Taxpayer Standing Cases Pending Yet Again in the Court of Appeals:  Herein, About Whose Interest Is It Anyways?

By Alan B. Sternstein

The Court of Appeals is poised once again to tackle the subject of standing in Maryland courts, particularly the doctrine of so-called “taxpayer standing.”[1]  Four relatively recent and lengthy decisions by the Court have already addressed the matter at length, including the related “property owner standing,” doctrine.  Anne Arundel County v. Bell, 442 Md. 539, 113 A.3d 639 (2015); State Center, LLC v. Lexington Charles Ltd. P’ship, 438 Md. 451, 92 A.3d 400, 458 (2014); 120 West Fayette St., LLLP v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, 426 Md. 14, 43 A.3d 355 (2012) (“Superblock III”); and 120 W. Fayette St., LLLP v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, 407 Md. 253, 964 A.2d 662 (2009) (“Superblock I ”).  Two new appeals raise issues showing the lack of clarity that remains regarding taxpayer standing in Maryland. 

  1. The Pending Floyd and George Cases

The two new appeals are of an unreported opinion from the Court of Special Appeals in George v. Baltimore County, No. 47, Slip Op. (Jun. 12, 2018) (unreported), cert. granted, No. 37 (Md. Sept. 14, 2018), and of an order of dismissal by the Circuit Court for Baltimore City in Floyd v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, No. 24-C17-003021 (Aug. 14, 2017), appeal docketed, No. 1248 (Md. Ct. App. Sept. 2017), cert. granted, No. 35 (Md. Aug. 30, 2018).  Because the Court granted review of an unreported decision in George and reached past the Court of Special Appeals before its decision in Floyd to bring these two cases before the Court, so soon after Bell and State Center, it is reasonable to surmise that additional and substantial treatment of the subject of standing by the Court of Appeals is in the offing.

In George, plaintiff taxpayers contended that Baltimore County was in violation of several provisions of the Baltimore County Code in its operation of Baltimore County animal shelters.  They alleged that mismanagement of the animal shelters was resulting in a waste of government funds.  In particular, they alleged that the County failed to provide animals with adequate food, water, and veterinary care and that the County failed to train its staff and volunteers properly, maintained improper foster and adoption policies, made insufficient efforts to locate the owners of sheltered animals, and allowed for inhumane euthanasia.  Petitioners sought standing under the taxpayer standing doctrine.

In a motion to dismiss (or, in the alternative, for summary judgment), Baltimore County maintained that property tax rates had not been increased for 26 years, that income tax rates had not been increased for 22 years and that no new taxes had been levied during the period relevant to plaintiffs’ allegations.  Accordingly, the County argued that plaintiffs and taxpayers similarly situated to them could not have been adversely impacted by virtue of the County’s alleged shelter mismanagement.

In Floyd, plaintiffs challenged the legality of the procedures by which Baltimore adopted its current zoning map, which was adopted concurrently with municipal legislation overhauling Baltimore’s zoning code.  They alleged that the city had failed to provide notice and conduct hearings that that the Land Use Article of the Maryland Code and that the Baltimore Zoning Code required, before a comprehensive zoning map could be adopted.  As a consequence of an invalidly adopted zoning map, they alleged that city taxpayers would sustain pecuniary losses or tax increases, due to the uncertain validity of future actions taken in reliance on such a zoning map, for which the city would incur administrative and legal costs, adversely impacting taxpayers.  They sought standing under the taxpayer standing doctrine.  None of the Petitioners alleged or averred that they owned real property adversely affected by Baltimore’s zoning actions.

