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Johnson v. Franklin

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

May 29, 2015

TRASHAWN JOHNSON
v.
ROBERTA FRANKLIN

Zarnoch, Wright, Hotten, JJ.

OPINION

Wright, J.

On March 4, 2014, appellant, Trashawn Johnson, filed a complaint in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City to perpetuate evidence and request for a hearing seeking an order allowing him to conduct environmental testing on 3811 Reisterstown Road, Baltimore ("Property"), which is currently owned by appellee, Roberta Franklin.[1] Johnson sought testing of Franklin's home for evidence of lead paint as a part of his separate lead-paint poisoning action against a prior owner, Riggs Properties. After Franklin failed to respond to Johnson's discovery requests, Johnson filed a motion for summary judgment on June 13, 2014. At a motion hearing on July 25, 2014, the circuit court denied summary judgment and denied Johnson's complaint. Johnson appealed on August 18, 2014, and asks:[2]

Did the trial court abuse its discretion by denying Johnson's complaint for a bill of discovery for lead-based paint testing to support a separate lead-paint poisoning suit?

We answer "yes, " vacate the judgment of the circuit court, and remand the case for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

Facts

Johnson filed this suit as a companion action to a pending lead-paint poisoning case filed in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. See Johnson v. Riggs Properties, 24-C-11-007769 (Cir. Ct. Balt. City). In that case, Johnson alleged that "he suffered severe and permanent injuries from exposure and ingestion of lead-based paint and lead-based paint dust at properties including [the Property]." Johnson "anticipate[d] that the presence or absence of lead-based paint in [the Property] will be extremely relevant to his claims" in his case.

On February 19, 2014, Johnson, by letter, contacted Franklin, who is not a party to the companion suit and is the current owner of the Property, to request her permission to conduct "non-invasive environmental testing" of the Property to determine the presence and extent of lead-based paint in the Property. After Franklin failed to respond, Johnson filed a complaint to perpetuate evidence and request for a hearing pursuant to Md. Rule 2-404, on March 6, 2014, in the circuit court. In his complaint, Johnson alleged that "[a]n equitable bill of discovery is the only way for [Johnson] to obtain the information he requires. [Johnson]'s requested relief is specific and adapted to securing the relief sought conveniently, effectively and completely." (Emphasis in original).

Franklin filed an answer pro se on April 11, 2014, requesting that the circuit court deny Johnson's request. Franklin denied that Johnson needed a "right of access to the [Property] in this case because the required testing ha[d] already been completed, " and that "[Johnson] ha[d] an adequate alternative remedy for obtaining the evidence [he] claim[ed] [he] need[ed]" because Franklin had already provided Johnson with copies of the results of the prior testing.

After Franklin filed her answer, Johnson propounded requests for production of documents, interrogatories, and requests for admission of facts on Franklin on April 23, 2014. Franklin failed to respond to any of Johnson's discovery requests, and Johnson moved for summary judgment pursuant to Md. Rule 2-501(a) on June 13, 2014.

On July 25, 2014, the circuit court held a hearing on Johnson's motion for summary judgment. Johnson argued that "all [he] want[ed] is access . . . to the actual paint to test the paint." Johnson cited "one sample in the livingroom [sic] windowsill that did contain a little bit of lead which leads [him] to believe that there may be lead-based paint in the [Property]." Johnson offered to complete the testing "at any time convenient to Ms. Franklin." In response, Franklin cited the "fact that [she] had the test done and [she] gave them the paperwork showing that the State and the Federal government approved[, ]" as why she "didn't see it necessary for them to come in my home." She stated that had she "not had the test done [she] wouldn't have a problem." Johnson added that she "rehabbed the house . . . . New sheet rock is up. There is no old paint in the house."

The circuit court framed "the issue the Court has to weigh" as "obviously [Franklin's] personal privacy and inconvenience." The court asked Franklin to "tell the Court if you will, how you feel about having someone come into your house and do this test, even though they are saying that it is going to be short and quick." Franklin said, "there's no reason, " because of the previous testing, and that she "just d[oes]n't want them" coming into the Property.

The circuit court ruled:
In this particular case the Court, one, makes a finding that this type of pleading is not appropriate for Summary Judgment because it would not be a judgment, just sort of a grant or deny of the petition or request. And so in that sense, there would be no judgment in either way, the Court will either grant or deny the request. The Court will also make a finding in this particular case based on what I've heard from Ms. Franklin and what I saw in her response. And also with the pleadings and the case law as well in this particular case, I don't believe that [Johnson], in this case, [Johnson] has shown that [Franklin]'s privacy rights have been outweighed by [Johnson]'s needs to do this additional testing. And so, the motion is denied and the request is denied.
The circuit court's order of July 25, 2014, stated:
FOUND that [Johnson] failed to establish that his right to access the premises outweighs the privacy rights of [Franklin]; and it is further
ORDERED that for the reasons stated on the record, [Johnson]'s Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket Entry # 7) ...

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