Silver Spring ‘Haunted Garden’ owner pushes back against Montgomery in court

October 10, 2013

Montgomery officials didn’t play by the rules when they obtained a court order barring “Haunted Garden” owner Donna Kerr from holding an annual Halloween event at her Silver Spring home, her attorneys argued in pleadings filed Wednesday.

They asked Montgomery District Judge Patricia Mitchell to dissolve a temporary restraining order, which she issued late Friday afternoon without a formal hearing. It directed Kerr to cancel the gathering, which was scheduled for five nights over the final two weeks of the month.

Attorneys Anthony Shore and Mary Rhodes said the county violated Maryland rules of civil procedure by failing to give sufficient notice to Kerr that it intended to seek a temporary injunction. They said Kerr received less than two hours notice that the county would be filing a petition with the court, but did not mention that it would be a request for a temporary restraining order.

The attorneys said Montgomery also failed to show that the Haunted Garden would cause “irreparable harm” to the Seven Oaks neighborhood before a full hearing with both sides on hand could be held.

A hearing on a permanent injunction is set for Oct. 15 — four days before the first Haunted Garden celebration. Shore and Rhodes said the timing is such that even if the county loses its bid for a permanent injunction, “it will still have obtained its desired relief because Ms. Kerr and her neighbors will not be able to enjoy Ms. Kerr’s Haunted Garden this holiday season.”

The attorneys asked Mitchell to schedule an immediate hearing on dissolving the temporary order.

Diane Jones, director of the county’s Department of Permitting Services, which brought the court action against Kerr, said the assertion that Kerr did not receive proper notice was “absolutely not the case.” Jones said Kerr was notified by phone at 9:30 a.m., on Oct. 4 about five hours before the county’s petition for the temporary restraining order was filed.

Jones said Kerr has every right to decorate her house and invite the neighbors. But she contends that the Haunted Garden is not a Halloween celebration but actually a promotion for Kerr’s real estate business, Pure Energy, violating zoning laws for the Seven Oaks neighborhood. Officials said traffic from the estimated 500 visitors each night would create parking problems in the community’s narrow residential streets.

“She can decorate her home however she likes,” said Jones. “What she cannot do is promote it to thousands of people on her client list. It becomes a nuisance to her neighbors.”

Kerr’s broad promotion of the event, in the form of flyers and social media, constituted the “irreparable harm” that needed to be addressed, Jones said.

Kerr and her attorneys argue that because she does not charge admission it is not a commercial activity.

“While Ms. Kerr invites many of the acquaintances and associates she meets as the owner of Pure Energy to this event, the Haunted Garden is not run by Pure Energy nor is Pure Energy’s money used to decorate the garden,” the attorneys said.

In a response to Kerr’s petition, filed Thursday afternoon, county officials said there was no need for an emergency hearing to dissolve the temporary restraining order because Kerr hasn’t done much to comply with it.

“Defendants have only minimally complied with the terms of the Temporary Restraining Order thus far,” the county filing said. While a cancellation notice was placed on the Haunted Garden website and references to the event were removed from the Pure Energy site, “the county has received no indication that defendants have sent a mailer to the mailing lists used to send out the flyers.”

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.
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