With Baltimore plaintiff MIA, Supreme Court drops his case

Baltimore man takes case to Supreme Court, then disappears

A one-time Baltimore resident who had argued successfully that his complaint against city officials deserved to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court won't be getting his day in court after all.

It seems no one knows where he is.

On Friday, the court, which had agreed in November to hear Bobby Chen's case, issued a brief notice dismissing it. Chen, it seems, never submitted the necessary paperwork to have the case heard by the court, and efforts to locate him "have been unsuccessful," according to the order granting summary disposition of the case.

In 2008, Baltimore City illegally demolished his home in the 1600 block of E. Chase St., according to Chen. (An article that ran in The Sun at the time said the house had been damaged while wreckers were taking down an adjacent house.) He filed a $2.5 million suit against the city. That suit was eventually dismissed by a judge, who ruled that Chen missed a filing deadline. An earlier judge had ruled that Chen could have the extension.

The Supreme Court granted Chen's petition, not to decide whether the city was wrong in demolishing the home but to decide whether the judge erred in dismissing the case.

Chen, who was not represented by an attorney, filed his own paperwork to the Supreme Court, in sometimes awkward English. And the court, which only listens to arguments on about 75 cases a year, agreed to hear it.

The order issued Friday noted that Chen never requested an extension; in fact, it said, he never "responded to correspondence directed to the mailing address provided."

The Supreme Court is asked to hear "thousands" of cases annually, says Mark Graber, a professor of law and government at the University of Maryland School of Law. While it is not unheard of for the court to change its mind after initially agreeing to hear a case, the situation here may be unique, he said.

"Can't find the plaintiff — to the best of my knowledge, this is a new one, certainly in modern times," Graber said. "This goes under 'News of the Weird.'"

According to a December article in the Wall Street Journal, Chen listed no phone number in his application to the court, and the email address on the paperwork had been disabled. The address he listed, in the Flushing area of New York City, proved a dead end as well, according to the Journal — a man who answered the door there said Chen had moved away "half a year ago," and a woman who may own the property, when contacted by the paper, said, "Subpoena me and I provide," then hung up.

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

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