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Tuesday, March 1, 2022

JD Howlette Law Sues Prince George's County for Violating Local Business Owner's Constitutional Rights

On March 1, 2022, local businessman Randy Richardson filed a civil rights complaint in federal court against Prince George’s County and two County officials seeking $3 million for alleged violations of his constitutional rights. According to the complaint, Richardson leased 27,768 square feet of commercial space at the Shops at Iverson in Temple Hills, MD in January 2020. Richardson planned to open Town Hall Live—an entertainment business—at the location, and he expended significant amounts of time and resources preparing to do so. However, the complaint alleges that PGC’s Department of Permitting, Inspection and Enforcement (DPIE) intentionally misguided Richardson and took ill-motivated enforcement actions against him in a calculated effort to prevent him from opening Town Hall Live. In so doing, DPIE deprived Richardson of his rights to equal protection and due process under the law, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 24 of the Declaration of Rights to the Maryland Constitution.


The complaint charges DPIE with engaging in “a consistent, widespread pattern of discriminatory permit, inspection, and enforcement practices that has impermissibly treated certain businesses operating or seeking to operate at the [Shops at Iverson] differently than other similarly situated businesses operating at the same location.” Richardson specifically alleges that DPIE arbitrarily prevented him from obtaining a Use & Occupancy (U&O) permit for Town Hall Live while granting the same permits to other businesses operating at the same location. What’s the difference between Richardson and these other businesses? It all centers on political power and influence, according to the complaint. Richardson alleges that DPIE cherry-picks who gets to do what at the Shops at Iverson based on their level of political power and influence, not based on an equal application of the law.


“This is shameful and should have never happened,” said Richardson. “As a hardworking entrepreneur, I simply expected to be treated the same under the law by County officials regardless of my political connections. The lawsuit is the last resort. I did everything in my power to resolve this matter, but it fell on deaf ears. Now the courts will decide.”


DPIE officials allegedly told Richardson on several occasions that the agency would not grant him a U&O permit for Town Hall Live until the permit deficiencies with the Shops at Iverson were resolved. According to the complaint, the County allowed the Shops at Iverson to operate for years without the proper county permits and deliberately chose not to notify the public about the deficiencies. Richardson claims that despite DPIE’s alleged concerns with the Shops at Iverson’s permits, the agency allowed other businesses to open and operate at the mall while maintaining its position that Richardson would not be allowed to do the same with Town Hall Live. When Richardson asked DPIE officials to explain the disparity in their statements and actions, the officials simply dismissed Richardson by claiming “the information was above [their] paygrades.”


“DPIE allowed the owners of the Shops at Iverson to operate at the location with impunity for more years without the proper county permits, yet chose to single-out my client with ill-motivated enforcement actions that prevented him from lawfully conducting business at the mall,” said Attorney Jordan D. Howlette, who represents Richardson in the lawsuit. “DPIE needs to answer for its arbitrary and discriminatory actions that have disparaged small business owners like Mr. Richardson while in the same token favoring those businesses that wield political power and influence within the County.”

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