  1. The Doctrine of Taxpayer Standing

Under the Bell, State Center and Superblock decisions, taxpayer standing is established when the allegations of the complaint are sufficient to conclude that the plaintiff is a taxpayer, that the plaintiff brings its action on behalf of itself and similarly situated taxpayers, that the government action challenged is “illegal,” including “ultra vires,”[2] that the government action has the potential to result in “a pecuniary loss to the taxpayer or an increase in taxes,”[3] and that the relief sought is likely to prevent the loss or tax increases alleged.[4]

With regard to pecuniary injury, including tax increases, the Court of Appeals has been clear that only a very limited showing is required at the pleading stage.  In particular, “’the extent to which a taxpayer is capable of detailing the damage anticipated from an illegal and ultra vires act may be rather limited at the time the suit is initially filed.’” State Center, 438 Md. at 485, 92 A.3d at 420, quoting Superblock I, 407 Md. 253, 964 A.2d 662.  Thus, the Court has held that “’the taxpayer plaintiff is not required to allege facts which necessarily lead to the conclusion that the taxes will be increased; rather, the test is whether the taxpayer reasonably may sustain a pecuniary loss or a tax increase [, that is,] whether there has been a showing of potential pecuniary damage.’” State Center, 438 Md. at 485-86, 92 A.3d at 420, quoting Superblock I, 407 Md. at 266, 964 A.2d at 669 (emphasis in original).  Accord Bell, 442 Md. at 568, 113 A.3d at 663 (“The facts alleged need not lead necessarily to the conclusion that taxes will increase; rather, the taxpayer must allege that he, she, or it will suffer pecuniary damage potentially.”).[5]

Apart from potential damage to a protected interest, standing, including taxpayer standing, takes account of the interest the plaintiff seeks to protect and the relationship of that interest to the interests of other possible plaintiffs.  Under the taxpayer standing doctrine, “the complainant must have a special interest in the subject-matter of the suit distinct from that of the general public.” Bell, 113 A.3d at 661, quoting State Center, 438 Md. at 519, 92 A.3d at 440.  “A party satisfies the ‘special interest,’ also called ‘special damage,’ standing requirement by alleging ‘both ”1) an action by a municipal corporation or public official that is illegal or ultra vires, and 2) that the action may injuriously affect the taxpayer’s property, meaning that it reasonably may result in a pecuniary loss to the taxpayer or an increase in taxes.” Such harms may include ‘waste or unlawful use of public property and funds.’” Bell, 442 Md. at 577, 113 A.3d at 662 (quoting State Center, 438 Md. at 540, 92 A.3d at 453, quoting Kendall v. Howard County, 431 Md. 590, 605, 66 A.3d 684, 693 (2013), quoting Superblock I, 407 Md. at 267, 964 A.2d at 669–70).  Despite earlier decisions indicating otherwise and cited and quoted with approval in State Center, 438 Md. at 561, 92 A.3d at 466-67,[6] it is questionable after Bell whether pecuniary loss comprises interests in the nature of aesthetic impacts, such as traffic, noise and tree coverage and buffering.  See Bell, 442 Md. at 583-85, 113 A.3d at 666-67 (stating that the plaintiffs “did not allege that their taxes would be increased or that the illegal action would result in any other form of pecuniary loss” and that such [aesthetic] “harms . . . are not unique to the [plaintiffs], as opposed to the general public.”).

  1. Taxpayer Standing in Floyd and George

Without strain, the George and Floyd actions fit into the mold for taxpayer standing that the Bell, State Center, and Superblock decisions outline.  First, as to George, plaintiffs filed their action on behalf of themselves and all similarly situated taxpayers.  They alleged violations of the Baltimore County Code by Baltimore County officials in their operation of Baltimore County animal shelters, illegal conduct within the scope of wrongs that the cases require.  Plaintiffs argued that the alleged mismanagement of the shelters resulted in a waste of government funds and, thereby, a burden on taxpayers, even though the County had not raised property tax rates for several years.  They based standing not on injuries involving any of their animals but on harm to the public fisc.  Accordingly, the plaintiffs’ allegations quite arguably satisfied the requirements for taxpayer standing, and the Circuit Court so ruled, denying defendants’ motion to dismiss.  Yet the Circuit Court determined, on motion for summary judgment, that there could be no pecuniary loss or burden on taxpayers without any increase in tax rates for years and granted judgment for defendants.  Arguably, however, although tax rates had not been raised, funds that were used to make up for shelter inefficiencies were lost for allocation to other, constructive purposes or could have allowed a reduction in tax rates.

