Supreme Court Litigant Fails to Show Up

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Just a quick update to say that those of you out hunting for Bobby Chen (see "Could Someone Ask Bobby Chen to Call the U.S. Supreme Court?" (Dec. 20, 2014)) can call off the search. Although the Court had agreed to hear his case—making him one of relatively few pro se litigants to achieve that goal—he never responded to the Court's notice that it had granted certiorari. That is, he didn't just miss the deadline to file his brief, he completely disappeared.

The Court dismissed his case on Friday, the Baltimore Sun reports.

There were in fact people trying to find Bobby, among them reporters and also attorneys who would have been happy to handle (and for free) one of the few cases that the Court agrees to take. But no luck. The Wall Street Journal reached the possible owner of the property that Chen listed as his address, and while she might have been able to solve the mystery she wasn't interested in helping. "Subpoena me and I provide," she told the Journal, and then hung up.

Apparently nobody subpoenaed her.

The city of Baltimore sure wasn't going to do it. Chen had alleged that the city damaged his house while demolishing one next door, and then to cover up the damage it demolished his house too before he could get a court order to stop it. I guess that would have destroyed the evidence, although there would still be the missing house to explain.

Anyway, the appeal had nothing to do with these facts, but rather the far more fascinating question of when a district judge has discretion to grant extra time to serve documents. Chen apparently never served the papers on the city after he sued, and then asked for an extension as the deadline was about to expire. He got one, but the city argued that a court doesn't have the power to grant extra time without a good reason—which Chen had apparently failed to offer. The Fourth Circuit eventually agreed with the city, disagreeing with seven other circuits, and the Court took the case to resolve the split. But there will be no resolution to this compelling legal drama, at least for now.

The Court would have appointed a lawyer to argue the case for Chen had it been necessary. Nobody has argued his own case before the Court since 1978, when Samuel H. Sloan did it. [See update below.] Since then the Court has turned down all such requests by non-lawyers, and in 2013 it changed its rules to make that an official policy.

Certainly if Bobby Chen had not disappeared, he wouldn't have been allowed to argue, given his track record. While I kind of enjoy the thought of Justice Alito (among others) sitting there fuming and drumming his fingers on the bench when nobody shows up for argument, the Court really doesn't have time for that.

Update: wrong. Or wrongish, anyway. Sam Sloan was the last non-lawyer to argue his own case before the U.S. Supreme Court. As a reader pointed out (thanks, William), since then at least one lawyer has "argued his own case" there, namely Michael Newdow, who argued in 2004 that a school policy requiring the Pledge of Allegiance violates the Establishment Clause (because of the "under God" part). The Court's rule just requires a lawyer to argue the case, so if you are a lawyer you can still handle it yourself. (Which is not to say that you should.)