Guy Without A Lawyer Got The Supreme Court To Hear His Case -- Then Disappeared

Supreme court buildingMark Wilson/Getty ImagesThe Supreme Court, June 2013.

A man who convinced the Supreme Court to hear his case against the city of Baltimore has disappeared without a trace, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday night.

In a rare move, the court decided on Nov. 7 that it would hear Bobby Chen’s case. But ever since then, no one has been 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 has also been disabled.

“Attempts have been made to contact Mr. Chen by letter and email, but there has been no confirmation that the communications were received,” a court spokesperson told the Journal.

Bobby Chen, representing himself, filed a petition to the Supreme Court in March related to his attempts to sue Baltimore for $US2 million on the grounds that the city had illegally demolished his home back in 2008.

Here’s a quote from the petition that Chen wrote himself: “Plaintiff, homeowner Bobby Chen, avers 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 claims 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-day required. For his part, Chen says he ran into trouble serving the summons and should have been granted an extension.

In taking the case, the Supreme Court is actually going to decide whether a court has the discretion to extend that 120-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, 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 disappearance appear to be extraordinary.

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