Last Thursday, the Ninth Court of Appeals in Beaumont set aside an order evicting Sheila Barnes, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, from her Jefferson County apartment.

In July 2009, Barnes appealed a default judgment in a forcible detainer action sought by Stone Way L.P., court papers say.

Court records show Barnes signed a lease for an apartment unit owned by Stone Way. During her occupancy, Barnes and management had various disagreements. Eventually, Stone Way filed a forcible detainer action, claiming Barnes violated the terms of her lease.

Judge Alfred Gerson of the County Court at Law No. 1 set the trial date for June 22, 2009. Barnes filed motions for continuance on health grounds.

"There is evidence in the record that she suffers from multiple sclerosis and was experiencing health problems related to that condition prior to the June and July trial settings," states the Ninth Court's Jan. 27 opinion, authored by Justice David Gaultney.

"Barnes was hospitalized in June 2009 and again in July 2009. The record contains a June 1, 2009, letter from her neurologist indicating that Barnes was incapacitated by an 'exacerbation' of multiple sclerosis, that she was undergoing treatment, and that she was 'unable to attend any hearing at this time.'"

Court records show she spent most of June and July in hospitals in Beaumont and Houston.

On July 16, 2009, Barnes, who was without counsel at the time, attended a hearing on her continuance motion, explaining she was ill.

However, Judge Gerson denied the motion, allowing the trial to proceed on July 22, 2009, which Barnes could not attend, court records show.

"The trial court was informed that Barnes was in the hospital, and the trial judge indicated he was aware of that fact," the opinion states. "Stone Way presented its case, and the trial court rendered a default judgment in Stone Way's favor. Barnes was evicted from her apartment."

However, now the Ninth Court contends Stone Way did not meet its burden of proving undue delay and that the trial court abused its discretion by denying Barnes' motion for new trial, which was filed immediately following the judgment.

"We reverse the default judgment and remand the case to the trial court for a new trial," the opinion states.

Attorneys Jeffery T. Nobles and Polly B. Graham of the Houston law firm Haynes and Boone represent Barnes.

Attorneys Nathan J. Schwartz and Gregory T. Meyer of Plano represent Stone Way.

Appeals case No. 09-09-00328
Trial case No. 114148

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