Amberwood Associates Ltd. Partnership, Inc. v. Matthews

Decision Date01 September 1996
Docket NumberNo. 649,649
Citation115 Md.App. 510,694 A.2d 131
PartiesAMBERWOOD ASSOCIATES LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, INC., et al. v. Shanita L. MATTHEWS, Individually, etc
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

E. Dale Adkins, III (Gregory L. VanGeison and Anderson, Coe & King, L.L.P., on the brief), Baltimore, for Appellants.

Andrew D. Freeman (C. Christopher Brown, Lauren E. Willis and Brown, Goldstein & Levy, L.L.P., on the brief), Baltimore, for Appellees.

Argued before HARRELL and SONNER, JJ., and PAUL E. ALPERT, J. (Retired, Specially Assigned).

SONNER, Judge.

Shanita Matthews 1, appellee, while visiting her friend, Shelly Morton, in an apartment complex, witnessed her sixteen-month-old son, Tevin Williams, being killed by a vicious pitbull named Rampage. Rampage was known by Ms. Morton, the dog's custodian, for being vicious, but Ms. Matthews did not sue Ms. Morton, nor the owner of Rampage, who was away in jail. Instead, she sued appellants, the landlord of the apartment complex, Amberwood Associates, and the property's manager, Monocle Management (hereinafter landlords). She obtained a judgment against them on several counts which, after reduction by the court, amounted to $5,934,992.50.

We are called upon in this appeal to decide whether a landlord can be liable in tort for the damages recovered by appellees, social invitees of a tenant, on the theory that the clause in a lease prohibiting pets created a duty of due care to a social invitee on the part of the landlord. We hold that the "no pets" clause in the lease does not create such a duty and, as a consequence, we reverse.

Appellee Shanita Matthews filed a complaint in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City on September 29, 1994, and filed an amended complaint on September 18, 1995 adding Andre T. Williams, Tevin's father, as a wrongful death complainant. The complaint contained four counts. In Count I of the Amended Complaint, Ms. Matthews and Mr. Williams sued for wrongful death; in Count II of the Amended Complaint, the Estate of Tevin Williams pursued a survival action; in Count III of the Amended Complaint, Ms. Matthews pursued a negligence claim; and in Count IV of the Amended Complaint, Ms. Matthews pursued an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim.

On November 9, 1995, the jury found the landlords liable, and on November 13, it awarded damages in favor of appellees in the following amounts: Shanita L. Matthews, for the wrongful death of her son, $5,018,750.00; Andre Williams, for the wrongful death of his son, $562,100.00; the Estate of Tevin Williams, on the survival action, $604,142.54; and Shanita L. Matthews, on her count of intentional infliction of emotional distress, $1,000,100.00. Count III, the negligence claim by Ms. Matthews, was dismissed because the court found the claim to be, in effect, a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress.

The defendants filed post-judgment motions pursuant to Md. Rules 2-532, Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict, and 2-533, Motion for a New Trial. The plaintiffs filed a motion to amend their complaint to cause it to conform to the verdict, since the jury had awarded more than they requested in the ad damnum clause. The trial court granted the defendants' Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict on the intentional infliction of emotional distress count. The court applied Maryland's cap on non-economic damages to the award provided to the Estate of Tevin Williams, reducing that award to $354,142.54. The court permitted the amendment of plaintiffs' complaint post-trial to conform the ad damnum clause to the final verdicts.

The landlords filed a notice of appeal. Ms. Matthews filed a notice of cross-appeal on the dismissal of Count III of the amended complaint and on the court's having granted defendants' motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the intentional infliction of emotional distress count.

The issues on appeal are:

I. Did the trial court err in ruling that a landlord can be held liable for injuries inflicted on his tenant's social guests by the tenant's dog, when the injuries did not occur in a common area?

II. Did the trial court err in refusing to permit the jury to consider a potential intervening, superseding cause of the injuries in this case?

III. Did the trial court err in submitting the issue of intentional infliction of emotional distress to the jury?

IV. Did the trial court abuse its discretion in refusing to permit defendants to raise the defense of contributory negligence?

V. Did the trial court err in permitting the plaintiffs to name three new fact witnesses on the issue of notice to the landlord on the eve of trial?

We hold that the trial court erred as to the landlord's liability and, therefore, reverse.

Facts

On a weekly basis, Ms. Matthews typically visited her friend, Ms. Morton, who was keeping Rampage for her incarcerated boyfriend. Four months prior to the attack, Ms. Morton moved to Amberwood Apartments from another apartment complex, bringing Rampage with her. Ms. Matthews and Tevin had also regularly visited Ms. Morton at her previous address. Due to Rampage's history of fighting with other animals, Ms. Morton usually kept him chained and muzzled; he was not chained or muzzled, however, on the day of the attack.

