Impact Cases

Impact Cases

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Impact cases are those that have significant implications or consequences for the legal system, society, or specific individuals. These cases often set precedents or establish legal principles that influence future decisions, thereby helping a broader set of people and communities. Impact cases are important as they bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application, showcasing the tangible benefits of legal decisions in the real world and how they affect Marylanders. Maryland Legal Aid has a long tradition of impact work, including in the Supreme Courts of Maryland and the United States. Here are some of our recently filed impact cases:

Maryland Legal Aid (MLA) filed a lawsuit in Baltimore City Circuit Court on behalf of senior citizens, many of whom are disabled and one who is a veteran, who lives in unlicensed properties with numerous housing code violations owned and/or managed by the Defendants, Reginald, and Marguerite Daniels Housing for the Elderly, Bellevue-Manchester Limited Partnership, and The Towner Management Company, Inc.

The complaint alleges that the Defendants, who own and manage subsidized rental properties in Baltimore City, do not have valid rental licenses for their rental properties as required by local law and that they have been illegally collecting rent.

Further, the rental properties have numerous safety and housing code violations including rodent infestation, water damage, dry rotted bathrooms, mold, defective appliances, peeling paint, and dangerous fire hazards. The Defendants knew and have known about these unsafe and unhealthy conditions, but they have not taken action to fix the problems. This has left vulnerable, low-income senior residents to endure sleepless nights and ongoing worries. The complaint also alleges the Defendants violated the Maryland Consumer Protection Act as well as the Maryland Fair Debt Collection Act by seeking and collecting rent on their unlicensed properties to which they were not entitled by law.

As a result of the Defendants’ conduct, the senior citizens, many of whom are disabled, who live in Defendants’ properties, have suffered depression, anxiety, panic attacks, loss of appetite, medical expenses, fear of being in the home, and hypertension. The awful living conditions these residents, the plaintiffs in this case, have had to deal with on a daily basis have exacerbated the residents’ health issues including one plaintiff who has cancer and has experienced heightened stress, depression, anxiety, and other emotional and mental distress.

Attorney for Maryland Legal Aid’s Baltimore City Office Kyle Coleman says, “Our clients look forward to holding these landlords accountable for ignoring the local rental license law and for not providing the decent and safe housing every Baltimore resident is entitled to.”

All Defendants are aware that – due to the income limitations under which all of the low-income residents live, they have few if any options. The low-income residents are highly unlikely to secure alternative safe, decent, and licensed housing in the private rental market. Consequently, all of the Plaintiffs have been and continue to be held captive to the Defendants’ dangerous and illegal practices and forced to live in substandard housing.

Read the Complaint here.

On Monday, August 21, 2023, Maryland Legal Aid (“MLA”) joined the Texas Advocacy Project (“TAP”) and a coalition of dedicated non-profit organizations* across the nation in proudly filing an amicus brief in US v. Rahimi to ensure the safety and protection of domestic violence survivors through appropriate firearm regulations.

Their brief, submitted to the Supreme Court of the United States, comes in response to the Fifth Circuit’s recent ruling that has potential life-threatening implications for survivors of domestic violence, their families, and the broader community.

The amici curiae, or “friends of the court,” coalition comprises esteemed organizations like TAP that have made it their mission to provide vital civil legal services and advocacy to survivors of domestic violence.

Collectively, these organizations work tirelessly to increase access to justice, especially for underrepresented and underserved communities. Through direct representation of survivors and support for those representing them, the amicus seeks to create a world where every survivor can live free from abuse.

The amicus brief addresses the Fifth Circuit’s ruling, which misapplied the precedent set by the Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n, Inc. v. Bruen. Contrary to the Fifth Circuit’s ruling, Section 922(g)(8) does not impose a broad prohibition on firearm possession or carry; rather, it focuses on preventing individuals who have committed or threatened family violence from accessing firearms during the period they are under a protective order.

The brief also underscores the evolution of domestic violence over the centuries, emphasizing how the nature of these cases has transformed from 1791 to the present day.

