Latz v. Parr

Decision Date09 June 2021
Docket NumberNo. 977,977
PartiesMARY PAONE LATZ v. JACOB PARR
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Circuit Court for Howard County

Case No. 13-C-18-114301

UNREPORTED

Kehoe, Gould, Kenney, James A., III (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

Opinion by Kenney, J.

*This is an unreported opinion, and it may not be cited in any paper, brief, motion, or other document filed in this Court or any other Maryland Court as either precedent within the rule of stare decisis or as persuasive authority. Md. Rule 1-104.

On August 15, 2015, a dog named Ravyn chased a cat named Shadow into the apartment of Mary Paone Latz, Shadow's owner and appellant. In her effort to protect Shadow, Ms. Latz was injured. She sued Jacob Parr, appellee, and Vicki Nichols, Mr. Parr's longtime girlfriend, in the Circuit Court for Howard County for negligence and strict liability. After Ms. Nichols filed for bankruptcy, Ms. Latz dismissed the claims against Ms. Nichols. Trial commenced on June 25, 2019. On the second day of the two-day jury trial, the circuit court granted Mr. Parr's motion for judgment at the close of Ms. Latz's case.

In her timely appeal, Ms. Latz asks: "Did the circuit court err when it granted Mr. Parr's motion for judgment?"1 For the reasons that follow, we answer that question in the affirmative and reverse the judgment of the circuit court.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Ms. Latz was sitting on her patio when Ravyn, a seventy-to-eighty-pound dog, ran into her apartment through an open door chasing Shadow. She pursued the dog into a back bedroom where Ravyn "had Shadow pinned, cornered under the bed between the bed and the file cabinet." To prevent injury to the cat, she "grabbed the dog" by the collar. While restraining the dog, she injured her neck and left arm. Ms. Latz's husband, who was in the shower, came and removed the dog from their residence.

According to Mr. Parr, Ravyn was adopted from an animal-rescue facility in Maryland. On the day of the incident, she was approximately two-and-a-half-years old.When asked about the adoption, Mr. Parr testified that he and Ms. Nichols picked Ravyn up from a pet store in Maryland:

[Mr. Parr]: That's where we met the group - actually we met the group there, but Rayvn we adopted such we didn't touch her. We have pictures, we adopted her off of pictures. And that's - then we picked her up.

Mr. Parr and Ms. Nichols had been in a relationship for approximately nine-and-a-half years. She works and resides in New Jersey, but "for the last nine years," she had been coming to Mr. Parr's home "about every weekend - every other weekend"; sometimes she comes on Thursday and stays until Monday. Ravyn usually resides with Ms. Nichols.

Mr. Parr testified that his home is approximately 100 yards from where Ms. Latz and her husband rented a basement apartment in the home of James Leslie. On the day of the incident, he and Ms. Nichols took three dogs for a walk.2 According to Mr. Parr, he had Roo and Snickers on a single leash, and Ms. Nichols had Ravyn on a leash. They were walking on Mr. Leslie's property "when [Ravyn's] leash broke - when the collar broke." According to Mr. Parr, the collar came off the dog's neck, and remained attached to the leash held by Ms. Nichols.

Mr. Leslie, the Latz's landlord and Mr. Parr's neighbor, testified that when Mr. Parr and Ms. Nichols were walking on his property that day they "stopped to talk." During Mr. Leslie's deposition, which was read at trial, Ms. Latz's counsel asked him if Mr. Parr and Ms. Nichols had any dogs with them:

[Ms. Latz's counsel]: Did they have dogs with them?
[Mr. Leslie]: They had Ravyn with them.
[Ms. Latz's counsel]: Did they have any other dogs with them that you can recall?
[Mr. Leslie]: No.
[Ms. Latz's counsel]: Okay. Did either one of them have a leash?
[Mr. Leslie]: Not that I recall.
[Ms. Latz's counsel]: Okay. Do you have any understanding or any knowledge regarding how Ravyn got loose that day?
[Mr. Leslie]: No, I don't. But I never saw him on a leash.

* * *

[Ms. Latz's counsel]: On the day of the incident when Ravyn was loose, did you see either Vicki Nichols or Jacob Parr chasing after Ravyn?
[Mr. Leslie]: No
[Ms. Latz's counsel]: Did it appear to you that they were trying to catch her[?]
[Mr. Leslie]: No

Mr. Leslie didn't recall seeing a broken collar and neither Mr. Parr nor Ms. Nichols told him that Ravyn's collar had broken.

When asked about seeing Ravyn on prior walks, he testified:

[Ms. Latz's counsel]: Had you see[n] Mr. Parr or Ms. Nichols walking Ravyn before?
[Mr. Leslie]: Yes.
[Ms. Latz's counsel]: Okay. Was -[Mr. Leslie]: Well walking him not in the sense of on a leash, but he was with them.
[Ms. Latz's counsel]: So he wouldn't have been on a leash when you saw him?
[Mr. Leslie]: That's correct.
[Ms. Latz's counsel]: Did you ever see Ravyn on a leash?
[Mr. Leslie]: Not that I recall.

