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Chambers v. Cobb

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

October 4, 2018

Michael Chambers, Appellant,
v.
Jessica Cobb, Appellee.

          Submitted June 4, 2018

          Decided August 9, 2018 [*]

          Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (LTB-30715-15) (Hon. Joan Zeldon, Trial Judge)

          Michael Chambers, pro se.

          Adrian P. Torres was on the brief for appellee.

          Before Fisher, Thompson, and Easterly, Associate Judges.

          Thompson, Associate Judge.

         Pro se appellant Michael Chambers appeals from a May 22, 2017, judgment of the Superior Court Landlord and Tenant Branch enforcing a court-approved settlement agreement between Chambers (and his wife) and appellee Jessica Cobb. The court enforced the settlement agreement upon a finding that Cobb, the former tenant of a property owned by the Chamberses, substantially complied with the agreement. Mr. Chambers's primary contention on appeal is that the court's ruling effectively modified the terms of the settlement agreement. We affirm.

         I.

         The settlement agreement, entered into by the parties on October 4, 2016, and approved by the court, arose out of a complaint filed by the Chamberses in the Landlord and Tenant Branch to recover possession of the Chamberses' property at 2406 Perry Street, N.E. ("the property"), pursuant to the recovery for "personal use and occupancy" clause of D.C. Code § 42-3505.01 (d). The parties agreed to entry of a nonredeemable judgment of possession, which was to be stayed until March 31, 2017, the agreed-upon date by which Ms. Cobb was to move out of the property.[1] The first sentence of ¶ 1 of the agreement obligated Ms. Cobb to "vacate the [p]roperty, leave broom-clean, and return all keys to [the Chamberses] no later than 5 pm" on that date. The next sentence of the agreement states that "[t]ime is of the essence." Under ¶ 3 of the agreement, Ms. Cobb was further required to pay rent "in the amount of $800.00 per month" for October and November of that year and was "responsible for the full and timely payment of all utilities through the date she vacates." The settlement agreement provided that "[i]f and only if [Ms. Cobb] vacates as required in ¶ 1, and pays as required in ¶ 3," the Chamberses would "[r]emit to [her] funds in the amount of $4, 000.00 by March 31, 2017."[2]

         On April 18, 2017, Ms. Cobb moved to reopen the case to enforce the settlement agreement. At a hearing on that motion on May 22, 2017, the motion judge heard testimony from Mr. Chambers and from Monique Cobb, appellee Cobb's daughter, who had resided with her mother in the property (hereafter, "Monique"). Monique told the court that when Mr. Chambers and his wife "showed up" at the property on March 31 at "about 4:50 p.m.," she told them that she had asked Ms. Cobb's counsel to send Mr. Chambers an email "to ask for an extension of time." Monique further testified that she told the Chamberses that the Cobb family had moved household items out of the property "on multiple times" and had called for bulk trash pickup in connection with the move, but on March 31 had been slowed down in moving remaining household items because "it was windy, it was raining, [and] it was storming." Monique testified that she told the Chamberses that the Cobb family "would be done [moving out] at 9:00 p.m." Monique further testified that she "waited after 9:00 p.m. about 20 minutes to see if [the Chamberses] . . . would return." Since they did not return, Monique left a note dated March 31, 2017, 9:17 p.m., which Mr. Chambers read to the court, that stated in pertinent part, "Please see inside envelope for keys. Regarding trash outside, we will be back to collect this weekend."

         The court received documentary evidence that Ms. Cobb's counsel sent an email to Mr. Chambers on March 31 at 4:43 p.m. "asking for a slight extension until 9:00 pm [that] []night to move everything," explaining that Ms. Cobb was "moving out the last bit of [her] belongings," but that "the rain ha[d] unfortunately slowed down that process." Mr. Chambers responded at 5:07 p.m. stating that appellee was "supposed to be out by 5:00 p.m.," that she had therefore "violated condition #1" of the settlement agreement, and that he would therefore "not be paying [her] the remainder [$4, 000] of the money."

         Mr. Chambers told the court that after receiving the email from Ms. Cobb's counsel at 4:43 p.m. on March 31 requesting an extension of time and responding with an email denying the request, and after leaving the property at the conclusion of his discussion with Monique, he "did not return [to the property] until [he] got [a] notice from [Ms. Cobb's counsel] . . . on April 3," stating that "[t]he Cobbs vacated the apartment on March 31st and left the keys to access the property in the mailbox at that time."

         At the conclusion of the testimony, the motion judge ruled that Ms. Cobb had "substantially complied with the [settlement] agreement," that any breach was "de minimis," and that "whatever [Mr. Chambers was] supposed to do for [Ms. ...


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