The amicus asserts that the Fifth Circuit’s misconceptions about domestic violence protective orders (“DVPOs”) led to an invalidation of Section 922(g)(8) based on outdated anecdotes and hypothetical concerns. As a direct consequence of this ruling, the safety of domestic partners, children, first responders, bystanders, and the public is jeopardized, placing them at risk of serious or even fatal harm.

The amici curiae firmly believe that safeguarding survivors from firearm access during the duration of protective orders is paramount to their safety and the broader well-being of communities.

MLA Director of Advocacy for Family Law Amee Vora shared, “Maryland Legal Aid is proud to stand with our fellow legal services organizations across the county in imploring the Supreme Court to reverse the Fifth Circuit’s dangerous decision to prioritize guns over the lives of domestic violence survivors. Having represented countless low-income clients – who are disproportionately at risk for both domestic violence and gun violence – in civil protection order cases, we know firsthand the vital role that mandatory firearm removal laws play in preventing further violence in our clients’ homes and communities. We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will hear the many voices of those with lived, personal, and professional experience with these issues.”

TAP CEO Heather Bellino says, “We live in Texas, where now, since the Rahimi decision, survivors in our state do not have the same protections as those in other states. While it is vitally important that everyone understands why someone with a protective order against them shouldn’t possess a firearm, this brief is also about the law. We are hopeful the Court will agree that Rahimi was a misapplication of the Court’s guidance in Bruen. It is important for the Court to hear from practitioners on the ground, from all states, who are engaging in this work. We are grateful to all of our partner agencies who stand shoulder to shoulder with us in serving survivors.”

By joining forces to submit this critical amicus brief, these organizations aim to correct the misinterpretation of the law and advocate for the continued protection of domestic violence survivors.

For a copy of the amicus brief, please click here.

*The Coalition is comprised of the following dedicated nonprofits across the country: Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc., Bay Area Legal Aid, Central California Legal Services, Community Legal Aid SoCal, Eastside Legal Assistance Program, Georgia Legal Services Program, Greater Hartford Legal Aid, Indiana Health Advocacy Coalition, Indiana Legal Services, Inc., Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, Legal Aid of Arkansas, Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, Legal Aid Society of San Diego, Legal Services of Northern Virginia, Los Angeles Center of Law and Justice, Maryland Legal Aid, New Haven Legal Assistance Association, OneJustice, SAFE Alliance, Southwest Louisiana Legal Services Corporation, Southern Arizona Legal Aid, Inc., Texas Advocacy Project, Texas Legal Services Center, University of Texas School of Law Domestic Violence Clinic, Virginia Poverty Law Center.

Maryland Legal Aid (MLA) filed a lawsuit in Somerset County Circuit Court against Eric Sessoms and Mt. Vernon Group, LLC, who owns roughly 40 rental properties in Somerset, Worcester, and Wicomico Counties. The case stems from Mr. Sessoms and Mt. Vernon Group’s renting out properties in Princess Anne and Crisfield without a rental license. The two properties each have dozens of safety and code violations. One family lives in an insect-infested home, plagued by bedbugs and roaches, while the other family lives in fear of an electrical fire, due to the severe and dangerous electrical problems in the home. The conditions in both homes fail to meet housing code standards and Mr. Sessoms has failed to address these fundamental issues as required by law.

Mt. Vernon Group and Mr. Sessoms advertised a $2,500 security deposit for each property, but then later increased the security deposit to more than two times the monthly rent – which is illegal. The Defendants violated the Maryland Consumer Protection Act and the Maryland Fair Debt Collection Act by seeking rent on their unlicensed properties. Lastly, Mr. Sessoms and Mt Vernon Group retaliated against both tenants by trying to evict them after they complained about the dangerous conditions which they have a right to do. The Defendants’ retaliation is illegal.

Due to Mt. Vernon Group, LLC and Eric Sessoms’ conduct, the Truitt and Vance families have suffered extreme emotional distress, enduring sleepless nights worried about unsafe and unhealthy conditions in their own homes.

