Hemmings v. Pelham Wood, 56

Citation375 Md. 522,826 A.2d 443
Decision Date16 June 2003
Docket NumberNo. 56,56
CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland

Laurence A. Marder (Salsbury, Clements, Bekman, Marder & Adkins, L.L.C., on brief), Baltimore, for petitioner.

Philip B. Barnes (Jennifer Ryan Lazenby, Whiteford, Taylor, Preston, L.L.P., on brief), Towson, for respondents.



Suzette Hemmings petitioned this Court to review an order for summary judgment entered in favor of Pelham Wood Limited Liability Limited Partnership and RLA Management, L.L.P. (hereinafter the "Landlord"), the owner and manager, respectively, of Pelham Wood Apartments (hereinafter "Pelham Wood"). We granted Ms. Hemmings' petition to decide whether a landlord has a duty to repair a known dangerous or defective condition under its control to prevent a foreseeable third party criminal attack upon a tenant within a leased apartment unit, and whether there is sufficient evidence of such condition to make summary judgment inappropriate. For the reasons explained below, we conclude that the Circuit Court's entry of summary judgment was in error.

I. Background
A. Facts

On November 25, 1997, Ms. Hemmings, with her husband, Howard Hemmings, entered into an agreement with the Landlord to lease a two-bedroom apartment at Pelham Wood, a multi-building apartment complex consisting of four hundred units in Baltimore County. The Hemmings' lease provided in part:


17. That [the] Landlord has the right to enter the [apartment] at any time by master key or by force, if necessary, to inspect the Premises, to make repair/alterations in the [apartment] or elsewhere on [the] Landlord's property, to enforce any provision of this Lease or to show the [apartment] to prospective future tenants or purchasers without being liable to prosecution therefore, or damages by reason thereof.

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22. That ... [the] Landlord shall be responsible for repairs to the [apartment], its equipment and appliances furnished by [the] Landlord....

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35. That the [apartment] will be made available such that it will not contain conditions that constitute, or if not properly corrected would constitute, a fire hazard or a serious and substantial threat to the life, health or safety of occupants.

* * *


45. That [the] Landlord shall not be liable for an injury, damage or loss to person or property caused by other tenants or other persons, or caused by theft, vandalism, fire, water, smoke, explosions or other causes unless the same is exclusively due to the omission, fault, negligence or other misconduct of [the] Landlord.

* * *


* * *

7. Change the locks on the doors of the Premises or install additional locks, door knockers, chairs or other fasteners without the prior written permission of [the] Landlord

The Hemmings resided at 5 Lynfair Court, one of several apartment buildings at Pelham Wood. Their two-bedroom apartment unit, Apartment A-2, was located on the second floor of 5 Lynfair Court, just above the ground level apartment. A sliding glass door in the Hemmings' apartment allowed access to a rear patio balcony overlooking a wooded area.

In an attempt to deter criminal activity at Pelham Wood, the Landlord had implemented several security devices. Howard Gartner, the Landlord's corporate designee, stated that "[t]here is exterior lighting around the property [and that] each apartment has a regular door lock on its front door as well as a dead bolt door lock." For the apartments with patio doors, like the Hemmings', the Landlord provided "what is commonly referred to as a Charlie Bar," a horizontally mounted bar securing the sliding glass door. In addition, "[t]he [apartment] windows ha[d] locks on them," and there was "interior lighting in the [common area] hallways." For the "terrace" or ground level apartments only, the Landlord also provided alarm systems, which, once armed, generated a "strong and loud noise" when one opens an apartment door.

At approximately 1:17 a.m. on June 13, 1998, an unidentified intruder entered the Hemmings' apartment through the sliding glass door and, upon encountering Mr. Hemmings in the apartment bedroom, shot him twice in the abdomen. Mr. Hemmings died from gunshot wounds later that morning at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

After the attack, the Baltimore County Police Department initiated an investigation. The police incident report of the investigation1 noted that the intruder, who was not known to Mr. Hemmings, entered the apartment by forcing open the sliding glass door from the patio.

