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Parham v. Cih Properties, Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 13, 2016

ELIZA PARHAM, Plaintiff,



         This breach of contract case[1] involves allegations of property damage by Plaintiff Eliza Parham against her landlord, Defendants CIH Properties, Inc. and CIH Ventures, Inc.[2] The damage stems from a water leak in Plaintiff's apartment which occurred in September 2011. On April 28, 2016, this Court concluded a one-day bench trial on Plaintiff's claim for damages. Upon considering the evidence and testimony presented at the trial, and the entire record herein, [3]the Court finds that Plaintiff has proven Defendants' liability for breach of contract but has not met her burden to prove actual damages. Therefore, judgment will be entered for Plaintiff, but she will be awarded only nominal damages in the amount of $1.00.


         For almost fifty years, Plaintiff has resided at Banneker Place Apartments, located at 410 37th Place, S.E., Washington, D.C. Mem. Opinion, Sept. 8, 2015 [Dkt. 32]. The apartment building is currently owned and managed by Defendants. Id. On September 8, 2011, the apartment rental office learned of a leak in a closet in the unit located directly below Plaintiff's apartment. Tr. 85. In response, the building's lead maintenance technician, Keith Turpin, surveyed the leak in the closet and determined that it was coming from the apartment directly above the unit. Id. at 65. On or about the next day, Mr. Turpin requested access to Plaintiff's unit, hoping to check its plumbing to find the source of the leak. Id. Evelyn Parham, Plaintiff's daughter, allowed Mr. Turpin into Plaintiff's apartment. Id. at 103. Once inside, Mr. Turpin determined that the leak was not coming from the unit's bathroom, and asked Evelyn to open the unit's closet for his inspection. Id. at 102. Therein, they discovered numerous items that were damp and covered in mildew and mold. Id. at 109. The closet's ceiling was also damp and collapsing. Id. at 11.

         Due to the volume of items in the closet, Mr. Turpin could not ascertain where the water was coming from. Id. at 67; Def. Ex. 3. Hearing of the issue, Defendants' former residential manager, Gloria White, requested that the Parhams notify Defendants once they removed everything from the closet so that the source of the leak could be identified. Tr. 31, 67, 71. A couple days later, the Parhams advised Defendants that they had cleared the closet. Id. at 92; Def. Ex. 3. On September 16, 2011, Defendants retained Emerald Plumbing to identify the source of the leak. Tr. 81. Emerald Plumbing confirmed that the leak did not originate from a broken pipe in the Plaintiff's unit but from the roof of the apartment building. Id. at 73, 81. On September 19, 2011, Defendants retained roofing contractor RW Kibler, Inc., who completed repairs to the roof on or about September 28, 2011. Id. at 73, 81-83. RW Kibler's September 28, 2011, invoice describes the repairs to the roof as follows: “[We] [l]ocated [a] leak on [the] roof. [Two] vent pipes were loose around membrane. We reflashed the two vent pipes. Downspout at rear of building was clogged with debris; we removed downspout, cleaned, and reinstalled.” Def. Ex. 2. On or about September 23, 2011, Defendants retained Riley & Sons Construction Co. to repair Plaintiff's closet with drywall and to paint it with mold-resistant paint. Tr. 74, 84; Def. Ex. 1.

         Defendants maintain that the repairs completed by the roofing contractor fixed the problem and stopped water from leaking into Plaintiff's unit. Tr. 83. Plaintiff alleges that, nevertheless, Defendants' failure to promptly remediate the source of her leak on the roof resulted in extensive damage to her belongings that were stored in her closet. Specifically, she identified personal items that she claims were located in the closet that were destroyed by the water entering her unit. The chart below lists these items as well as their purported purchase value and estimated value at the time of their loss, according to Plaintiff:


When Purchased

Purchase Value

Estimated Value at Time of Loss

A. Mink Coat

2006 or

2010 [4]

$8, 000 (Tr. 15)

$8, 000 (Tr. 16)

B. Cape w/ Mink Tassel

2004 or

2008 [5]

$1, 800 (Tr. 17)

$1, 000 (Tr. 17)

C. Purple Paisley Coat


None provided

None provided

D. Five Designer Bags


None provided

None provided

E. Two Trench Coats


None provided

“$75 or $80” (Tr. 20)

F. Six Silk and Dress Blouses

April 1995

None provided

None provided

G. Fourteen Pant Suits


$179 per suit (Tr. 21)

$179 per suit (Tr. 21)

H. Three Piece Summer Lace Dress


None provided

$1, 300 (Tr. 22)

I. Leather trench coat


$370 (Tr. 23)

$300 (Tr. 23)

J. Fifteen Dress Suits

None provided

$2, 500 (Tr. 24)