The Court of Special Appeals nevertheless agreed with the Circuit Court’s factual determination and affirmed, despite the broad language of State Center, Bell and earlier decisions of the Court of Appeals recognizing, as sufficient for taxpayer standing, harms like those the plaintiffs alleged, such as unlawful waste and mismanagement.  Indeed, the “Court has recognized repeatedly that taxpayers have the right to bring a lawsuit in this State to prevent waste or unlawful use of public property and funds.”  State Center, 438 Md. at 560, 92 A.3d at 465 (emphasis in original).  Likewise, as to ”what types of ‘harm’ are sufficient to constitute ‘waste’ so as to confer taxpayer standing upon a complainant,” the Court has, in its own words, “exhibited great leniency.” Id.[7]

As to Floyd, the Bell decision expressly instructs that challenges to comprehensive zoning actions in their entirety may only be brought, if at all, as challenges based on taxpayer standing,[8] and the Floyd complaint, which challenges a comprehensive zoning map, does allege that the action is brought by taxpayers on behalf of themselves and similarly situated taxpayers.  The complaint’s allegations detail the state and municipal notice and hearing violations committed in the course of the adoption of the zoning map being challenged.  The complaint argues that the alleged violations render the zoning map invalid.  Finally, the complaint identifies the realistic possibility that individual and official decisions taken in reliance on an invalid zoning map will themselves be subject to legal challenge, leading at least to economically adverse consequences through waste, as, again, countenanced by earlier decisions of the Court of Appeals as sufficient for standing.[9]  The relief the taxpayers seek, invalidation of the current zoning map and adoption of a new map in compliance with notice and hearing requirements, would preclude this alleged waste.

Despite at least the consistency of the complaints in George and Floyd with State Center and Bell, there is, with respect to taxpayer standing, still something troubling about the facts below in George and Floyd, which perhaps nevertheless justifiably prompted the results below in those cases, effectively rebuffing plaintiffs’ challenges in both cases as taxpayers.  In George, what is being challenged may only amount to government maladministration, in particular, of animal shelters, as opposed to decisions directly concerned with the disposition or expenditure of public funds.

In Floyd, the taxpayers were not challenging zoning waste due to zoning per se.  As the Court of Appeals noted in Bell, “[t]he zoning process, broadly viewed, is designed to implement growth in a manner that allows for the expansion of economic activities and opportunities in the area or region for the benefit of its residents, while at the same time attempting to maintain the quality of life of the region, all without unduly disturbing the reasonable expectations of the citizenry as to the permissible uses they may make of real property.”  Bell, 442 Md. at 552, 113 A.3d at 647, citing Mayor and Council of Rockville v. Rylyns Enterprises, Inc., 372 Md. 514, 532, 814 A.2d 469, 479 (2002).  The taxpayers in Floyd, however, were really challenging a governmental administrative decision to proceed with implementation of the challenged zoning map, at some risk of having to spend legal resources and possibly administrative resources in defending the zoning map or resolving problems that might initially arise, if, in fact, the map were invalidated.  Such a decision is like numerous decisions governments regularly make to move forward in the face of charges that some legislation or even a lower court decision is invalid or incorrect.

