Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (SC8300-97) (Hon. Geoffrey M. Alprin, Trial Judge)
Before Schwelb, Farrell, and Reid, Associate Judges.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schwelb, Associate Judge
Deborah A. Redman appeals by leave of this court from an order of the trial judge, sitting in the Small Claims Branch of the Civil Division, dismissing her action against Jennifer Kelty with prejudice for failure to prosecute. We reverse the judgment and remand with directions to reinstate both Ms. Redman's complaint and Ms. Kelty's counterclaim.
Ms. Redman filed this action on May 3, 1997, almost five years ago. She initially sued Ms. Kelty for $124.45, alleging that two Himalayan kittens sold to her by Ms. Kelty were not of the type or in the condition asserted by Ms. Kelty. Ms. Redman subsequently amended her complaint to pray for damages of $196.25, and ultimately sought an award of $5,000. Ms. Kelty counterclaimed for "malicious prosecution," *fn1 claiming that "Deborah Redman has been harassing me for 6 months and has no[w] filed a bogus claim against me."
For reasons not entirely apparent from the record, the case dragged on for an extensive period of time. Ms. Redman claims to have appeared in court on five different dates in 1997, eleven dates in 1998, and once in 1999; Ms. Kelty has presented nothing to contradict this claim. *fn2 During this period, a default judgment was entered in Ms. Redman's favor, but it was subsequently set aside. Ms. Kelty frequently failed to appear, and on one occasion, on February 24, 1998, she was brought to court on a bench warrant. There were a number of heated hearings before several hearing commissioners, and three commissioners recused themselves from the case. Ms. Redman also demanded that the trial judge recuse himself; we perceive no merit at all in that demand and do not address it further. *fn3
Throughout the various proceedings in the case, Ms. Redman asserted that she was seriously disabled, that her condition was "life threatening," and that she was therefore unable to remain in the courthouse for more than half a day at a time. In the trial court, however, Ms. Redman presented no independent medical verification of her disability. *fn4
The case was finally scheduled for trial on January 13, 1999, and both parties were present in the courtroom that morning. The judge could not reach the case until 2:30 that afternoon, however, and by that time Ms. Redman had left the courthouse. Ms. Redman left a note in the jacket stating that she
was present this morning to have her case heard. Because she is disabled with a serious chronic debilitating illness, she can only be present in court in the mornings or afternoons, but not all day. This has been on record since the first day of court under Commissioner King. I request a continuance.
The trial judge asked Ms. Kelty for her position on Ms. Redman's request, and Ms.
Kelty responded as follows:
My position on that is Ms. Redman has continued this case for two years. She appears in court. When it actually comes time for it to come to trial, she has an illness and leaves.
Following further discussion, the trial judge denied the request for a continuance and dismissed both the complaint and the ...