A case that doesn't belong in court


Some situations are so tragic they need no embellishment. Such is the case of Lulu Moore -- 82, blind and in danger of losing the only home she has known for 43 years.

The owners of the Scheidt family farm on which Ms. Moore's house sits have gone to Howard County Circuit Court to evict the elderly woman. The owners -- a pediatrician and his two sisters -- want to subdivide the property into 28 one-acre lots. They plan to sell them for an estimated total of $5.6 million. Many factors favor the Scheidts, not the least being the fact that their parents willed the land to them and apparently left no written provision regarding the "tenant house" in which Ms. Moore lives.

An attorney for Ms. Moore, who was supplied courtesy of the Howard County Community Action Council, wants to claim "adverse possession" as a basis for Ms. Moore's defense. Part of the problem in that defense, however, rests in proving that Ms. Moore occupied the property without consent of the owners for at least 20 years.

That is a difficult argument to make because she admits to paying rent at least 11 of the last 32 years. Ms. Moore and the Scheidts disagree over whether she paid rent between 1950 and 1979.

Perhaps a case can be made based on Ms. Moore's recollection that the Scheidt family patriarch told her before he died in 1979 that he wanted her to keep the house. Ms. Moore had worked as a domestic for the Scheidts, and other members of her family also held various positions.

Her biggest break has come in the granting of a jury trial for the case. The presence of a frail old lady in an open courtroom will undoubtedly elicit great sympathy.

The real tragedy is that the parties have not been able to settle this matter out of court. While the Scheidts have offered to help Ms. Moore relocate, that seems hardly adequate given her delicate condition and the natural limitations of her age.

The Scheidt family stands to make a great deal of money from the sale of their land. Their willingness to share a small fraction of that profit to assist Ms. Moore in paying for other accommodations where she can live out the remainder of her life would seem an appropriate alternative to throwing money away on a court trial.

Going forward with this case will likely only heap embarrassment on the plaintiffs and subject a feeble, 82-year-old woman to further unnecessary stress.

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