  1. Ostensible Allegations of Taxpayer Interest

Obfuscations as to the actual interests plaintiffs advanced in support of standing explains the disconnect between the standards of taxpayer standing as currently announced and the failed actions in Floyd and George.  At a minimum, standing is about assuring a bona fide controversy in any case for which a court allows access to its fundamental dispute resolution function.  See Reyes v. Prince George’s County, 281 Md. 279, 283, 286, 380 A.2d 12, 14, 16 (1977).  In this regard, the nature of the interest that is the alleged basis for the plaintiff’s claim to judicial access is assessed in the light of whether that interest, with respect to the plaintiff, reasonably lends itself to belief that there is a bona fide controversy regarding the interest, the ticket for admission to the court.  That is to say, it is the nature of the interest asserted by which a court best determines whether, and assures itself that, there is a bona fide controversy before it.  Whether standing considerations are satisfied determines whether a putative plaintiff will be granted a “right to access to the judiciary system.”  State Center, 438 Md. at 517, 92 A.3d at 439.

This is the core of what standing was originally about, constitutionally and according to common law,[10] although, in recent decades, standing has also become an administrative device for the judiciary, serving a gatekeeping function, in addition to its core legal function.  As a result, more recent standing determinations have become clouded by including in the analysis, arguably quite improperly, a consideration of whether there is a cause of action which protects the interest a plaintiff advances.  Truly, however, this is a question begging consideration, for, as often as not, a right is rejected and judicial access denied for reasons other than whether that interest generates a bona fide controversy.  At least at common law, whether the personal interest advanced by a putative plaintiff should be a subject for judicial consideration was what determined whether common law courts recognized a cause of action protecting that interest, not vice versa.  “The fundamental aspect of standing is that it focuses on the party seeking to get his complaint before the court. . . .”  Pollokoff v. Maryland Nat’l Bank, 288 Md. 485, 497, 418 A.2d 1201, 1208 (1980), citing Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 99 (1968).[11]

Mitigating question begging standing assessments, but insufficiently, “the appellate courts in Maryland have adopted the ‘cause-of-action’ approach, which groups the traditionally distinct concepts of standing and cause of action into a single analytical construct, labeled as ‘standing,’ to determine whether ‘the plaintiff [has] show[n] that he or she “is entitled to invoke the judicial process in a particular instance.”’”  State Center, 438 Md. at 502, 92 A.3d at 429-30, quoting Kendall v. Howard Cnty., 431 Md. 590, 593, 66 A.3d 684, 685 (2013), quoting Adams v. Manown, 328 Md. 463, 480, 615 A.2d 611, 619 (1992).

Still, at least according to State Center, the emphasis in assessing standing is on the interest a plaintiff seeks to protect, as opposed to whether, a priori, there is a cause of action that protects the interest.  See State Center, 438 Md. at 516, 92 A.3d at 438 (“[W]hether a private right of action exists for Appellees to bring any [particular] claim to the Circuit Court is a different question than whether taxpayer standing doctrine permits Appellees to bring their . . . claims to the Circuit Court.”) (emphasis in original); id. at 556, 92 A.3d at 462, quoting Funk v. Mullan Contracting Co., 197 Md. 192, 196, 78 A.2d 632, 635 (1951) (stating that the taxpayer’s right “to invoke the aid of a court of equity to restrain the action of an administrative agency of the State . . . when such action is illegal and may injuriously affect the taxpayer’s rights or his property . . . does not depend upon the result; that is, he may be wrong in his contention, but nevertheless he has the right to invoke the aid of the courts to make it”). “So long as the plaintiffs allege, in good faith, an ultra vires or illegal act by the State or one of its officers, as was done here, such allegations are sufficient to confer taxpayer standing doctrine, so as to entitle the plaintiff to get its foot in the courthouse door and receive potentially a merits hearing.”  State Center, 438 Md. at 556, 92 A.3d at 462.

For these reasons, an important aspect of assessing standing vel non in Maryland courts should be an accurate determination of the interest that the plaintiff, including a plaintiff seeking standing as a taxpayer, actually seeks to advance by the action brought.  And the nature of the relief sought in that action is the best indication of what the interest actually is.  Tested this way, the interests actually advanced by the plaintiffs in George and Floyd for protection fail materially to protect taxpayer interests.  To be sure, the interest ostensibly advanced in each case is the avoidance of fiscal waste, an interest that, like preventing an increased tax burden or the illegal expenditure of public funds, is an appropriate and, as articulated under recent decisions of the Court of Appeals, a recognized interest supporting taxpayer standing.  It is problematic, however, that the relief sought in each case would, if it were granted, materially advance taxpayer interests.

