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Virgin Islands Housing Authority v. David

submitted: May 1, 1987.

VIRGIN ISLANDS HOUSING AUTHORITY, APPELLANT,
v.
KATHLEEN DAVID



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas, D.C. Civil Action No. 85-273.

SEITZ, HIGGINBOTHAM and ROSENN, Circuit Judges.

Opinion OF THE COURT

Per Curiam.

This appeal challenges the district court's dismissal of a public landlord's action to evict a tenant. Because the district court's dismissal was premised upon the oral misrepresentations of appellee's attorney, we will reverse and remand, with directions to the district court to review the merits of the eviction judgment against the tenant and to consider the imposition of sanctions against appellee's attorney.

I.

Appellee Kathleen David has leased an apartment in the Warren E. Brown Apartments, which are owned and operated by appellant, the Virgin Islands Housing Authority ("the Housing Authority"), since November 6, 1981. In early 1985,*fn1 the Housing Authority sought to terminate David's lease. It claims that David interfered regularly with the rights of neighboring tenants by, for example, causing floods and fires in her building, making loud noises at odd hours, and dropping human feces in unspecified inappropriate places.

The Housing Authority subsequently filed an action for forcible entry against David in the Territorial Court of the Virgin Islands. David moved to dismiss this action on the grounds that the Housing Authority had failed to hold a private conference with her, as provided by section 9 of her lease,*fn2 and to grant her a grievance hearing, as provided by section 10 of her lease.*fn3 After a hearing, the territorial court on April 30, 1985, denied David's motion to dismiss. The territorial court was apparently persuaded by witnesses for the Housing Authority who testified that, "whenever they tried to talk to [David] about [problems and the complaints from other tenants], she just rejected them, ignored them, was rude to them, and so forth." Assessing "the direct conflict of the evidence," the territorial court made this finding:

The case was then heard on the merits, and the territorial court entered a judgment of eviction against David, which it stayed pending appeal.

[i]f management should elect to terminate this lease, Tenant must be told in a private conference, by a duly authorized representative of Management, the reason(s) for the eviction, and must be given an opportunity to make such reply or explanation as [s/]he may wish. At the time of the conference, Tenant must be informed of:

a. The specific reason for the proposed eviction and the alleged facts upon which it is based; and

b. His [or her] right to request a hearing upon the proposed eviction in the manner provided by Section 10 of the lease.

Pursuant to 48 U.S.C. ยง 1613a(a) (Supp. III 1985), David appealed the decision of the territorial court to the district court. The proceedings there were a bit one-sided; because the Housing Authority "did not deign to file a brief," the district court did not permit the Housing Authority's appearing counsel to participate in oral argument.*fn4 David v. Virgin Islands Housing Auth., No. 85-273, judgment order at 1 (D.V.I. Apr. 23, 1986). Before the district court, David's attorney, John L. Maduro, made the following representation:

MR. MADURO: No, the Territorial Court just denied the motion. As a matter of fact, the Territorial Court did not make any findings and ...


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