Patrick M. Gunning, a contractor whom the Landlord had hired to repair the sliding glass door in the Hemmings' apartment on June 22, 1998, noted that the "whole left side of the [sliding glass door] frame [,the area of] the locking mechanism[,]... was totally mutilated" and that the aluminum frame around the door was "mangled, twisted," and "destroyed." He also stated that the locking mechanism no longer functioned and that it appeared irreparable, as if "somebody had taken a jackhammer and actually beat it to death." According to Mr. Gunning, the marks on the door and locking mechanism, which he believed had been caused by an object, were on the exterior side of the door, and no marks appeared on the interior portion of the door. As for the middle portion of the sliding door, Mr. Gunning recalled that "it was flexed outward as far as it could go without actually breaking the glass."

Mr. Gunning also described the remains of a Charlie Bar on the sliding glass door he repaired. Mr. Gunning believed a Charlie Bar had been on the door "at one time" because "the cradle that [the Charlie Bar] lays in" remained attached to the door at the time of his repairs. As for the bar itself, though, he found "nothing of a [Charlie] bar whatsoever." Mr. Gunning replaced the old "housing mechanism," disposing of it and furnishing an entirely new Charlie Bar for the door.

Several tenants of the apartment building where the Hemmings lived, 5 Lynfair Court, recalled the state of the lighting around their building prior to the Hemmings incident. One indicated that there was "not a light fixture against the wall... outside of [her] apartment" in the rear of 5 Lynfair Court. Another who lived immediately below the Hemmings' apartment at the time of the incident, described the lighting at the rear of the building as follows: "Pitch dark. You can't see anything. Even if I would look outside, I couldn't identify anyone in that area because it is really dark." That tenant stated that the front of 5 Lynfair Court was well lit but that the back of the building was not equipped with a working light and was "too dark." Still another tenant of 5 Lynfair Court recalled that the back of the building had "always been dark" until the Landlord added additional lighting "[w]ay after" the Hemmings incident.

The Pelham Wood property manager at the time of the shooting, Marsha Sultan, provided a description of the exterior lighting around 5 Lynfair Court. She stated that there is a light on the front "entrance door into the building," a roof light facing the "side of the building," and a roof light "in the back of the building." Ms. Sultan was not sure whether this exterior lighting was working "at the time Mr. Hemmings was shot."

Mr. Gartner, the Landlord's corporate designee, also declared that he could not tell "one way or the other" whether the exterior lights of 5 Lynfair Court were functioning on June 13, 1998. He was certain, however, that no lights were in place on the balcony of 5 Lynfair Court on that date.

The Police Department had filed crime reports for twenty nine burglaries or attempted burglaries and two armed robberies that had occurred at Pelham Wood over the two-year period preceding the incident involving Mr. Hemmings.2 One of the alleged armed robberies took place inside an apartment unit; the other involved an assailant who, bearing a sub-machine gun, approached the victim from the woods near an apartment building. The crime reports further indicated that, in five of the burglaries, the intruder had entered the apartment through its sliding glass door.

A call report list, which the Police Department maintains to track telephone calls requesting police service, listed several violent crimes that had occurred at Pelham Wood. The listed crimes included kidnaping, rape, attempted rape, armed robbery, unarmed robbery, and numerous incidents of first or second-degree assaults, one of which had occurred at 5 Lynfair Court. The report list also included crimes against property such as theft and burglary, and breaking and entering. One report indicated that a theft had occurred at 5 Lynfair Court on November 8, 1996. Another report indicated that, on October 3, 1996, there had been a burglary of the same apartment that the Hemmings later had leased. The crime report form describing that burglary, the occurrence of which the downstairs tenants recalled, stated that the intruders entered the apartment through the "rear patio door" using an "un [known] tool to gain entry [through the] patio."

In addition, the Landlord maintained files with tenant complaints about criminal activity in and around the apartment complex. During the period between July 1, 1995, and June 30, 1998, Tenants had complained about various types of criminal activities: armed robbery, robbery, threats at gunpoint, theft within apartment units, vandalism, apartment break-ins, burglaries and attempted burglaries, theft from a balcony, theft in common areas, and drug use in common areas. Furthermore, of these tenant complaints, four mentioned burglaries, two complained of attempted burglaries, and one involved a robbery.

Other than the tenant complaints,...

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