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Woodruff v. Gazebo East Apts.

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

May 15, 2015

Edward Woodruff
v.
Gazebo East Apartments

          Appeal from Montgomery Circuit Court. (CV-14-624).

          OPINION

Page 1077

          THOMAS, Judge.

         On July 7, 2014, Gazebo East Apartments (" the landlord" ) served on Edward Woodruff (" the tenant" ) two documents: a 30-day notice of nonrenewal of the parties' current lease and a 14-day notice of lease termination for cause. The lease between the landlord and the tenant indicated that the lease term began on August 21, 2013, and ended on July 31, 2014. The lease also provided that " [t]his lease contract will automatically renew month-to-month unless either party gives at least thirty (30) days written notice of termination or intent to move out."

         The tenant did not vacate the property on July 31, 2014, and, on August 8, 2014, the landlord brought an unlawful-detainer action in the Montgomery District Court (" the district court" ). In the complaint, the landlord alleged that the tenant was a willful holdover tenant despite having been served two lease-termination notices and that the tenant had not paid rent in August 2014. The tenant's answer stated that the landlord had not served upon him a 30-day notice of nonrenewal and that, under the terms of the lease, the lease had automatically renewed on July 31, 2014, for an additional month. The district court entered a judgment in favor of the landlord on September 18, 2014, and the

Page 1078

tenant filed a timely notice of appeal to the Montgomery Circuit Court (" the circuit court" ) on September 25, 2014.

         On October 8, 2014, the landlord filed in the circuit court a motion for a summary judgment in which it asserted that it was entitled to a judgment as a matter of law on its unlawful-detainer claim. To support its claim that it was entitled to a judgment as a matter of law, the landlord alleged that it had filed an action alleging unlawful detainer based on the tenant's willful failure to vacate the leased premises after being served with a 30-day notice of nonrenewal, that the tenant did not appear at the trial in the district court, that the lease " plainly shows the lease expired on July 31, 2014," and that " the appeal is frivolous on its face." Although the summary-judgment motion indicates that the lease was attached as an exhibit to the motion, the only copy of the lease contained in the record is the copy that was appended to the complaint filed in the district court; the district court's file was provided to the circuit court.

         The tenant filed a response in opposition to the motion for a summary judgment. In that response, the tenant argued that the landlord had failed to make a prima facie showing that no genuine issue of material fact existed. Furthermore, the tenant argued that he should be allowed to conduct discovery regarding the allegation that he had not complied with the lease. The tenant also explained that he had not been able to attend the trial in the district court because he suffered from a terminal illness and was bedridden. The tenant supported his response with his affidavit, the affidavit of his wife, Bessie Woodruff, a letter from the tenant's physician regarding his health issues, a copy of the answer filed by the tenant in the district court, an affidavit from the tenant's attorney, and a copy of a power of attorney given by the tenant to his wife. The tenant also filed an amended answer in which he again denied that he had received a 30-day notice to terminate the lease and in which he denied having failed to pay rent in August 2014. The amended answer asserted as affirmative defenses unclean hands and retaliatory acts by the landlord.

         The circuit court did not rule on the October 2014 motion for a summary judgment. The tenant served discovery requests, and the landlord sought a protective order, which the circuit court granted. The circuit court set the matter for a trial to be held on November 21, 2014. The record indicates, however, that the November 21, 2014, trial was not held.

         On December 1, 2014, the landlord filed a renewed motion for a summary judgment or, in the alternative, a motion for an expedited final hearing. In that motion, the landlord asserted again that it was due a judgment as a matter of law because the lease had expired on July 31, 2014, and because the tenant had failed to pay rent in August 2014.[1] The landlord attached no exhibits to its renewed summary-judgment motion. The circuit court entered two orders

Page 1079

on December 11, 2014: the first order set the case for a trial, and the second order granted the landlord's motion for a summary judgment, ordered the tenant to vacate the leased premises within seven days, and awarded the landlord statutory damages equivalent to three months of rent, as permitted by Ala. Code 1975, § 35-9A-441(c). On December 12, 2014, the circuit court set aside the order setting the case for trial.

         The tenant filed a postjudgment motion on December 12, 2014, which the circuit court denied on December 22, 2014. The tenant filed his notice of appeal on December 18, 2014; it was held in abeyance until the circuit court denied the postjudgment motion. See Rule 4(a)(5), Ala. R. App. P. ...


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