He added that, prior to this incident, he had seen Ravyn running without a leash "[t]hree, four, five [times], somewhere in that ballpark."

Ms. Latz testified that she saw Ravyn loose "[a]l the time," and that she "would see [Mr. Parr] bring the dog out, hook it on an area that he had prepared for Ravyn" that "had a drill thing with a wire and [she saw] him take [Ravyn] off the leash."3 According to her, she and her husband "were always giving Ravyn back to Mr. Parr." Mr. Latz testified that, prior to the incident, he had retrieved Ravyn "running at large" and returned the dog to Mr. Parr "about a half dozen times."

According to Mr. Latz, he was in the shower when he heard his wife yelling "Eddie help, Eddie help." He exited the shower and saw the dog "pulling [Ms. Latz] from direction to direction just going back and forth." Mr. Latz grabbed the dog by its collar and exited the apartment to return the dog "to [Mr. Parr's] house." When he saw Ms. Nichols at thecorner of the house, he handed the dog to her. According to Mr. Latz, Ms. Latz began complaining of pain "within an hour, maybe two hours" of the incident.

At the close of Ms. Latz's case, the circuit court granted Mr. Parr's motion for judgment:

We're dealing with the State of the evidence as it is. And the State of the evidence as it is is that the dog was adopted. Mr. Parr used the word we. He did not explain that further to suggest that it was either the royal we or intended to be a co-ownership we. Nobody has presented ownership papers of the dog. When you adopt you put names down and things like that.
The vet form is the closest thing we have to somebody putting a name on something. Mr. Parr's name appears on the vet form as the client. Ms. Nichols I presume is on there as Vicki . . . But I recognize the area code 908. The phone number appears to be a New Jersey phone number.
The evidence is that they see each other every weekend. The evidence is that when they are not together whether it be in New Jersey or in Maryland the dog - and when I say the dog, I'm talking about Ravyn not the two little ones. The dog is in the care and custody of Vicki Nichols. She makes the decision of where the dog goes. She makes the decision of what vet the dog sees, if any. She makes the decision of what the dog eats. She makes the decision of if the dog is in doggy daycare or not. She in my mind is the owner of the dog and that's the evidence. She's the owner of the dog in that she has legal rights to the dog.

* * *

The evidence of what happened in this event is that Mr. Parr and Ms. Nichols left the property. They were no longer on the Parr Property. That Ms. Nichols was present. The Plaintiff disputes that a leash was ever used, but the evidence is that Ms. Nichols was present and that whatever occurred that would cause the dog to become at large occurred off of Mr. Parr's property. And there's no evidence that Mr. Parr was responsible for it as opposed to Ms. Nichols.
As such I'll grant the motion for judgment as to counts - as to both counts.
DISCUSSION
Standard of Review

In regard to Md. Rule 2-519(b), we have explained:

The same standard of review applies for a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and a motion for judgment at the close of the evidence. Univ. of Md. Med. Sys. Corp. v. Gholston, 203 Md. App. 321, 329 (2012). For both motions, we consider "whether on the evidence presented a reasonable fact-finder could find the elements of the cause of action by a preponderance of the evidence." Id. We "assume the truth of all credible evidence on the issue and any inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the [appellee], the nonmoving part[y]." Lowery v. Smithsburg Emergency Med. Serv., 173 Md. App. 662, 683 (2007). "Consequently, if there is any evidence, no matter how slight, that is legally sufficient to generate a jury question, the case must be submitted to the jury for its consideration." Id. (quoting Tate v. Bd. of Educ. of Prince George's C[n]ty., 155 Md. App. 536, 545 (2004)).

Six Flags Am., L.P. v. Gonzalez-Perdomo, 248 Md. App. 569, 581 (2020), cert. denied sub nom. Gonzalez-Perdomo v. Six Flags Am., No. 445, SEPT. TERM, 2020, 2021 WL 1256731 (Md. Mar. 26, 2021).

Contentions

Ms. Latz contends that the "circuit court erred when it granted the defense motion for judgment dismissing [her] claims for negligence and strict liability against Parr" for four reasons: (1) "it adopted an erroneous definition of 'owner'"; (2) "concluded - as a matter of law - that a rational trier of fact could not find that the dog - running loose - was under the dual or joint authority of both Parr and Nichols when they took the dog for a walk . . . off leash immediately prior to" injuring her; (3) it failed to view the evidence in the light most favorable to her and concluded that the dog's flight occurred off the Parrproperty; and (4) when it failed to apply the statutory presumption under Md. Code Ann. (1973, 2013 Repl. Vol., 2019 Supp.), Cts. & Jud. Proc. Article ("CJP") § 3-1901(a).

Mr. Parr contends that "court properly granted [his] Motion for Judgment" because Ms. Latz "failed to produce...

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