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Missing Supreme Court litigant with Md. ties resurfaces

Supreme Court
Supreme Court

A former Baltimore resident who improbably won a hearing before the Supreme Court without an attorney, and then lost the opportunity when the court could not locate him, resurfaced Wednesday and asked the justices to reconsider his case.

Bobby Chen sued the city of Baltimore in U.S. District Court in 2011 for $2.5 million after a contractor demolished a home he had purchased for $900 in the 1600 block of E. Chase St. 11 years earlier.

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But Chen, who lives in New York, never got a chance to argue the merits of the case. Representing himself, he missed a deadline to serve notice of his complaint on the city and other defendants.

The District Court judge granted a 60-day extension after Chen explained that he thought court officials would serve the summons on the defendants. In the meantime, his case was transferred, and a second judge ruled that Chen had not shown good cause for missing the initial deadline.

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Chen managed to appeal that decision up to the Supreme Court, which announced in November that it would hear the case.

But then Chen disappeared.

The court attempted to find him and couldn't. He missed a deadline to file a brief, and the court announced last month that efforts to locate him were unsuccessful.

And so the court issued an order dismissing the case.

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This week, Chen reappeared — at least on paper. In a petition filed Tuesday, Chen said he had suffered a "slip-and-fall" injury while traveling in California and didn't return home for months. He wasn't aware that the court had taken — and then dismissed — his case, he said in the filing.

Chen now has representation from a well-known attorney, former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement, who wrote the latest petition.

Clement did not respond to a request for comment. He told The Wall Street Journal that Chen called him "out of the blue."

In the filing, Chen asked the court to exercise its discretion and reinstate the case.

Chen said he "was unaware that he could check the status of his case on this court's website, but he attempted to monitor his case by checking on a weekly basis the email account that he had created for any communications from the court."

"When he found no messages from the court, he believed his petition remained under consideration," the petition reads.

His "inadvertent failure to respond to this court's communications or comply with its briefing schedule can and should be excused," Chen argues in the filing. He "had no intention of abandoning his case."

A spokesman for Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake declined to comment.

The Supreme Court is asked to hear thousands of cases annually, and it's exceedingly rare for it to take a case in which a petitioner is representing himself.

In his petition, Clement made note of that.

"It would be both unfortunate and inequitable to deny one of the few petitioners who managed to do so the rare opportunity to have his case heard by the Supreme Court of the United States," he wrote.

Attempts to reach Chen for comment were unsuccessful.

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