lack of personal jurisdiction, without explanation other than a ...