Zuckerman Spaeder Delivers $186,000 Award to Baltimore City Residents in Constitutional Tenants’ Rights Fight
A federal jury has awarded two former tenants of a Baltimore rental home $186,000 after a federal district court found that their constitutional right to due process was violated by a Baltimore City housing ordinance. The decision is the result of a pro bono lawsuit brought by Zuckerman Spaeder.
While the plaintiffs arranged for a moving truck to be used on August 1, 2019, Baltimore City proceeded with eviction on July 31, when the plaintiffs were not at home and had no ability to retrieve their property. At that time, their landlord texted them to say that “everything in and on the property are my possession per Balt city law.”
The landlord was allowed to take all of their possessions, which had been packed up to move the following day, without providing any opportunity for those possessions to be reclaimed, because of a Baltimore City ordinance intended to keep city streets clean. Section 8A-4 of the City’s housing code provides that, “[a]ll property in or about the leased premises at the time that the warrant of restitution is executed is abandoned.” It further requires landlords to dispose of the property through various legal means, which includes the possibility of keeping or selling it. The property in question included jewelry, expensive electronics, clothing, furniture, and the ashes of a deceased relative.
In September 2022, Judge Deborah Boardman of the U.S. District Court in Maryland ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, stating that Section 8A-4 “violated their due process rights because they received inadequate notice and had no opportunity to be heard” and that, at minimum, the City was required “to provide the plaintiffs with an opportunity to retrieve, after the eviction, the possessions they did not intend to abandon.” The court also rejected the City’s argument that it was not responsible for the plaintiffs’ losses because they were caused by a private citizen.
The case then went to jury trial to determine damages owed to the plaintiffs. On February 1, the plaintiffs were awarded $36,000 for the loss of their property and $150,000 for their emotional distress.
“The court’s ruling and the damages awarded by the jury deliver a clear message that due process and property rights cannot be sacrificed in the name of a desire for clean streets,” said Zuckerman Spaeder partner Conor B. O’Croinin. “We are thankful to the court and the jury for recognizing the injustice of the City’s housing ordinance and delivering a meaningful win for our clients.”
In addition to Mr. O’Croinin, the case team included Zuckerman Spaeder associate Ariella E. Muller and co-counsel Joseph Mack of the Law Offices of Joseph S. Mack. The case is Marshall Todman, et al. v. the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, 1:19-cv-03296.