Todman v. The Mayor & City Council of Balt.

Decision Date29 September 2022
Docket NumberCiv. DLB-19-3296
PartiesMARSHALL TODMAN, et al., Plaintiffs, v. THE MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL OF BALTIMORE, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maryland

MARSHALL TODMAN, et al., Plaintiffs,

Civ. No. DLB-19-3296

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 29, 2022


Deborah L. Boardman, United States District Judge

On July 31, 2019, plaintiffs Marshall Todman, Jr. and Tiffany Gattis were evicted from the Baltimore City home they rented from Brock Collins.[1] At the moment of their eviction, all their personal property in and around the home was deemed “abandoned” by a Baltimore City law aimed at keeping public streets and sidewalks free of evicted tenants' belongings. The law prohibited Collins from moving their possessions onto the street and authorized him to keep the items, including clothes, electronics, and heirlooms. In this ensuing lawsuit, the plaintiffs claim the law that caused the loss of their personal property, Balt. City, Md., Code art. 13 (“City Housing Code”), § 8A-4, violates the guarantees of due process embodied in the Fourteenth Amendment. They seek damages for the constitutional violation from the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore (collectively, the “City”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. They also assert state law claims against Collins for conversion, trespass to chattels, and unjust enrichment.

Pending are ripe cross-motions for summary judgment in which the parties ask the Court to rule on the constitutionality of § 8A-4. ECF 94, 98, 100-102, & 104-107. Collins additionally


seeks summary judgment on the state law claims. The Court heard oral argument on April 11, 2022. ECF 112. For the following reasons, the Court grants summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs as to liability on their § 1983 claim; denies the City's motion for summary judgment; and grants in part and denies in part Collins' motion for partial summary judgment.

I. Background

On average, there are between 6,000 and 7,000 evictions in Baltimore City each year. ECF 94-2, at 36 (35:11-13) (dep. of Jason Hessler, corporate designee of Baltimore City). This evens out to more than 19 evictions per day. Id. at 36-37 (35:19-36-8). This case arose from one of these evictions where, as the result of an ordinance meant to keep streets and sidewalks clean, the plaintiffs lost many of their possessions.

A. Eviction procedures in Baltimore City

Maryland does not allow landlords to remove tenants from their leased homes without first obtaining a warrant of restitution from a court. See Md. Code Ann., Real Prop. (“RP”) § 8-216(b)(2). A warrant of restitution is a court order, executed by a sheriff, authorizing the landlord to retake possession of the leased premises. It is the legal instrument that authorizes an eviction. To receive a warrant of restitution, the landlord must “make [a] complaint in writing to the District Court of the county where the property is located.” Id. § 8-402(b)(1)(i).[2] Upon receipt of the landlord's written complaint, the district court will direct “any constable or sheriff of the county entitled to serve process . . . to notify the tenant, assignee, or subtenant to appear . . . before the court to show cause why restitution should not be made to the landlord.” Id. § 8-402(b)(1)(ii).


The sheriff typically must serve the summons on the tenant, but if the tenant cannot be located, the sheriff may “affix an attested copy of the summons conspicuously on the property.” Id. After a hearing, the court may enter “judgment for the restitution of the possession of [the] premises” in favor of the landlord and may, upon the landlord's request, “issue [a] warrant [of restitution] to the sheriff” of the relevant jurisdiction. Id. § 8-402(b)(2)(i). In Baltimore City, a landlord must file a petition for a warrant of restitution within 60 days after the court enters judgment in favor of the landlord. Balt. City, Md., Code of Pub. Local Laws § 9-6.

In Maryland, there are three primary types of eviction actions: failure to pay rent, tenant holding over, and breach of lease. The plaintiffs were holdover tenants. A holdover tenant is a tenant who “unlawfully hold[s] over beyond the expiration of the lease or termination of the tenancy.” RP § 8-402(a)(1). A breach-of-lease tenant is one who has breached the terms of the lease and whose “breach was substantial and warrants an eviction[.]” Id. § 8-402.1(b)(1). And a failure-to-pay-rent tenant is one who fails “to pay the rent when due and payable.” Id. § 8-401(a). Only failure-to-pay-rent tenants have the right of redemption, or the ability to remain in the property despite the entry of a judgment for possession in the landlord's favor. Id. § 8-401(g)(1). A failure-to-pay-rent tenant may exercise this right up until the moment of eviction by paying the amount required by the state court's judgment. Id. Breach-of-lease and holdover tenants, conversely, must vacate the rented property after a judgment is entered in the landlord's favor or face eviction.

