Harford County v. Maryland Reclamation Associates: A $45 Million Lesson on the Running of Statutes of Limitation

By Alan B. Sternstein

Maryland Reclamation Associates (“MRA”) purchased 62 acres of land in Harford County, with the intention of constructing and operating a rubble landfill on the parcel. Harford County thereafter enacted a series of zoning ordinances and made administrative rulings singularly aimed at precluding the parcel’s use for that purpose. The administrative and judicial review proceedings the controversy engendered have lasted some 20 years, so far, and have included four appeals to the Court of Appeals. In MRA’s last administrative effort to save its plans from the dumps, the Harford County Board of Appeals (“Board of Appeals”) affirmed a lower level administrative ruling denying MRA’s request for variances from the ordinances that would have permitted the landfill. The Board of Appeals did so by a unanimous board vote on June 5, 2007. In the Court of Appeals’ fourth decision, on March 11, 2010, the court affirmed the Board’s denial. Maryland Reclamation Assocs. v. Harford C’ty, 414 Md. 1, 994 A.2d 842 (2010) (“MRA IV”).

On February 19, 2013, MRA filed an action in the Circuit Court for Harford County, alleging that the County’s actions constituted a regulatory taking, in violation of the Maryland Constitution and the Maryland Declaration of Rights. The Circuit Court declined to dismiss the action as time barred pursuant to Maryland’s three-year general statute of limitations for civil actions. Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-101. After a jury trial, the Circuit Court entered judgment for MRA in the amount of $45,420,076, in April 2018. The Court of Special Appeals, in Harford C’ty v. Maryland Reclamation Assocs., No. 788, September Term, 2018 (Md. App. decided Aug. 1, 2019) (“MRA V”), vacated MRA’s judgment and remanded the case for entry of judgment in the County’s favor. Read More…

September 2019 Maryland Certiorari Grants, Part 2

The Court of Appeals today granted certiorari in one additional case. Also, on September 17, it docketed a certified question from the District of Maryland. The cases, with questions presented, are below. Read More…

The Court of Appeals Continues Defining the Fourth Amendment Implications of the Odor of Marijuana in a Post-Decriminalization Maryland

By John R. Grimm

In 2014, the General Assembly decriminalized possession of small amounts of  marijuana; rather than being a crime, possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana is now a civil offense punishable by a fine.[1]  Courts have been grappling with the effects of this change ever since.  Most notably, since the possession of marijuana is no longer categorically a crime, courts have had to clarify the rules for whether the odor of marijuana still constitutes probable cause sufficient to justify a search or arrest.  Several recent Court of Appeals decisions define the contours of the Fourth Amendment with respect to the odor of marijuana in a post-decriminalization world, and a recent cert grant seems poised to confirm Fourth Amendment limits on marijuana-related arrests. Read More…

Court of Special Appeals Endorses Absolute Immunity for Administrative Adjudicators

By Peter Sheehan, Guest Contributor[i]

On June 26, 2019 the Court of Special Appeals published a scholarly 110-page opinion on an issue of first impression in Maryland: whether administrative adjudicators and prosecutors are entitled to absolute immunity.  Bd. of Physicians v. Geier, 241 Md. App. 429 (2019).  In Geier, the court held that members of the Maryland Board of Physicians were entitled to absolute quasi-judicial immunity for adjudicative and prosecutorial acts and, as a result, the Board itself was entitled to immunity.  (The case previously had been in the Court of Special Appeals in 2015 (Geier I) and the Court of Appeals in 2017 (Geier II), but the procedural context of those appeals did not present an opportunity for the courts to resolve the absolute immunity question.)  In the simplest of terms, the case arose out of a public cease and desist order issued by the Board in 2012.  The plaintiffs, a physician and his family, sued the Board and numerous Board personnel, alleging federal constitutional claims under Section 1983 and state common law claims under the Maryland Tort Claims Act.  After a series of perceived discovery failures, the trial court ordered default as to the liability of all defendants and then, following a bench trial on damages, awarded the plaintiffs $1.25 million in compensatory damages, $1.25 million in punitive damages, and $2.4 million in attorneys’ fees.  Id. at 449.  The trial court, which itself issued a 112-page memorandum opinion, was not persuaded by federal case law recognizing and applying absolute quasi-judicial immunity, and it considered Section 5-715(b) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, which grants the Board and its agents qualified immunity for actions taken without malice, to be at odds with the principle of absolute quasi-judicial immunity.  Id. at 467.  Ultimately, the trial court found that multiple defendants had acted with malice.  Id. Read More…

Ten apply for vacancy on Court of Appeals

Yesterday was the close date for applications for the Court of Appeals seat vacated by the retirement of Judge Clayton Greene, Jr. Applicants must be residents of the Fifth Appellate Judicial Circuit, which includes Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles & St. Mary’s Counties.

