D.C. Outfoxed In $3 Million Injury Suit; Paralyzed Worker Blocks Land Sale
The Washington Post - By Saundra Torry - Apr 27, 1994

A paralyzed construction worker who has waited nearly three years to collect $3 million from the District has outmaneuvered the city, using a simple legal tactic to block a huge D.C. land sale.

Andre Robertson won a judgment after a 1987 construction accident at a public housing complex in Southeast Washington, but he has not seen the money. Now he has obtained a lien blocking a $4.1 million sale of land owned by the District in Prince George's County.

Robertson does not want to stop the sale of the land, which the county plans to use as a park. His lawyer, Luiz Simmons, said Robertson just wants the city to set aside $3 million from the sale to make sure he gets his money if the judgment is upheld on appeal.

"I don't care about their sale," Robertson said yesterday. "I just want ... what's rightfully mine... . Here they want to sell this land and take the money. Am I going to get my money? You call that fair play?"

The District, like many defendants in civil cases, asked to postpone paying the judgment while it appealed the case. But the appeal has taken two years so far, according to court records, as District lawyers have repeatedly missed court deadlines - sometimes by months - for filing documents in the case.

"If D.C. officials want to sell the property, all they have to do is put the money aside so Andre will not have to fight the District into the next century for the judgment," said Simmons, who fears that payment may be delayed even if Robertson wins again on appeal.

A spokeswoman for the D.C. corporation counsel's office said the city maintains a settlement and judgment fund. Although people may have been frustrated by bureaucratic delays, no one has failed to obtain payment when a judgment becomes final after appeal, special counsel Anna Blackburne said.

Lawyers for the District have asked the Prince George's County Circuit Court to throw out Robertson's lien, and the two sides are scheduled to meet today before Judge Jacob Levin.

Robertson, who now lives in Huntingtown, in Calvert County, was injured at the Arthur Capper housing complex, which had been gutted for renovation. He plummeted four floors, he said, after tumbling backward through a hole the size of a door that had no guardrail to protect workers.

Robertson - who cannot move his legs and has no control over his bowels and little use of his hands - reached a settlement in 1990 with the project's general contractor, from whom he now receives about $8,000 a month. But Robertson said medical supplies often take the bulk of his money, and he does without the 24-hour caretakers he once employed. His mother, sister and fiancee care for him.

After losing to Robertson in D.C. Superior Court, the District sued a subcontractor, whom it blamed in part for Robertson's injuries, and reached a $225,000 settlement with the company. At that time, Simmons said, he asked D.C. officials to turn the money over to Robertson while the appeal process continued, but they refused.

It was then that Simmons set in motion a simple, often-used legal procedure to prevent the District from collecting the $225,000. Simmons paid $50 to record Robertson's D.C. judgment in Prince George's County, giving it force in the county courts. He then obtained a court order requiring the subcontractor's insurer, which was located in the county, to give the money directly to Robertson.

As part of that process, a lien was placed against any D.C. property in Prince George's County. This year, as the city moved to complete the sale of the Glendale sanitorium site to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, the lien became an impediment to the sale. Now Simmons is seeking a $3 million bond from the District to remove the lien.

Although liens against individually owned property are common in lawsuits, as people try to collect judgments, they are rare against city or state governments, according to several lawyers.

Blackburne said that under D.C. law, the District does not have to post bond when a case is on appeal. But Simmons argues that Maryland law requires it.

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