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Kisha Bridges v. Winfield W. Clark

January 24, 2013

KISHA BRIDGES, APPELLANT,
v.
WINFIELD W. CLARK, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (LTB-8825-10) (Hon. Judith N. Macaluso, Trial Judge)

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

Argued September 6, 2012

Before WASHINGTON, Chief Judge, MCLEESE, Associate Judge, and BELSON, Senior Judge.

Winfield Clark brought an eviction action against appellant Kisha Bridges for nonpayment of rent, and Ms. Bridges brought counterclaims against Mr. Clark for failing to fix various housing-code violations within a reasonable period of time. A jury rendered a verdict in favor of Mr. Clark. On appeal, Ms. Bridges argues that the trial court erred by refusing to instruct the jury on the defense of retaliation and by excluding as inadmissible hearsay an affidavit that Mr. Clark had submitted to the court as an attachment to his pretrial motion to dismiss. We agree with Ms. Bridges that both rulings were incorrect. We therefore reverse and remand for further proceedings.

I.

In December 2006, Ms. Bridges and her family moved into a house that Ms. Bridges rented from Mr. Clark. Ms. Bridges's monthly rent ranged between $1600 and $1700. Ms. Bridges was responsible for paying a portion of the rent, in amounts ranging from $150 to $250 each month, and the D.C. Housing Authority paid the remainder.

In March 2010, Mr. Clark filed an action against Ms. Bridges seeking eviction and recovery of back rent. Ms. Bridges subsequently filed counterclaims seeking monetary and injunctive relief based on Mr. Clark's alleged failure to address housing-code violations within a reasonable period of time.

The case went to trial in 2011. At trial, Mr. Clark contended the following. Ms. Bridges was consistently late in paying her portion of the rent and was responsible for damage to the house. In addition, Ms. Bridges called housing inspectors about problems, rather than notifying Mr. Clark directly. The housing inspectors would then inform Mr. Clark of the need for repairs. Mr. Clark generally made all necessary repairs within the time required by the housing inspectors' notices, even though he was often delayed in making repairs because Ms. Bridges limited his access to the house. Ms. Bridges failed to pay her portion of the rent for three months in 2010, and therefore owed Mr. Clark $453 in back rent.

Ms. Bridges provided a very different version of events. According to her, the condition of the house began to deteriorate in October 2007. Ms. Bridges found plaster damage in several rooms, water damage to the ceiling, and cracks in the kitchen floor. Mr. Clark failed to address these problems in response to her complaints, so Ms. Bridges filed a complaint with the D.C. Housing Authority. After the D.C. Housing Authority inspected the property, Mr. Clark fixed these problems in December 2007.

Numerous additional problems with the house arose in 2008 and 2009, including further water damage, mold, flooding, plumbing leaks, a rodent infestation, lack of heating, missing and loose floor tiles, and a malfunctioning sprinkler system. Ms. Bridges informed Mr. Clark about these problems as they arose and requested that he make the necessary repairs, but he did not respond to her requests. Consequently, Ms. Bridges filed complaints with various D.C. housing agencies, including the D.C. Housing Authority, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, and the Department of Health, Bureau of Community Hygiene Rodent Control Division. These housing agencies issued numerous notices to Mr. Clark regarding the violations, and Mr. Clark generally made the necessary repairs in response to the notices.

Finally, in early 2010, the awning of the house collapsed. Ms. Bridges responded by filing a complaint with the D.C. Housing Authority. The D.C. Housing Authority issued an emergency violation notice to Mr. Clark, requiring him to make repairs within twenty-four hours. Mr. Clark fixed the awning within the required time period.

At the close of the trial, the jury found in favor of Mr. Clark both on his claims and on Ms. Bridges's counterclaims. The jury also determined that Ms. Bridges owed Mr. Clark $453 in unpaid rent. The trial court entered a judgment for possession in favor of Mr. Clark, but subsequently permitted Ms. Bridges to redeem her tenancy and maintain possession of the property by paying Mr. Clark $453.

II.

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