Ten lawyers and judges applied: Read More…

Maryland Court of Appeals Criminal Cases by the Numbers, 2018 Term

By Steve Klepper (Twitter: @MDAppeal)

For the most recent Court of Appeals term, which ran from September 1, 2018 through August 31, 2019, I began tracking the Court’s merits docket across a number of categories. The Court’s criminal docket offers an interesting data set, because the State of Maryland is a party to every case, and the Office of the Public Defender (OPD) represents about 60% of defendants.

Going by bottom-line judgments, the State prevailed approximately half the time, maybe more, depending on how you count them. Read More…

September 2019 Maryland Certiorari Grants

The Maryland Court of Appeals today granted review in four criminal appeals, including two cases regarding writs of actual innocence; and two civil appeals, including a constitutional challenge to Baltimore’s regulation requiring food trucks to operate more than 300 feet from brick-and-mortar restaurants.

The grant list, including the questions presented and links to the opinions below, appears after the jump. Read More…

August 2019 Maryland Certiorari Grants & Certified Questions

With the new term right around the corner, the Court of Appeals granted certiorari in nine cases, and the Court of Special Appeals certified questions of law in another one:

Darlene Barclay v. Sadie M. Castruccio – Case No. 30, September Term, 2019

(Unreported CSA Opinion by Nazarian, J.)

Issues – Torts – 1) Did the trial court err when it ruled that the cause of action for intentional interference with an expectancy is not a cause of action under Maryland law? 2) Did Petitioner adequately plead facts to succeed on a claim of intentional interference with an expectancy? Read More…

Some Things Never Change

By Karen Federman Henry

In the words of Yogi Berra, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”  That thought came to mind when reading the Court of Appeals’ decision in Board of County Commissioners of Washington County v. Perennial Solar, LLC, Sept. Term, 2018, No. 66 (filed July 15, 2019).  In the course of concluding that the Public Service Commission (PSC) regulates solar systems—leaving local governments unable to impose zoning restrictions and procedures on them—the Court sounded much like it did in 1990 when addressing high-voltage overhead transmission power lines in Howard County v. Pepco, 319 Md. 511 (1990). Read More…

Benisek v. Maryland Recap – The Forgotten Early 1900s Congressional Statute and How this Lafollette “Progressive Era” Reform, Supported Federal Judicial Interests against Political Party Gerrymandering

By Michael Wein

Last June in Ocean City, Maryland, the Supreme Court panel discussion for the Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA) convention,  (which included guest panelists Kelsi Corkran, Prof. Shon Hopwood and Beth Brinkman) seemed to agree on one thing–the two pending political gerrymandering cases of Benisek v. Maryland and Gill v. Whitford, were likely to be the blockbuster decisions for the Court. That didn’t happen last year, with the Supreme Court not deciding the merits of those cases and remanding the Benisek case on procedural grounds.

Still, that left open the possibility the merits of the legal issue would come up again this year, and a decisive Majority opinion, particularly with the North Carolina Rucho case waiting in the wings.   Unfortunately, for those who have studied the corrupting consequences on democracy and good government created by severe partisan redistricting, a year didn’t help.  Instead, the clarity the Supreme Court decided, came in the form of  a 5-4 opinion consolidating the Redistricting challenge of Benisek with that of North Carolina’s Rucho decision, concluding partisan gerrymandering will not be addressed by the Federal Courts as a “political question.”

As MdAppBlog contributor Alan Sternstein explained in a piece last week analyzing Rucho, excessive partisan gerrymandering, would appear to be quite justiciable, and logically makes sense, consistent with prior Supreme Court cases.  Justice Elena Kagan’s Dissent, in favor of justiciability, discussed the little doubt, without Court intervention, the potential permanent possibility, of the lack of competitive Congressional elections, and an unnatural number of elected partisan Democrats and Republicans, as opposed to moderates, centrists, and independents.  Chief Justice John Roberts’ Majority Opinion, perhaps ironically as a more optimistic perspective,  in determining that the issue was non-justiciable in the federal courts, seemed to support alternatives, through Congressional action, or through the “state by state” approach of non-partisan redistricting Commissions. This piece focuses on the Congressional action alternative, particularly as related to the history of the Populist movement also known as the “Progressive Era”  movement from the early 1900s. Part Two, when published will discuss the “state by state” approach alternative in more detail, both historically, and how that can be a guide for today.

Read More…