Court of Appeals Holds that a Power of Attorney Does Not Authorize Appearance in Court on Behalf of a Principal

On August 7, 2014, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals decided Jones v. Brooks, No. 12-CV-478, slip op. (D.C. Aug. 7, 2014), in which it considered, inter alia, “whether a power of attorney grants an attorney-in-fact (who is not a member of the bar) the authority to appear in court on behalf of a principal.” Id. at 11-12. This was an issue of first impression for the Court of Appeals. Id.

By way of background, this case was initiated by a daughter to recover on behalf of her mother for breach of contract. Id. at 1-2. The daughter apparently was neither a member of the bar nor represented by a member of the bar. She initially sued in her own name, but was later permitted to amend the pleadings to sue in the name of her mother. Id. at 2-3. The daughter “submitted a power of attorney as well as a notarized statement from her mother” to establish her standing to sue. Id. Following a bench trial, the trial court entered judgment for the mother (i.e., the plaintiff). Id. at 3. The defendant appealed. Id. at 1.

In considering this case, the Court of Appeals found “no reversible error on any of the issues” raised by the defendant. Id. 1-2. Those issues were generally unremarkable and are not discussed here. However, the Court of Appeals “publish[ed] [its] opinion to emphasize that a power of attorney does not authorize the designee to engage in the practice of law.” Id. at 2. It explained that “[a] contrary interpretation [of the relevant statutory and other authorities] would provide a very easy means of circumventing the prohibition against the unauthorized practice of law and would [therefore] produce an absurd result.” Id. at 13 (quotation marks omitted).

Although the Court of Appeals concluded that the daughter’s representation of her mother in the trial court and on appeal “likely violated” the prohibition against the unauthorized practice of law, it concluded that it was not required to vacate the trial court’s judgment. Id. at 14-16. In exercising its discretion to allow the judgment to stand, the Court of Appeals considered a variety of factors, including the defendant’s failure to challenge the daughter’s lack of authority to practice law and the absence of any prejudice to the defendant. Id. at 16-17.

Accordingly, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment.