Md. Prop. Mgmt., LLC v. Peters-Hawkins, 0278, Sept. Term, 2019

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtSalmon, J.
Citation249 Md.App. 1,245 A.3d 1
Docket NumberNo. 0278, Sept. Term, 2019,0278, Sept. Term, 2019
Decision Date28 January 2021

249 Md.App. 1
245 A.3d 1

Helena PETERS-HAWKINS, et vir.

No. 0278, Sept. Term, 2019

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

January 28, 2021

Argued by: Samuel M. Grant (David Preller and Preller & Preller on the brief), all of Towson, Maryland, for Appellants.

Argued by: Chelsea R. Ortega (Matthew Thomas Vocci and Santoni, Vocci & Ortega, LLC on the brief), all of Towson, Maryland, for Appellees.

Panel: Reed, Shaw Geter, James P., Salmon, Senior Judge, Specially Assigned, JJ.

Salmon, J.

249 Md.App. 7

This case has its origin in a Baltimore City Landlord/Tenant dispute. The tenants and appellees in this appeal are Helena Peters-Hawkins ("Mrs. Hawkins") and her husband, Charles Hawkins ("Mr. Hawkins"). The appellants are Maryland Property Management, LLC ("Maryland Property Management"), ANT Properties, LLC ("ANT"), and Ted Thornton, the managing member of Maryland Property Management, and owner of ANT.

On March 14, 2018, Mrs. Hawkins and her husband filed suit in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City against the three appellants. The complaint contained eight counts, but the circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the appellants as to six of those counts. One of the two surviving counts (Count I) alleged a violation by all three appellants of Md. Code, (2015 Repl. Vol.), Real Property Article ("RP"), § 8-216(b), which reads, in material part, as follows:

In general . – (1) Except as provided in paragraph (2) of this subsection, a landlord may not take possession or threaten to take possession of a dwelling unit from a tenant or tenant holding over by locking the tenant out or any other action, including willful diminution of services to the tenant.

(2) A landlord may take possession of a dwelling unit from a tenant or tenant holding over only:

(i) In accordance with a warrant of restitution issued by a court and executed by a sheriff or constable; or

(ii) If the tenant has abandoned or surrendered possession of the dwelling unit.

Section 8-216(a)(2) defines the words "threaten to take possession" as "using words or actions intended to convince a reasonable person that the landlord intends

245 A.3d 5

to take imminent possession of the property in violation of this section."

Another surviving count in the complaint alleged a cause of action for common law conversion against all three appellants.

249 Md.App. 8

After extensive discovery was completed, the case was tried before a jury over a three-day period in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. The jury set forth its verdicts as follows:

COUNT I – Violation of Real Property Article Section § 8-216

1. Do you find by a preponderance of the evidence that Theodore Thornton threatened to take possession of 4909 Morello Road, or took possession by locking the Plaintiffs out or by any other action, in violation of Real Property Article § 8-216 ?

Yes X No ______

2. Do you find by a preponderance of the evidence that Maryland Property Management, LLC or ANT Properties, LLC, is liable for violating Real Property Article § 8-216 based on either Mr. Thornton's actions or by any other actions?

Yes X No ______

3. If you answered yes to any of the above, what damages do you find for:

Yes X No ______

COUNT II – Conversion

4. Do you find that Plaintiffs have proven, by a preponderance of the evidence, that any of the Defendants converted any of Plaintiffs' property?
245 A.3d 6
249 Md.App. 9
Yes X No ______

As to ANT Properties, LLC:

Yes X No ______

As to Theodore Thornton:

Yes X No ______

5. If your answer is yes as to any of the Defendants mentioned in Question 4 above, what do you find for damages?

Damages: $ 10,000.00

[Total] $28,000.00

All three appellants filed a motion for new trial and/or for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

Both the motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and the motion for a new trial were denied. Mr. Hawkins and his wife filed a "Petition for Statutory Attorneys' Fees and Costs" pursuant to RP § 8-216(c)(1)(ii). As the title of their petition suggested, petitioners asked for attorneys' fees and costs incurred in bringing Count I of the lawsuit, i.e., the suit brought to enforce rights under RP § 8-216(b). After the appellants filed an opposition, a hearing was held concerning the petition. The circuit court, on March 5, 2019, filed a memorandum and order awarding appellees $66,880.00 in attorneys' fees and $1,713.39 in costs.

