Case Caption: Michael Lehtonen v. David Payne, Jr.Case Number: S. Ct. Civ. No. 2011-0065Date: 08/01/2012Author: Cabret, Maria M. Citation: Summary:

In proceedings before a magistrate and the Superior Court in a forcible entry and detainer action filed by a landlord when the tenant fell behind in paying the rent, dismissal of the case as moot when it was determined that the relief sought was accomplished by the time of the hearing because the tenant had vacated the premises, is affirmed. The argument that the magistrate should not have dismissed the case without first addressing the tenant's counterclaims for injunctive relief as well as compensatory damages for stolen goods and trespass, and punitive damages, is rejected. It would frustrate the purpose of forcible entry and detainer actions-to provide landlords with a swift mechanism (in lieu of self-help) for obtaining possession of leased property when the lease is violated-if a party were permitted to complicate the proceedings by incorporating additional issues and claims for damages that could require discovery and expense to investigate. 28 V.I.C. § 782 makes it clear that the only purpose of the action is the recovery of the premises, and therefore any other relief, including counterclaims for damages, is unavailable in such an action. Accordingly, the Superior Court did not frustrate the purpose of a forcible entry and detainer action by limiting, via Superior Court Rule 37, the issues that could be raised. Dismissal of the tenant's counterclaim without prejudice is affirmed. The tenant remains free to file his claim in either small claims court or as a normal civil action with the Superior Court. The tenant's claim that certain testimony provided by the landlord was perjurious does not change the outcome of the present case, because the magistrate's findings were based on only one fact-the tenant concedes was true, that he had vacated the premises. The Superior Court's July 1, 2011 order affirming the magistrate's dismissal of the action with prejudice and the counterclaims without prejudice is affirmed.

Attachment: Open Document or Opinion