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Butler v. Harden

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

February 11, 2016

ANDREW BUTLER, APPELLANT,
v.
HENRY HARDEN, APPELLEE

         Submitted November 12, 2015

         Amended February 18, 2016[*]

          Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (LTB-12794-14). (Hon. Brian F. Holeman, Trial Judge).

         Kenneth E. Barton, III, Student Attorney (No. 13794), and Daniel M. Clark, Supervising Attorney, were on the brief for appellant.

         Appellee did not file a brief.

         Before THOMPSON and EASTERLY, Associate Judges, and FERREN, Senior Judge.

          OPINION

Page 878

          Phyllis D. Thompson, Associate Judge.

          The record on appeal establishes that a Superior Court judge entered a judgment for possession of appellant's rental unit at 1427 Holbrook Street, N.E., as well as a money judgment in favor of the appellee landlord, even though (1) appellant had appeared in the Landlord Tenant (" L& T" ) case and (2) the landlord failed to present ex parte proof of the rent allegedly owed. Therefore, as we explain below, the judgments were void. This means that the ruling that is before us on appeal -- a judgment reinstating the judgments for possession and back rent that had earlier been vacated -- cannot stand. Accordingly, we reverse.

         I.

         On May 21, 2014, appellee Henry Harden (the " landlord" ) filed a complaint for possession against appellant Andrew Butler, alleging nonpayment of rent. During the L& T court roll call on the initial return date, June 11, 2014, appellant was present, the landlord failed to appear, the case was dismissed for want of prosecution, and appellant was excused. Later that day, after appellant had been excused, the landlord appeared through counsel, and the court vacated the dismissal, reinstated the case, and set the case for a " further initial hearing" to be held on June 26, 2014. The docket sheet indicates that notice of the rescheduled hearing was

Page 879

mailed to appellant, but appellant asserts (as he eventually told the trial court) that he never received the notice. On June 26, 2014, when appellant did not appear at the scheduled hearing, the court (the Honorable Brian Holeman) entered a default against appellant, heard representations by landlord's counsel about the amount of rent owed, agreed to grant the landlord a judgment for possession and a money judgment (the " default judgments" ), and after the landlord filed a Servicemembers Civil Relief Act affidavit[1] on August 8, 2014, entered the default judgments. The landlord obtained a writ of restitution on August 19, 2014.

         On August 28, 2014, appellant, having received a notice of the writ, asked the court to stay execution of the writ, explaining that he thought the case had been dismissed and that he had not received notice of the June 26 hearing. The court (the Honorable Jeanette Clark) denied his request on the same day. On September 8, 2014, appellant, this time represented by a student attorney, again applied to stay execution of the writ and asked the court to vacate the default judgments.[2] Without the landlord present, the court granted a stay through September 22, 2014, when the court would hear the motion to vacate. At the September 22 hearing, again without the landlord in attendance, the court (the Honorable Stuart Nash) granted the motion to vacate " [i]n the absence of any opposition" and quashed the writ of restitution. Three days later, the landlord filed a motion for relief from the ruling that vacated the default judgments, arguing that appellant's filing of a second application to stay execution of the writ after his first ( pro se ) application had been denied was an improper means of seeking redress. On November 21, 2014, Judge Nash ...


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