Supervising Attorney for Maryland Legal Aid’s Lower Eastern Shore Office Jamie Miliman said, “MLA warns tenants in Somerset County to be wary of these illegal and predatory tactics by landlords, particularly those families who are struggling to find affordable housing. It is important to do your research to make sure the property you are renting is licensed and does not have serious health and safety violations. If you are living in a rental property that you believe is unsafe or unhealthy, please reach out to Maryland Legal Aid or other legal resources to find out about your rights and get help.”

Complaint and Exhibits

News Coverage

Maryland Legal Aid (MLA) filed a second lawsuit against Eric Sessoms and Mt Vernon Group, LLC, alleging that they operated another bug-infested, unlivable rental property without a license and also collected rent and evicted a tenant in that unlicensed property, which is illegal under Maryland law. The lawsuit also alleges that the Defendants collected an unlawfully large security deposit.

Because of Defendants’ actions, MLA’s client Bobbie Molina, and her children were forced into homelessness and lived out of her car for several months. Additionally, and as a result of the Defendants’ actions, Ms. Molina has experienced anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and headaches, among other symptoms of emotional distress with physical manifestations. MLA’s complaint asserts that Mr. Sessoms and Mt Vernon Group, LLC violated the Maryland Consumer Protection Act and the Maryland Fair Debt Collection Act and failed to disclose to Ms. Molina that the Mt Vernon Group, LLC did not have a license to rent the property.

Ms. Molina’s story is tragically similar to those of two other women who have also turned to MLA for help fighting Mt Vernon Group, LLC and Mr. Sessoms. In fact, Mt Vernon Group, LLC owns roughly 40 rental properties in Somerset, Worcester, and Wicomico Counties. Mt Vernon Group LLC and Sessoms are knowingly operating unlicensed, unlivable properties to this day.

Supervising Attorney for Maryland Legal Aid’s Lower Eastern Shore Office Jamie Miliman, a leader of MLA’s statewide housing work who is spearheading this series of cases, said, “MLA warns tenants in Somerset County and across Maryland to be wary of illegal and predatory tactics by landlords, particularly those families who are struggling to find affordable housing. Though the landlords have an obligation to ensure their properties are up to code prior to renting them out, it is important to do your own research to make sure the property you are renting is licensed and has been inspected to ensure it is safe and complies with all relevant housing codes. However, no matter what a renter knows, it is never okay for landlords to operate these kinds of decrepit houses, particularly without a license. And that’s why we are suing.”

Read the Complaint here.

Read the Exhibits here.

Maryland Legal Aid (MLA) filed a lawsuit against Aziz Properties, LLC and Malik Najeeb, alleging that the unlicensed landlord failed to deliver possession of a rental property as agreed, engaged in multiple acts of retaliation against Mr. Knight and Mrs. Rolle, and violated Maryland consumer protection laws. The lawsuit alleges that the consumer protection violations stem from the Defendants misleading Mr. Knight and Ms. Rolle regarding when the property would be ready for occupancy, failing to disclose dangerous and hazardous conditions in the property, failing to disclose that they did not have a license to rent the property, and seeking to collect rent that had already been paid.

To add to the already awful situation, when the tenants moved into the property over two weeks late, Mr. Knight and Ms. Rolle found property defects. They contacted the City’s Code Administrative Division, who inspected the property and found numerous housing code violations, including that the gas water heater in the home was installed incorrectly and vented inside the home. When the most serious violations were not remedied, the property was condemned, and the tenants were displaced a second time. Because of Defendants’ actions, MLA’s clients Mr. Knight, Ms. Rolle, and their two minor children were forced into homelessness twice and suffered severe anxiety and emotional distress.

Staff Attorney for Maryland Legal Aid’s Midwestern Office Jennifer E.S. Weil said, “Aziz Properties, LLC and Malik Najeeb violated a host of landlord-tenant and consumer protection laws in this case, and we have discovered that they own multiple other properties in Hagerstown, Maryland which have been condemned, leading to the displacement of other tenants.”

This is MLA’s third case against unlicensed landlords who retaliate against vulnerable people and violate Maryland’s consumer protection laws. MLA seeks to hold landlords accountable for complying with the law and to eradicate this widespread problem that too often leaves tenants living in substandard and horrific conditions.

Read the complaint here.

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