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Baltimore seeks cap on potential damages in Riot Act lawsuit

Workers board up the burnt-out DTLR store on Pennsylvania Avenue on April 28, 2015, the morning after the riots in Baltimore. Baltimore city, the Baltimore Police Department and the state are all seeking to dismiss a lawsuit brought by local businesses alleging the defendants failed to properly respond to the unrest. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Workers board up the burnt-out DTLR store on Pennsylvania Avenue on April 28, 2015, the morning after the riots in Baltimore. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Baltimore’s government is asking a federal judge to declare the statutory cap on damages when suing a municipality applies to claims brought by dozens of local businesses pursuing claims under the Maryland Riot Act.

The Maryland Riot Act creates a cause of action when a municipality had notice of a riot and the ability to prevent damage. The lawsuit alleges Baltimore failed to act when civil unrest became destructive rioting in 2015 following the death of Freddie Gray.

A federal judge dismissed federal and state constitutional claims April 2, and the city, in a motion for declaratory judgment filed Friday, claims with no federal civil rights causes of action remaining, damages should be capped at a total of $500,000 under the Local Government Tort Claims Act.

The law provides that a local government cannot be liable for more than $200,000 in damages per individual claim or a total of $500,000 for claims arising from the same occurrence for damages due to tortious acts or omission.

The LGTCA was not on the books the last time businesses made use of the Riot Act in 1968 after the death of Martin Luther King Jr., when hundreds of businesses filed suit to recover damages.

“As each and every Plaintiffs’ (sic) individual claims arise out of the same alleged proximate cause — that being the City’s actions, inactions, and course of conduct in handling the civil unrest — they thus arise out of the same occurrence, and the statutory cap of $500,000 must apply to their claims in total,” the motion states.

In an accompanying memorandum, the city further argues that the plaintiffs have attempted to portray events as “separate and distinct riots” but “the face of the Complaint identifies the same proximate cause of all of them.”

City Solicitor Andre Davis did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

The attorney for the plaintiffs, Peter K. Hwang, of Sung and Hwang LLP in Columbia, declined to comment Monday on the city’s motion.

The case is Chae Brothers et al. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore et al., 1:17-cv-01657.

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