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City seeks dismissal of suit over eviction notice provisions in code

Baltimore city moved to dismiss a lawsuit over a city code section that allows an eviction to proceed with no notice, arguing the plaintiffs’ claims “have no legal merit.”

Marshall Todman and Tiffany Gattis filed suit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore last month alleging their landlord exploited two city code provisions that allowed him to declare their belongings abandoned and to seize them with no notice, despite the fact that the couple had agreed to an eviction and scheduled their move.

The landlord, Brock Collins, invoked the code provisions and had the Baltimore City Sheriff’s Office evict the plaintiffs the day before their planned move, which Collins knew about, according to the complaint. Collins allegedly “seized all of Plaintiffs’ personal property and demanded exorbitant funds for the property’s return,” an amount the plaintiffs could not pay.

The lawsuit contends a city code provision — which creates an exception to the general requirement that tenants receive notice of a pending eviction date as well as a warning that personal property left will be considered abandoned — violates the state and federal constitutions by allowing landlords to seize property with the aid of government actors without due process.

In a motion to dismiss filed Monday, the city denied the code provision is unconstitutional and blamed the plaintiffs for being ignorant of the law.

“Plaintiffs’ true grievance appears to be that they were allegedly unaware of the Eviction Chattel Law’s provisions related to abandoned property,” the motion states. “Their Complaint blames both the District Court of Maryland judge and Mr. Collins for not informing them about the law’s effects.”

Collins filed a holdover tenant action against the plaintiffs in the summer. A holdover tenant is a renter who remains in a property after the lease has expired.

On July 2, the parties appeared in court and the plaintiffs consented to an eviction, though the judgment was stayed until July 16, at which point Collins could begin the process of eviction, which takes at least two weeks, according to the city’s motion.

The plaintiffs informed the judge and Collins that they had a new rental home and could move in Aug. 1, according to the complaint, which added that they expected Collins to wait until July 17 to begin the two-week eviction process. However, Collins filed on July 15 and arrived at the property on July 31 while the plaintiffs, whose belongings were boxed up for movers to take the following day, were at work. Collins has demanded thousands of dollars from the plaintiffs to return the seized property, according to the lawsuit.

The city contends that the plaintiffs participated in the eviction proceeding and negotiated the terms of their eviction and that Collins never agreed to a precise date on which he would seek to evict them.

The plaintiffs also fail to allege action by the government that deprived them of their property because its seizure “was perpetuated entirely by a third party,” according to the city’s motion.

Todman and Gattis’ attorney, Joseph Mack, characterized Collins’ actions as “bad-faith, malicious compliance with the law” and said the plaintiffs’ situation demonstrates that the code provision is constitutionally flawed. Mack was not immediately available for comment on the city’s motion Wednesday.

The plaintiffs are also represented by Conor B. O’Croinin and Megan S. McKoy of Zuckerman Spaeder LLP.

Collins does not have a listed phone number and is not yet represented by counsel. His answer to the lawsuit is due Dec. 20.

The case is Marshall Todman et al. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore et al., 1:19-cv-03296.

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