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Untimely Claim
by Ron Davis

Efforts to oust a tenant from a shopping center located in the Virgin Islands of the United States have seemingly gone the way the centerís owners have hoped.

The shopping center is Royal Dane Mall, and the tenant has struggles to remain solvent during the several years of operation at the center. The tenant has, however, continued to operate the business (known as Cynthia Portrait Art, Inc.) throughout the dispute.

After repeated unsuccessful efforts to assist the tenant, the center owners finally began efforts to evict the troublesome tenant. That decision led to placing a lock on the tenantís entrance door and refusing to turn over the key.

That led to a lawsuit. The tenant claimed that an eviction was unlawful. And at trial, she explained that the eviction would result in her being unable to retrieve and sell the items contained in the store.

In response, the centerís owners filed a counterclaim for unpaid rent totaling $9,070. Following that decision, however, a magistrate indicated that the centerís owner was ďuntimelyĒ in taking such actions. She explained that the purpose of the hearing was only to determine the extent of the damages that the shopping center suffered. The magistrate apparently agreed, then ruled in favor of the tenant.

The centerís owners appealed that ruling, and a magistrate, much to the disappointment of the centerís owners, indicated that the shopping centerís claim was ďuntimelyĒ and that the purpose of another hearing would determine the extent of the tenantís damages. Following a second hearing, the magistrate ruled in favor of the tenant.

The shopping centerís owners again appealed, arguing that the magistrate erred in ruling in favor of the tenant. The centerís owners explained that the magistrate erred in not considering that the tenant had not moderated her damages. (Failure to mitigate in a case like this is a defense to a claim for damages. And the centerís owners, at trial, carried the burden of proof for this defense.)

In fact, the magistrate found that the tenant, as well as her company, ďwere blocked and prohibited access to the art/portrait studio was a period of three weeks.Ē In contrast, he added, ďthe centerís owners relies on evidence introduced at trial that the centerís lock was removedĒ

In conclusion, the court found that ďin the absence shown (at trial) of contradictory evidence produced by the centerís owners, the court cannot find that theÖ magistrate committed clear error by relying on documents to determine the extent of the tenantís damages.Ē

(Cynthia Stalker v SBP ST. THOMAS, LLC, 2016 WL 4490616)

Decision: September 2016
Published: October 2016



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