Imagine the team from the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes comes to your door with balloons waving and that big cardboard check promising money for life – and you are not home, cannot be found, so the prize goes away.
Something similar is going on at the U.S. Supreme Court in what most observers agree is a highly unusual series of events.
The case of Bobby Chen has some of those same elements of the big contest win: a regular person beating the odds to get a vaunted slot to have the court hear his case, only to lose it because he temporarily disappeared and did not know of his big victory.
But Chen has resurfaced and wants to get back his shot at the nation’s top court, according to a petition filed this week.
"There is no reason not to reinstate this case and every reason to do so," Chen's lawyer, Paul Clement of the law firm Bancroft, a former U.S. solicitor general wrote in the request. The filing was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
The mystery began in 2008 when Chen, who is not a lawyer, sued the city of Baltimore, alleging it had acted improperly when it demolished his row house. He also argued that he had encountered difficulties in serving legal papers on city officials. One judge gave him an extension, but another dismissed Chen's original efforts because he had missed a deadline.
Baltimore insists it acted properly.
The nation's top court deals only with major issues and often waits until there is a disagreement among the various courts. For example, the court decided to deal with same-sex marriage after there was a conflict among mid-level appeals courts.
There have been different interpretations on whether courts can give litigants extra time to serve papers, so Chen's case caught the court's attention and it said it would deal with the case, one of about 75 it takes each term from among the thousands of requests.
The court decided in November to grant a review of Chen's case even though he wasn't a lawyer, another long-shot win for Chen.
Then a problem arose because the court couldn't find Chen. The address he left in Queens, N.Y., didn't get any results nor did the email account work. Chen did not include a telephone number.
So last month, the Supreme Court dismissed the case because Chen couldn't be found.
Now represented by top-flight counsel, Chen argues that he didn't know the Supreme Court had granted him a review.
Chen says he left his New York residence last fall on a business trip to California where he suffered a "slip-and-fall injury" that postponed his return for more than two months. When he got back Jan. 22 and found out about the court decision to dismiss, Chen said he was "surprised and dismayed."
"Petitioner had no intention of abandoning his case when he failed to respond to this court’s attempts to communicate with him. Instead, petitioner was simply unaware that his case had been granted," Clement wrote. "That is both understandable and excusable under the circumstances at hand."
The latest petition is pending.
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