Better Left Unsent: Real Estate “Love Letters” and Fair Housing Violations

*Alina Pargamanik

I. Introduction

A highly competitive real estate market with low inventory and intense bidding wars means that buyers are willing to do anything in their attempts to persuade sellers to sell, including resorting to “love letters.”[1] Love letters are letters that buyers write to sellers describing the reasons why the seller should pick them.[2] The letters often include emotional narratives revealing the buyer’s familial status, religion, and other personal characteristics in hopes that the seller will be moved enough to sell the house to the buyer.[3] Despite their seemingly harmless nature, the letters revealing protected characteristics could prompt serious violations of the Fair Housing Act (the “FHA”).[4]

II. Fair Housing Act

The FHA makes it unlawful to “discriminate against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection therewith, because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.”[5] A seller choosing a buyer for their property based on a love letter revealing protected characteristics of the buyer could violate the FHA because, under the statute, the seller is discriminating based on protected characteristics.[6]

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Go Back to Bed, America, Your Government is Watching Over You: What is a “Reasonable Expectation of Privacy” if Modern Surveillance Tools are in “General Public Use”?

*Bradley Rosen

I. Privacy Protections Under the Fourth Amendment        

The Fourth Amendment of the Federal Constitution protects the people’s right “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”[1] The Supreme Court of the United States recognizes that “[t]he ‘basic purpose of [the Fourth] Amendment’ . . . ‘is to safeguard the privacy and security of individuals against arbitrary invasions by government officials.’”[2] Historically, courts analyzed whether a search was reasonable by determining whether the police obtained the information “‘by physically intruding on a constitutionally protected area.’”[3]

However, whether a search involves a physical trespass is “‘not the sole measure of Fourth Amendment violations.’”[4] In Katz v. United States, the Court went beyond its traditional property-based Fourth Amendment jurisprudence to establish that “the Fourth Amendment protects people, not places.”[5] That decision linked “certain expectations of privacy” to protection from unreasonable searches.[6] As a result of Katz, the Court now holds that police officers violate a person’s Fourth Amendment rights not only through warrantless invasions of traditional property rights, but through intrusions upon that person’s “‘reasonable expectation of privacy’” as well.[7] To determine if someone has a reasonable expectation of privacy, the Court looks to whether that person sought “‘to preserve something as private,’” and if that person’s “expectation of privacy is ‘one that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable[.]’”[8]

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Personal Jurisdiction in Light of Ford Motor Co.: Revolution or Evolution?

*Joseph Canner

I. Personal Jurisdiction: A Brief Review

As every first-year civil procedure student knows, defendants can only be sued in states where the courts have jurisdiction over that defendant.[1] This concept is known as personal jurisdiction. In most garden-variety product liability or breach of contract cases there are two requirements for a court to have personal jurisdiction over a defendant: (1) the defendant has at least minimum contacts with the forum state,[2] and (2) that the cause of action arises out of or relates to those minimum contacts (the nexus requirement).[3]

Typically, a plaintiff satisfies the minimum contacts requirement when a company sells a product in a state and is sued in that state.[4] However, if a company sells a product in one state and the product somehow ends up in another state and causes an injury there, it is less clear whether there is personal jurisdiction over the defendant in the state where the injury occurred. For example, in J. McIntyre Machinery, Ltd. v. Nicastro,the defendant’s product ended up in the forum state via a third-party distributor rather than as the result of direct contacts with the forum state by the defendant.[5] In a 6-3 decision, the United States Supreme Court held that the forum state lacked jurisdiction;[6] however, the Court disagreed on what kinds of contacts would be necessary to permit jurisdiction.[7]

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Tolling the Statute of Limitations During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Did Former Chief Judge Barbera Overstep Her Authority or Soundly Act to Preserve the Courts’ Function?

*Sara Braniecki

I. Introduction

With COVID-19 uncertainty and safety concerns looming overhead, all Maryland courts closed their doors on March 17, 2020, and were limited to emergency operations.[1] On April 3, 2020, former Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera signed an emergency administrative order: the “Administrative Order on Tolling or Suspension of Statutes of Limitations and Statutory and Rules Deadlines Related to the Initiation of Matters and Certain Statutory and Rules Deadlines in Pending Matters” (the “Order”).[2] The Order went into effect that day, suspending the statute of limitations for matters filed in Maryland state courts during the courts’ COVID-19 related closures.[3]

When Chief Judge Barbera signed the Order, it did not explicitly state how long the statute of limitations would toll. Instead, Chief Judge Barbera crafted the Order to allow the suspension to last for however long the courts were closed to the public.[4] This seemed reasonable, given the novelty of the COVID-19 pandemic, as no one knew exactly what to expect for the upcoming days, months, or even years.

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Gross Income and Land Reparations: The Tax Implications for Bruce’s Beach

*Rebecca Odelius

I. Introduction

While the rest of America debated if and how reparations should be given for the injustices of slavery and segregation,[1] the state of California took legislative action to atone for the mistreatment of one Black couple whose land the state wrongfully took through eminent domain[2] in 1924.[3] In an unprecedented move, California’s legislators returned a large piece of land, known as “Bruce’s Beach,”[4] located in the prestigious Manhattan Beach, California, to the descendants of its rightful owners.[5] Because there is no statute in the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) specifically addressing land reparations,[6] the tax implications for Bruce’s Beach remain unclear.

II. The Story of Bruce’s Beach

In 1912, Willa and Charles Bruce purchased a California beachfront property and converted the land into “the first west coast resort for Black people.”[7] Despite forceful attempts by local Klan members to run the Bruces off Bruce’s Beach,[8] the resort remained popular and successful with other Black residents and visitors.[9] However, in 1924, “the Manhattan Beach Board of Trustees voted to condemn Bruce’s Beach and the surrounding land through the power of eminent domain under the ostensible purpose of building a park.”[10] The Board of Trustees tore down the resort and “enacted ordinances precluding the opening of any new beach resort in order to prevent the Bruces from relocating their business elsewhere in the city.”[11] Bruce’s Beach sat dormant until 1948, when the City Council transferred it to the state.[12] The state eventually transferred Bruce’s Beach to the county in 1995, but the transfer included strict limitations on further transfers and land use.[13]

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