A man who convinced the Supreme Court to hear his case without the help of a lawyer and then disappeared without a trace has resurfaced, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.
In a rare move, the court decided on Nov. 7 that it would hear Bobby Chen’s case accusing the city of Baltimore of illegally demolishing his home. But for two months, no one was able to get a hold of Chen, whose neighbour in Queens told the Journal that Chen moved away “half a year ago.” His email address had also been disabled.
The court dismissed the case in January, but Chen is back, and has filed a court document asking the justices to reinstate his case. In a surprise twist, Chen is now being represented for free by Paul Clement of Bancroft PLLC, a former US solicitor general and champion of conservative causes including the fight to overturn Obamacare and the battle to keep the anti-gay law, the Defence of Marriage Act.
In the document he filed, Clement explained that Chen slipped and fell while on a business trip to California last fall. His injury kept him in California, and he didn’t realise the court accepted his case until he got back to New York in late January.
Chen, representing himself, filed a petition to the Supreme Court in March 2014 related to his attempts to sue Baltimore for $US2 million. He brought the suit on the grounds that the city had illegally demolished his home in 2008.
Here’s a quote from the petition that Chen wrote himself: “Plaintiff, homeowner Bobby Chen, wavers that after he came back from a trip his house was demolishing [sic] and all his personal belongings had disappeared. He was surprised, shocked, depressed and sad but could do nothing.” (He referred to himself in the third-person throughout the petition.)
The city claimed Chen bought the property for $US900 back in 2000 knowing that it was unsafe and would eventually have to be destroyed. Chen’s case was thrown out after a court found he didn’t serve Baltimore city officials with a summons within the 120 days required. For his part, Chen said he ran into trouble serving the summons and should have been granted an extension.
If it reinstates the case, the Supreme Court will decide whether a court has the discretion to extend that 120-day period without a showing of “good cause.”
With so few petitions accepted by the Supreme Court, which receives thousands of requests every year but hears only 75-80 cases, litigants usually respond immediately and are eager to start the process when they are informed that their case will be heard. Both Chen’s acceptance by the court and his subsequent disappearance were considered extraordinary.
Clement’s decision to take on the case could be in line with his habit of taking on traditionally conservative causes. In this case, the city’s demolition of Chen’s home could be considered classic government overreach.
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