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Southern Hills Limited Partnership v. Anderson

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

February 22, 2018

Southern Hills Limited Partnership, Appellant,
v.
Charles Anderson, Appellee.

          Argued November 3, 2016

         Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (LTB-33698-11) (Hon. Erik P. Christian, Trial Judge)

          Timothy P. Cole for appellant.

          Bernard A. Gray, Sr., for appellee.

          Laurie Ball Cooper, Julia H. Becker and Jonathan H. Levy, Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, filed a brief as amicus curiae in support of appellee.

          Before Glickman, Associate Judge, and Washington, [1] and Nebeker, Senior Judges.

          Washington, Senior Judge.

         Following the arrest of appellee Charles Anderson ("Anderson") for criminal behavior, Southern Hills Limited Partnership ("Southern Hills") attempted to personally serve him on two occasions with a Notice to Quit summons and a Verified Complaint for Possession of Real Property at the residence from which Anderson was being evicted. After Anderson failed to respond to the door on the second occasion, Southern Hills posted the notice on his door. Anderson failed to appear for the scheduled hearing and a default judgment was entered against him. Upon further review of that decision by an Associate Judge of the Superior Court, the default judgment was vacated and the case was dismissed because Southern Hills failed to properly serve Anderson with the notice of the eviction proceeding. On appeal, Southern Hills contends the trial court erred in dismissing its case for ineffective service of process because it had complied with the statute by attempting personal service twice at Anderson's residence prior to posting. For the reasons stated below, we affirm.

         I.

         Southern Hills owns and operates a federally subsidized multi-family property located at 4339 4th Street, S.E., Washington, D.C. 20032 ("the Property"). Anderson occupied an apartment ("the Premises") within the Property pursuant to a written lease with Southern Hills. On September 17, 2011, Anderson was arrested for a violent assault, selling drugs, and operating a brothel out of his apartment. The circumstances surrounding Anderson's arrest violated the terms of his lease with Southern Hills, [2] and Anderson was asked to vacate the premises before November 10, 2011. However, Anderson testified that when he arrived at the housing complex in November of 2011, a security guard[3] stationed at the Property showed him a notice[4] that forbade him from being on the Property, effective immediately.

         On December 6, 2011, Southern Hills filed a complaint for possession and attempted to personally serve Anderson with a copy of the complaint at his apartment on December 13, 2011 and December 15, 2011. When Southern Hills was unsuccessful the second time to personally serve Anderson at his apartment, Southern Hills immediately posted the summons and complaint on Anderson's front door and mailed a copy to him at that same address. No other attempt was made to locate and serve Anderson with the summons and complaint even though Southern Hills was aware of Anderson's September 17 arrest on evictable charges and despite the fact that Southern Hills had issued a barring notice against him on November 10, 2011.[5]

         On December 28, 2011, a hearing was held regarding Southern Hills' lawsuit for possession and, upon Anderson's failure to appear, a non-redeemable judgment by default was entered in favor of Southern Hills. On May 4, 2012, Anderson filed a motion to set aside the default on grounds that the court lacked jurisdiction due to improper service of process, and the motion was granted. Southern Hills appealed to this court, and we remanded for "factual findings and conclusions of law pertaining to the decision to grant the motion to set aside the default judgment." The lower court then submitted an Order on September 21, 2015, vacating the judgment for possession entered against Anderson. Southern Hills timely filed this appeal.

         II.

         "Whether the method of service [ ] comports with the applicable rule [ ] is a question of law, which we review de novo." In re N.N.N., 985 A.2d 1113, 1118 (D.C. 2009). See, e.g., Jones v. Hersh, 845 A.2d 541, 544 (D.C. 2004). The appellant bears the burden of "convincing the appellate court that the trial ...


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