Just one week before the Prince George’s County Circuit Court is scheduled to take up David Schuman’s secondhand smoke case against Greenbelt Homes, Inc. (GHI), a crowd packed tightly into a small room at the Greenbelt Community Center on Wednesday to hear Schuman out.
Schuman is suing the membership's cooperative over his neighbor's secondhand smoke, which Schuman asserts is a nuisance and is posing a danger to his health. He believes GHI violated his Mutual Ownership Contract by its failure to prohibit the nuisance, and as a result is seeking a total of $600,000 in damages.
In an emotional appeal, Schuman told the audience he had tried “very, very hard to avoid having to litigate.”
The issue sparked a heated debate among audience members that showed Greenbelt as a house strongly divided, with members, including Schuman and his neighbor, Dorry Ipolito, weighing in on one side, and others, like Johanna and Tom Jones, taking a markedly different stance.
Seated toward the back of the room, Johanna Jones questioned the route Schuman had taken, pointing out that in GHI, the membership is at the head of the organizational chart, not the GHI Board.
Shuman explained he decided to sue only after multiple unsuccessful attempts to come to a resolution with GHI and his neighbors, the Popovics.
“You haven’t worked with the cooperative, which is the membership,” Jones said and wanted to know why he didn't try to generate a petition among members to change the cooperative's smoking policy.
Schuman explained he was a libertarian and understood people’s desire to smoke.
“I’m not trying to make the co-op smoke free,” he said. “I don’t think we need any additional rules.”
Jones was not satisfied and wanted to know why Schuman essentially gagged GHI from talking about his concerns by tying them up in litigation and opted for an executive session appeal, which left the members out of the process.
“Because you chose this very secretive path, the community has no opportunity to discuss this,” she said.
Thus point and counterpoint rocketed back and forth across the room, with no clear consensus.
Stating that one of his neighbors, Svetlana Popovic, no longer smokes and the other, Darko Popovic, has agreed to smoke exclusively outside, Tom Jones told Schuman, “That strikes me as a rather, on its own, a pretty remarkable measure of progress.”
Jones said he felt dismayed that Schuman would prefer to litigate over taking the effort, on his part, to close his window.
Schuman spoke up for himself, mentioning his neighbor, Ipolito was having problems with Darko Popovic’s smoking as well. In order to bolster his points about secondhand smoke, he brought with him a physicist and secondhand smoke consultant, James Repace, who outlined the dangers of being exposed to that kind of smoke.
“To say whenever the smoker is out, we have to close our windows or Dorry has to go sleep in another bedroom or use an asthma inhaler to respond to this, we think is unreasonable," Schuman said.
Ipolito, who is not part of the lawsuit, was at the meeting and showed support for Schuman.
“Why do I have to change my life, so the smoker can keep smoking? Answer me that," she said.
Johanna Jones responded, saying that as co-op members, everyone had to learn how to share space.
“Do I have to share his cancer?” Ipolito demanded.
After the meeting, Schuman spoke with Patch, elaborating on his decision not to petition the membership. He wanted an immediate solution, he explained, saying he could have spent a year trying to educate and get a petition going among the membership.
“It’s very lonely fighting for an absolutely correct position,” Schuman said.
Editor's Note: The writer of this story is a member of the Greenbelt Homes, Inc. co-op.