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Norried v. Caribbean Contractors

May 25, 2006

BARBARA E. NORRIED, APPELLANT,
v.
CARIBBEAN CONTRACTORS, INC., APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CAB9656-02) (Hon. Mary A. Gooden Terrell, Trial Judge).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schwelb, Associate Judge

Argued April 7, 2006

Before WASHINGTON, Chief Judge, and SCHWELB and KRAMER, Associate Judges.

This case involves a dispute between Barbara E. Norried, a homeowner, and Caribbean Contractors, Inc. (Caribbean), a home improvement contractor which is not licensed in the District of Columbia, over renovation work performed by Caribbean on Ms. Norried's home. Following a lengthy bench trial, the trial judge ruled substantially in favor of Caribbean on the merits of Ms. Norried's suit, and she entered judgment in favor of Caribbean in the amount of $172.10, plus interest, on Caribbean's counterclaim. The judge rejected Ms. Norried's claim that Caribbean's unlicensed status undermined the contractor's defense and barred Caribbean from filing a counterclaim. The judge ruled that Ms. Norried had failed to adequately identify the licensing regulation that Caribbean allegedly violated, and that she presented insufficient evidence on the point.

Concluding that the judge misapprehended what she perceived to be a dispositive precedent, we reverse the judgment and remand for further proceedings.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Pretrial Proceedings

On January 26, 2001, Ms. Norried entered into a contract with Caribbean for the renovation of her home at 116 S Street, N.W., in Washington, D.C. The total cost of the contract was to be $22,025.00. Ms. Norried made three installment payments to Caribbean, totaling $16,668.40, in advance of the work being done. Prior to the completion of the renovation, Ms. Norried complained that it was not being satisfactorily performed. On May 23, 2001, she filed a pro se complaint for breach of contract in which she asked, somewhat inconsistently, that Caribbean be required to

1. complete all terms and conditions under contract to satisfaction of customer; and

2. refund monies paid plus interest to allow incomplete and remaining work to be completed by another qualified and honest contractor.

There was no allegation in the pro se complaint that Caribbean was not licensed.

Caribbean responded to the complaint by filing an answer and counterclaim.

Caribbean asserted, inter alia, that it had performed all of its obligations in conformity with the contract and that Ms. Norried had terminated the contract on May 19, 2001. In its counterclaim, Caribbean requested damages in the amount of $6,676.00 "for services rendered pursuant to the contract."

On March 8, 2004, the parties filed a Joint Pretrial Statement which began as follows:

1. Sole Issue for Trial: Whether or not defendant breached the contract dated January 26, 2001 between the parties for ...


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