The appellants then filed this timely appeal in which they raise five issues, which we have reordered:

I. Whether the trial court erred in denying the Rule 2-519 motion of appellant ANT Properties, LLC, at the close of plaintiffs' case in chief, when plaintiffs presented no evidence that ANT was the landlord, or that ANT had engaged in any supposed acts of conversion.
249 Md.App. 10
II. Whether the trial court erred in denying appellant ANT's motion for a new trial and motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, with respect [to] the supposed identity of ANT as a landlord under RP § 8-216, there being no law or evidence to support a holding that ANT had been the landlord.

III. Whether the trial court erred in refusing to grant appellants' motion for a new trial with respect to any liability under RP § 8-216, as there was no evidence from which a jury could have inferred the necessary elements of that cause of action, the Hawkins family having remained living at the house for two weeks after the cancellation of the eviction.

IV. Whether the trial court erred in denying the motion for a new trial
245 A.3d 7
with respect to illogical and inconsistent jury awards of economic damages.

V. Whether the trial court erred in assessing attorney fees against defendants where the award of fees was a multiple of the underlying award of damages.1



On November 12, 2016, Mr. Hawkins and his wife signed a one-year lease for a single family house located at 4909 Morello Road in Baltimore City ("the Property"). The term of the lease was from November 14, 2016 to November 30, 2017 and the rent was $1,550.00 per month. The first paragraph of the lease read:

249 Md.App. 11

a) Property Manager for Owner (Landlord): Maryland Property Management, LLC

b) Address to send rent payments: 40 York Rd., Suite 301, Towson, MD 21204

c) Resident(s) Name: Helena Hawkins SSN:__________ Name: Charles Hawkins SSN:__________

Paragraph 9 of the lease provided:

AGENCYLandlord has authorized Maryland Property Management LLC to enter into this rental agreement on his/her behalf, to receive and receipt for rent, and to do any and all other things necessary or desirable to administer or effectuate this agreement during Resident's occupancy. Rent shall be paid and all notices, requests or other communications shall be by or to Landlord through Maryland Property Management LLC at the address listed above. Maryland Property Management LLC has full authority from the owner to manage the rented premises.

(Emphasis added.)

The tenants did not pay the rent that was due on June 1, 2017. Maryland Property Management thereafter filed an eviction action in the District Court of Maryland for Baltimore City. Next, on August 8, 2017, Mrs. Hawkins filed a rent escrow action in the same court. She contended that there were serious health violations at the Property. A hearing was held on the rent escrow dispute in the district court on September 26, 2017. By the time of that hearing, the appellees had not paid rent since June 2017. Nevertheless, the district court judge ruled that if the tenants would pay into escrow two month's rent, the eviction that was then set for October 4, 2017 would be cancelled. The tenants, however, did not pay anything into escrow and as a result, the eviction remained scheduled for October 4, 2017.

On the morning of October 4, 2017, Baltimore City Deputy Sheriff Trina Anderson went to the rental premises. Because of what she saw at the premises, she did not feel comfortable in going forward with the eviction, and, accordingly, she

249 Md.App. 12

appeared in the district court that afternoon and reported to a judge why she had not gone forward with the eviction. Mrs. Hawkins and a representative of Maryland Property Management attended the hearing.

245 A.3d 8

At the conclusion of the hearing, the district court judge cancelled the eviction.



A. Testimony of Deputy Sheriff Trina Anderson

Deputy Anderson went to the rental property on the morning of October 4, 2017, to evict...

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