E-Alerts & Press Releases

Appellate round-up

February 3, 2016: It was a busy fall in the Appellate Advocacy Project. Murnaghan Fellow Tassity Johnson made two oral arguments before the Maryland Court of Appeals, and filed several briefs. Here are some highlights:

The definition of rent
Tassity challenged a landlord’s contention that “rent” can include non-rent charges. She requested that the court construe “rent” within the state’s landlord/tenant anti-retaliation statute to mean only the fixed periodic sum a tenant pays for occupancy—you know—rent!—to ensure that landlords cannot retaliate against tenants and then block them from the law’s protections by claiming that tenants owe disputed and illegal non-rent charges. She also urged the court to encourage private attorneys to represent tenants by requiring that lower courts grant fee awards to tenants who prevail under the anti-retaliation statute, unless the court has a compelling reason for not doing so in a particular case. Tassity’s oral argument and reply brief continues PJC’s advocacy in Lockett v. Blue Ocean Bristol LLC. The PJC’s Human Right to Housing Project represented plaintiff Felicia Lockett in the eviction case, winning damages on one of her claims. Previous Murnaghan Fellow Anna Jagelewski authored the successful petition for writ of certiorari and opening brief in the Maryland Court of Appeals on Ms. Lockett’s second claim. See page 13 of our 2015 annual report for more on the history of this case.

When can the state control your body and mind?
In 2014, a Maryland statute was amended to expand the authority of the state to forcibly medicate people who have been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility but are not a danger to themselves or others while in the facility. In her reply brief and during oral argument  in Allmond v. DHMH, Tassity challenged the constitutionality of these amendments, arguing that the state’s justification for forcibly medicating people without showing that they are a danger in the institution is not sufficient to overcome their rights to refuse medication or to control their own speech and thoughts.

Encouraging private attorneys to take wage theft cases
When Kathy Radtke and Carmen Cunningham weren’t paid overtime for their work as medical records coders, they sued their employer and won. But then the court reduced their requested attorney’s fee award by 75%, even though it found that their counsel’s hourly rates and time spent in litigation were appropriate and reasonable. The court reduced the fee award because Radtke and Cunningham’s recovery of wages was modest compared to their requested damages and fee award, and speculated that they could have settled their case earlier had they provided their damages calculations earlier. In an amicus brief principally authored by Richard T. Seymour of Law Office of Richard T. Seymour, P.L.L.C.,  the Public Justice Center and other advocates argued that awarding reasonable attorneys’ fees in wage-theft cases like this one is necessary to encourage private attorneys to defend the rights of workers and others entitled to relatively small damages. The Public Justice Center, Metropolitan Washington Employment Lawyers Association, Maryland Employment Lawyers Association,  Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and D.C. Employment Justice Center signed onto the brief in Radtke et al v. Lifecare Management Partners et al.

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