November 12, 2015
February 18, 2016[*]
from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
(LTB-12794-14). (Hon. Brian F. Holeman, Trial Judge).
E. Barton, III, Student Attorney (No. 13794), and Daniel M.
Clark, Supervising Attorney, were on the brief for appellant.
did not file a brief.
THOMPSON and EASTERLY, Associate Judges, and FERREN, Senior
Phyllis D. Thompson, Associate Judge.
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.
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
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 on August 8, 2014, entered the default
judgments. The landlord obtained a writ of restitution on
August 19, 2014.
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. 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