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In a case whose plaintiffs contend that their home is haunted by paranormal events, Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals has reinstated a fraud and negligence lawsuit against the estate of a subdivision developer who, the plaintiffs allege, sold a residential lot without notifying the purchasers that he had bulldozed over a graveyard. The court recently reversed a lower court’s decision that the action was barred by the state’s statute of repose banning litigation 20 years after improvements on a plot of land, saying that knocking down tombstones was not an improvement. GHOSTS AND ODD SMELLS The plaintiffs, Thomas and Deborah Carven, contend that the presence of the graveyard has made their home nearly unmarketable, thus significantly diminishing the value of their property, said their attorney, Lawrence P. Pinno Jr. of Bel Air, Md. The Carvens also contend that since building the home next to the graveyard, the family has been subject to a series of paranormal experiences. “Our youngest son, Timothy, saw an old man sitting in the corner of his room,” Mr. Carven said. “We smell pipe smoke throughout the house. We also smell different flowers and perfumes.” Also, while the family watched TV, he said, “the TV would turn itself off and on. We had the TV checked, but there was nothing wrong with it.” The land is part of a 200-acre farm in Bishopville, Md., outside of Ocean City. In the 1960s, the owner, Louis Hickman, began developing the farm into residential subdivisions, said plaintiffs’ appellate attorney Harold D. Norton of Bel Air’s Brown, Brown & Brown. On one lot, he said, “there was a family graveyard on the farm with a number of tombstones.” Maryland law requires that graveyards be removed and remains reinterred. But in 1964, Norton alleged, “rather than disinterring and reinterring the graves somewhere else, Hickman took a bulldozer and knocked the tombstones down” and buried them. Deborah Carven’s parents subsequently bought the lot, then transferred it in 1986 to the Carvens, who then built a home next to where the cemetery had been, he said. In 1995, Ms. Carven decided to investigate rumors of a cemetery and began digging in an area where she had attempted to plant trees, Mr. Carven said. After digging about a foot under the surface, Norton said, “she discovered bones and … a casket handle.” The Carvens sued Hickman’s estate and his widow, charging breach of the covenant of special warranty, deceit and negligence. The first complaint was dismissed because the Carvens never had a relationship with Mr. Hickman. Then, on Sept. 27, 1999, Maryland Circuit Court Judge Thomas C. Groton III granted summary judgment for the defendant on the remaining counts, on the ground that they were barred by the statute of repose. Carven v. Hickman, No. 97 CV 1502 (Cir. Ct., Worcester Co., Md.). The statute barred any claims, no matter when the bones were discovered or if the defendant attempted to conceal them, said defense attorney James W. Almand of Ocean City. The appellate court reversed, finding that the Maryland Legislature, in creating the statute of repose “did not intend … to encompass a developer’s desecration of a graveyard and his subsequent concealment of its existence to facilitate its sale as part of a residential lot.” The defendants offered to buy the plot from the Carvens for $138,000, Almand said. Mr. Carven said that the family also hired an appraiser, who valued the home at more than $200,000. The defense disputes the plaintiffs’ contention that there are graves. Pinno countered that evidence that the plot contained a graveyard is incontrovertible. “We have old aerial photographs showing it,” he said. The defense also disputes the Carvens’ claims of paranormal experiences. The appellate court remanded the case to the circuit court for trial.

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