In particular, in Floyd, it is plaintiffs’ assessment that Baltimore’s decision to proceed with implementation and application of an allegedly invalid zoning map is administratively ill-advised, at a cost to taxpayers.  In plaintiffs’ view, their cost-benefit analysis of the risks of proceeding or not with the current map is better than the city administration’s cost-benefit analysis of proceeding, including the benefit of avoiding a protracted period without zoning guidance and resulting economic harm.[12]  In other words, it is actually the invalidation of the zoning map that plaintiffs actually seek, regardless of any likelihood that the city’s risk judgment is the better call, regardless, that is, of the actual likelihood of waste, the taxpayer interest they purport to assert.  Put otherwise, it is not actually a taxpayer interest that plaintiffs seek to advance, prudent municipal administration, but, instead, obtaining the zoning they desire.  The interest in prudent municipal administration, on which plaintiffs purport to ground taxpayer standing, is shared in common with all citizens and is, therefore, disqualifying for standing.  “‘It is certainly well settled that public wrongs cannot be redressed at the suit of individuals who have no other interest in the matter than the rest of the public.’” State Center, 438 Md. at 553, 92 A.3d at 461, quoting Kelly v. Baltimore, 53 Md. 134, 140 (1880).[13]

Likewise, in George, plaintiffs, in their alleged capacities as taxpayers and on behalf of themselves and other similarly situated taxpayers, asserted mismanagement of Baltimore County animal shelters, claiming violations of several provisions of the Baltimore County Code.  They further claimed resulting waste from the mismanagement.  Like the plaintiffs’ view of Baltimore in Floyd, in the view of the George plaintiffs, Baltimore County was mismanaging animal shelters, correct perhaps, but, depending on circumstances, not necessarily.  Notably, prior to the Court of Special Appeals’ decision, the County completed construction of a new animal shelter to replace the animal shelter that prompted plaintiffs’ lawsuit, but the plaintiffs continued to assert deficiencies in animal management.  See George, Slip Op. at 1 n.2.  It is apparent that the George plaintiffs’ actual litigation interest is remedying alleged animal mismanagement, not the use or mismanagement of taxpayer funds.  As in Floyd, it was not actually a taxpayer interest that plaintiffs sought to advance but an interest shared in common with all citizens, prudent municipal management, and disqualifying for taxpayer standing.  Plaintiffs did not “have a special interest in the subject-matter of the suit distinct from that of the general public.” Bell, 442 Md. at 576, 113 A.3d at 661, quoting State Center, 438 Md. at 519, 92 A.3d at 440.[14]

Both Floyd and George provide the Court of Appeals a good opportunity to elaborate on and clarify the application of taxpayer standing principles, particularly with regard to the concept of waste in this context.  That said, however, George should also provide the Court an opportunity to correct a serious error.  It may seductively seem that no tax rate increases or new taxes for years means there has been no possible taxpayer harm, but that view is plainly wrong.  Depletion of public funds through embezzlement or other forms of graft, requiring maintaining tax rates at existing levels, rather than allowing their reduction, is one obvious counterexample to the illusion.[15]  A troubled sense about plaintiffs’ taxpayer bona fides in George may have prompted the Court of Special Appeals to reach the right result, but for the wrong reason and for a reason that will only serve further to obscure the still cloudy waters of standing, rather than help clear them.  The Court of Appeals should correct the error in the course of what will hopefully be further clarification of standing doctrine.