The type of eviction action determines the applicable notice requirements. Before a landlord may file any eviction action, she must provide the tenant with advance notice via a notice to quit tenancy. Failure-to-pay-rent tenants receive 10 days' notice, Id. § 8-401(c)(1); breach-of-lease tenants receive either 14 or 30 days' notice, Id. § 8-402.1(a)(1)(i)(2); and holdover tenants


receive between 7 and 180 days' notice depending on the type and term of their lease, Id. § 8-402(c)(2). In a failure-to-pay-rent action in Baltimore City, after a landlord obtains a judgment for possession of a leased dwelling, the landlord additionally must “notify the tenant of the date on which the warrant of restitution is first scheduled to be executed by the Sheriff.” City Housing Code § 8A-2(b). The notice must be mailed by first-class mail at least 14 days before the scheduled eviction date and posted on the premises at least 7 days before the scheduled eviction date. Id. § 8A-2(c). The notice also must specify the date of the eviction and “prominently warn the tenant that any property left in the leased dwelling will be considered abandoned and may be disposed of on execution of the warrant of restitution.” Id. § 8A-2(d)(2), (4). These additional notice requirements in Baltimore City failure-to-pay rent cases do not extend to tenant holding over cases, among other exceptions. Id. § 8A-2(a)(2)(iii).

As indicated in the notice provided to failure-to-pay-rent tenants, Baltimore City has taken an aggressive approach towards the disposition of tenants' personal property left on the leased premises at the time of eviction. Section 8A-4 of the City 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.” The law requires landlords, upon execution of the warrant of restitution, to “dispose of abandoned eviction chattels” by “transporting them to a licensed landfill or solid waste facility,” “donating them to charity,” or using “some other legal means.” Id. § 8A-5(a). Landlords may not dispose of “eviction chattels, abandoned or otherwise, [by placing them] in a public right-of-way or on any public property.” Id. § 8A-6. They are not liable “for any loss or damage to abandoned property.” Id. § 8A-4(b).

During discovery, the City's designee testified about the intended operation of § 8A. The law does not formally order the transfer of ownership of personal property left on the leased


premises from the tenant to the landlord. ECF 94-2, at 43-48, 119, 124 (42:12-47:15, 118:18-25, 123:22-25). However, § 8A-4 declares the personal property abandoned, and § 8A-5 requires the landlord to dispose of it in certain ways. Id. at 60-61 (59:14-60:21). Among other permissible dispositions, the landlord may keep the abandoned property. Id. at 62-63 (61:21-62:7). The City designee also testified that § 8A-4 applies to all property remaining in or about the leased premises, regardless of whether it belongs to the tenant or a third party or whether the owner intended to abandon it. Id. at 48-58, 106, 115-16 (47:19 - 57:1, 105:14-17, 114:9-115:19).

B. The origin of § 8A-4

Baltimore City passed City Housing Code § 8A-4 after considerable debate and input from various stakeholders. In 2007, the City wanted to end the common practice of landlords removing evicted tenants' possessions and placing them on the nearest sidewalk. Id. at 59, 107 (58:1-22, 106:13-21). At the time, the City considered the removal of tenants' property necessary because landlords would not be returned to full possession of the leased premises-possession free from the presence of another's personal property-if tenants' possessions remained inside the home. Id. at 42-43 (41:24-42:5). The City was responsible for disposing of eviction chattels discarded on public streets and sidewalks. Balt. City, Md., Code art. 19, § 50-11. Tenants could request the Department of Public Works to store, at the City's expense, their possessions for up to 10 days. Id. § 50-12 (repealed 2007); ECF 94-2, at 93 (92:10-22); ECF 99-1, at 2. Less than one percent of tenants requested storage, and of those who did, few ever reclaimed stored property. ECF 942, at 93-94 (92:16-93:14); ECF 99-1, at 2. Cleanup and storage expenses cost the City over $800,000 each year in 2005 and 2006. ECF 99-1, at 4.

So, the City considered a bill that eliminated its obligation to store evicted tenants' possessions upon request; required possessions left in the premises at the time of eviction to be


stored in one of several permissible locations for a three-day reclamation period, at which point they would be deemed abandoned and could be disposed of by the landlord; and prohibited landlords from dumping abandoned possessions onto public property. ECF 94-3. The initial bill also required notice of an impending eviction be provided to all tenants, regardless of the type of eviction action. Id.; ECF 94-12, at 5-6. Landlords would have been required to...

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