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PJC Files Amicus Brief Urging Court of Appeals to Uphold Lead Poisoning Standards

On Friday, August 20, PJC filed an amicus curiae brief in the Maryland Court of Appeals in a lead paint poisoning case, Polakoff v. Turner, No. 20, Sept. Term, 2004, Md. Court of Appeals. The brief was filed on behalf of the PJC, the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, and Advocates for Children and Youth. We are supporting the position of Jasmine Turner, a Baltimore City child who was poisoned as a result of ingesting lead paint in the early 1990's in an apartment owned by Lawrence Polakoff, one of the City's largest and most visible landlords. The primary issues addressed by the PJC brief are whether the 2003 decision of the Court of Appeals in Brooks v. Lewin Realty should either be overruled or be deemed to apply only to future cases. In Brooks, the Court of Appeals held that the Baltimore City Housing Code requires landlords to maintain their properties free of loose, peeling, and flaking paint, that this requirement is ongoing and does not depend on the landlord having notice of the specific Code violation, and that evidence that a landlord failed to adhere to the Housing Code's standard regarding loose, peeling, and flaking paint is sufficient to establish a prima facie case of negligence in a lead paint poisoning case. Because the Brooks decision provides substantial inducement for Baltimore City landlords to maintain their properties free of loose, peeling, or flaking paint, the decision is an important one for Baltimore City children. More than 10% of City children have elevated blood lead levels, resulting in lifelong cognitive impairments for thousands of City residents. Since the Brooks decision issued last fall, landlord organizations have worked intensively to undo it, both through litigation and lobbying activities. With no analysis or empirical support of any kind, the landlords claim that, as a result of Brooks, there will be "no incentive for anyone to invest in housing for use in the rental market" in Baltimore City, causing a "collapse" in the rental housing market and "an economic crisis for Baltimore City." The brief submitted by PJC argues (1) that the Brooks decision is doctrinally sound, (2) that the landlord's predictions of a "collapse" in the rental housing market are unworthy of serious consideration, (3) that there has been no housing market collapse in states like New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, in which standards at least as rigorous as Brooks, and in some cases more rigorous, prevail, and (4) that, like virtually all judicial decisions, the decision in Brooks applies retroactively. Murnaghan Appellate Advocacy Fellow Josh Auerbach was the primary author, with significant assistance from housing attorney Francine Hahn.

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