On February 9, 1994, Ms. Matthews and Tevin visited Ms. Morton in her apartment located at 6012 Amberwood Road in Baltimore City. Ms. Morton had left the apartment momentarily to answer a call on her pager, leaving Ms. Matthews, Ms. Morton's six-year-old son Darnell, and Tevin in the apartment with Rampage. While Ms. Matthews was sitting at the kitchen table, the two boys began playing in the adjacent living room. Moments later, Darnell yelled, "Rampage got Tevin." Ms. Matthews looked up and saw the dog shaking Tevin by his neck, ran over to the dog, attempted to pry the dog off the child, and then ran outside to seek help from Ms. Morton. The two women returned to the apartment, and Ms. Matthews again attempted to pull the dog off the boy, while Ms. Morton stabbed the dog with a kitchen knife. Eventually, the dog loosened its jaws, freeing Tevin. Tevin was transported by ambulance to the hospital, where he died 1 1/4 hours later.

The lease between the landlord and Ms. Morton contained a "no pets" clause. At trial, four of the landlord's former employees testified that they alerted management as to the presence of a dog in Ms. Morton's apartment. During the period that Rampage lived in Ms. Morton's apartment, the four maintenance men allegedly came into contact with Rampage when they entered the apartment to make repairs on various occasions. One of the four men, Philip Monroe, testified that he told management that a dangerous pitbull lived in the apartment, that he saw the pitbull chasing a man, and that the dog, while chained up outside, growled and barked at children. Mr. Monroe could not remember the exact date or dates that he informed management about these incidents. The other witnesses did not tell management that the dog was dangerous, only that a dog was in the apartment.

Analysis
I.

To establish a cause of action for negligence, the plaintiff must prove the following elements: "(1) that the defendant was under a duty to protect the plaintiff from injury, (2) that the defendant breached that duty, (3) that the plaintiff suffered actual injury or loss, and (4) that the loss or injury proximately resulted from the defendant's breach of the duty." Richwind v. Brunson, 335 Md. 661, 670, 645 A.2d 1147 (1994) (citations omitted). "[T]he essential question [regarding duty is] whether the plaintiff's interests are entitled to legal protection against the defendant's conduct." Jacques v. First National Bank, 307 Md. 527, 532, 515 A.2d 756 (1986). In determining whether to assign tort duty to a party, the court considers the relationship that exists between the parties and the nature of the harm likely to result from a failure to exercise due care. Id. at 534, 515 A.2d 756.

In this case, the appellees proceeded on a theory that the lease between the landlord and Ms. Morton, which contained a "no pets" clause, imposed a duty on the landlord and the management company to remove Rampage from the premises before the attack occurred. They claimed that the landlord had knowledge of the dog's "vicious propensities" and that that knowledge, combined with the "no pets" clause, required the landlord to take action to protect the social guest of a tenant who is in violation of the lease. The trial court, in adopting this view, held that the appellants owed a duty to the appellees. We disagree.

This issue is one of first impression in Maryland. Courts that have already confronted the issue are divided as to whether a landlord's retention of control of the premises, via a clause in the lease, imposes a duty on the landlord. See Ramona C. Rains, Comment, Clemmons v. Fidler: Is Man's Best Friend a Landlord's Worst Enemy, 19 AM. J. OF TRIAL ADV . 197, 208 (1995); See generally Annot., 87 A.L.R.4th 1004 (1991) (listing cases from jurisdictions that have considered landlord liability for injury to a third person resulting from an attack by a tenant's animal). Moreover, Maryland does not have a statute regarding liability for damage caused by dogs. We must, therefore, turn to the rationales in analogous cases from other jurisdictions and apply them to our own jurisprudence.

In Uccello v. Laudenslayer, 44 Cal.App.3d 504, 118 Cal.Rptr. 741 (1975), a California court held that a duty of care arises when the landlord has actual knowledge of the presence of a dangerous animal, and when he has the right to remove the animal by retaking possession of the premises. In Uccello, the landlord permitted a tenant, who leased month-to-month, to harbor a German shepherd dog. Even after learning that the dog had bitten several other people, the landlord continued to renew the lease, and continued to allow...

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4 cases
  • Matthews v. AMBERWOOD ASSOCIATES LIMITED PARTNERSHIP
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • October 7, 1998
    ...holding that, under the circumstances, the defendants owed no duty to the social invitees of a tenant. Amberwood v. Matthews, 115 Md.App. 510, 513, 694 A.2d 131, 133 (1997). The plaintiffs filed in this Court a petition for a writ of certiorari, and the defendants filed a cross-petition for......
  • Marriott v. Cole, s. 1161
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • September 1, 1996
    ... ... Trailmaster Prods., Inc., 330 Md. 726, 737, 625 A.2d 1005 (1993). Thus, ... ...
  • Braun v. York Properties, Inc.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan — District of US
    • June 2, 1998
    ...the beneficiaries of the "no pets" clause, had no duty to third parties to enforce the rule. [Amberwood Associates Ltd. Partnership, Inc. v. Matthews, 115 Md.App. 510, 521, 694 A.2d 131 (1997), cert. gtd. 347 Md. 155 699 A.2d 1169 Under the circumstances of this case, we conclude that defen......
  • Matthews v. Amberwood
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • September 15, 1997
    ...Matthews v. Amberwood No. 246 Sept.Term 1997 Court of Appeals of Maryland Sept 15, 1997 Cross-petition denied. Reported below: 115 Md.App. 510, 694 A.2d 131. Disposition: ...

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