K. Four Wool Sweaters


$44.50 - $89 per

sweater [6] (Tr. 25)

$50 (Tr. 25)

L. Two Suede Suits


None provided

$275 each (Tr. 25)

M. Four Formal Glassware Set


None provided

“About $1000 and some” (Tr. 26)

N. Seven



None provided

$1, 700 (Tr. 26)

O. Six Pairs of Slacks

$57 per pair (Tr. 27)

$50 per pair (Tr. 27)

P. Snakeskin Boots


$2000 (Tr. 27)

$1, 800 (Tr. 27)

Q. Box of Ivory China with Gold Trim and Four Plate Setting


$800 (Tr. 28)

$800 (Tr. 28)

         Notably, the purchase and estimated values for the above-listed items are based on Plaintiff's recollection alone. During her testimony, Plaintiff neither referenced nor introduced into the record any receipts, bills of sale, appraisals, or any other evidence as to the value of the items for which she seeks damages.[7] See Tr. 15-29. Plaintiff further alleges that, as a general matter, she was harmed because her apartment unit was uninhabitable on account of damp walls, mold, asbestos, and a leak “coming through the ceiling between the walls and the bricks.” Id. at 35-36. Plaintiff made no attempt to place any value on this harm at trial. In total, Plaintiff seeks $14, 600 to compensate her for the value of the goods in the closet lost as a result of the leak.[8] Id. at 47.

         The Court held a one-day bench trial on Plaintiff's breach of contract claim on April 28, 2016. At trial, Plaintiff called one witness, herself, as well as one rebuttal witness, her daughter, Evelyn. Id. at 8, 101. In addition to introducing five exhibits, Defendants called three witnesses to testify - Banneker Place lead maintenance technician, Mr. Turpin; the building's former residential manager, Ms. White; and Defendants' property director, Nicolle Davis. Id. at 63, 69, 89.

         At the close of Plaintiff's case-in-chief, Defendants orally moved for judgment on partial findings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(c).[9] Id. at 47. During argument on the motion, Plaintiff's counsel conceded that Plaintiff had not met her burden to prove property damages, but contended that trial should be permitted to proceed because she could be awarded nominal damages. Id. at 51-53. Exercising its discretion, the Court declined to enter judgment prior to the close of trial to provide Plaintiff the opportunity to prove at least nominal damages. Id. at 60; see Fed. R. C. P. 52(c) (“The court may, however, decline to render any judgment until the close of the evidence.”).

         Following the bench trial, the parties submitted proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. The Court's Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a)(1) follow.


         1. Since about 1971, Plaintiff has rented an apartment at Banneker Place Apartments, located at 410 37th Place, S.E., Washington, D.C. Am. Compl. ¶ 1; Answer ¶ 1. At the time of the September 2011 leak, Plaintiff resided in Apartment Unit 202. Am. Compl. ¶ 1; Answer ¶ 1.

         2. Defendants CIH Properties, Inc., and CIH Ventures, Inc. are Maryland corporations and the registered owners of the property known as Banneker Place, located at 410 37th Place S.E., Washington, D.C. Am. Pretrial Statement at 2; Notice of Removal [Dkt. 1]; Mem. Opinion, Sept. 8, 2015 [Dkt. 32] at 2.

         3. On September 8, 2011, the tenants in the unit directly below Plaintiff's apartment notified Defendants of a leak in the closet of their unit that appeared to be coming from the apartment above. Tr. 64, 80, 85.

         4. On or about September 9, 2011, Defendants' lead maintenance technician, Mr. Turpin, requested access to Plaintiff's apartment to ascertain whether the leak in the unit below originated from Plaintiff's apartment. Id. at 81, 103.

         5. Mr. Turpin was given access to Plaintiff's unit for the purposes of identifying the source of the leak. Id.

         6. Mr. Turpin found evidence of water intrusion and damage inside the closet in Plaintiff's apartment. Id. at 66, 102-03.

         7. Mr. Turpin could not identify the source of the water in the closet due to the number of items in the closet. Id.

         8. As a result, the building's residential manager, Ms. White, requested that Plaintiff remove all items from the closet to facilitate Defendants' investigation into the source of the leak. Id. at 67.

         9. Plaintiff cleared the contents of the closet a couple days later to enable inspection of the closet by Defendants. Id. at 92.

         10. Defendants hired Emerald Plumbing on September 16, 2011, to inspect Plaintiff's closet and identify the source of the leak. Id. at 92; Def. Ex. 3.

         11. Emerald Plumbing determined that the leak did not originate from a broken pipe in Plaintiff's closet, but from a source outside her apartment. Tr. 45; Def. Ex. 2.

         12. On or about September 19, 2011, Defendants hired roofing ...

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