Seizing Elderly Woman’s Home in Philadelphia

Margaret Davis, a 77-year-old homeowner with multiple serious medical conditions, including end-stage renal disease, was in the habit of leaving her North Philadelphia home unlocked so her neighbors, who routinely checked up on her, could come and go.  She used paratransit to travel to dialysis treatment three times a week.[1] 

In August 2001, police chased several alleged drug dealers through Davis’ front door.  The suspects escaped out the back.  Davis gave the officers permission to search her home and they found drugs, left in plain view, presumably by the fleeing suspects.[2]  The matter should have ended there, but in September 2001 the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office filed a motion to seize the home even though Davis was not a party to any drug dealing.[3]

Unable to afford an attorney, Davis was referred to the Civil Practice Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, which took on the case in February 2002.  In April, as the case was working its way through court, police chased another suspect into Davis’ house and caught him attempting to hide drugs.  Fortunately, Davis’ attorney was able to reach an agreement with the District Attorney’s office, which withdrew the petition in November of 2003.[4]

[1] E-mail exchange with Louis S. Rulli, Practice Professor of Law and Director of Clinical Programs, University of Pennsylvania Law School, August 18-20, 2009.

[2] Amended Petition for Forfeiture at 10, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. 1365 W. Colwyn Street No. 2903 (Pa. Ct. Common Pleas filed May 16, 2002).

[3] Civil Docket Report, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Davis, Case ID: 010902903.

[4] E-mail exchange with Louis S. Rulli; Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. 1365 W. Colwyn Street No. 2903 at 10.

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