 

 

 

[1] Maryland courts recognize standing as one type of limitation on access to judicial power, coming under the broader umbrella of justiciability.  See generally Reyes v. Prince George’s County, 281 Md. 279, 380 A.2d 12 (1977).  Unlike in federal courts, however, standing in Maryland courts has no constitutional grounding.  See id. at 290, 380 A.2d at 18.  In federal counts, the requirement that a plaintiff have standing to have its alleged grievance heard in court derives from the Case and Controversy Clause of Article III of the Constitution, but there is no such requirement in the Maryland Constitution.  Instead, standing in Maryland courts is governed by judge-made principles, though those principles are guided by federal and state judicial precedents.  See State Center, 438 Md. at 500, 92 A.3d at 428-29, quoting Davis v. Passman, 442 U.S. 228, 239 n.18 (1979), for the principle that standing “is a question of whether a plaintiff is sufficiently adversary to a defendant to create an Art. III case or controversy”).

[2] “The ‘illegal or ultra vires’ requirement ‘has been applied leniently and seems rather easy to meet[;’] the taxpayer need not be right ultimately in his, her, or its contention, so long as the allegation is advanced in good faith.”  Bell, 442 Md. at 578, 113 A.3d at 662, quoting State Center, 438 Md. at 555–56, 92 A.3d at 462–63, citing Funk v. Mullan Contracting Co., 197 Md. 192, 196, 78 A.2d 632, 635 (1951).  “[T]he principle has become established that a taxpayer may invoke the aid of a court of equity to restrain the action of a public official or an administrative agency when such action is illegal or ultra vires, and may injuriously affect the taxpayer’s rights and property.”  Citizens Planning & Housing Ass’n v. Cnty. Exec., 273 Md. 333, 339, 329 A.2d 681, 684 (1974).

[3] State Center, 438 Md. at 540, 92 A.3d at 453, quoting Kendall v. Howard Cnty., 431 Md. 590, 605, 66 A.3d 684, 693 (2013), quoting Superblock I, 407 Md. at 267, 964 A.2d at 669–70.  State Center, 438 Md. at 485-86, 92 A.3d at 464: “[T]he taxpayer plaintiff is not required to allege facts which necessarily lead to the conclusion that taxes will be increased; rather the test is whether the taxpayer ‘reasonably may sustain a pecuniary loss or a tax increase’—‘whether there has been a showing of potential pecuniary damage.’  Inlet Assocs. v. Assateague House Condo. Ass’n, 313 Md. 413, 441, 545 A.2d 1296, 1310 (1988), quoting Citizens Planning, 273 Md. at 344, 329 A.2d at 687.” (Emphasis in original.)

[4] State Center, 438 Md. at 559, 92 A.3d at 472:  “Perhaps the most frequent stumbling block for a taxpayer to bring a suit under the doctrine is that the challenged act must affect potentially a tax that the taxpayer-plaintiff pays, i.e., this nexus must be alleged sufficiently. A review of the cases reveals that the taxpayer must be asserting a challenge and seeking a remedy that, if granted, would alleviate the tax burden on that individual and others; otherwise, standing does not exist.”

[5] This standard is at plain odds with federal standing standards, as characterized by the Court of Appeals itself.  According to the Court, “’[u]nder current [Supreme Court] doctrine, federal courts determine whether a plaintiff has standing by asking whether the plaintiff has suffered an injury in fact that is fairly traceable to the defendant’s conduct and that is likely to be redressed by a decision in the plaintiff’s favor.’”  State Center, 438 Md. at 499, 92 A.3d at 428, quoting Bellia, Article III and the Cause of Action, 89 Iowa L. Rev. 777, 779 n.5 (2004).

[6] See cases cited, infra, note 7.

[7] See Citizens Planning & Housing Ass’n v. Cnty. Exec., 273 Md. 333, 343 (1974) (holding that potential need to fend off charges of illegality may be sufficient to establish taxpayer standing); James v. Anderson, 281 Md. 137, 142, 377 A.2d 865, 868 (1977) (holding that an alleged “decrease in efficiency which would result from the alleged ultra vires acts” was “sufficient for taxpayer standing”); Sun Cab Co. v. Cloud, 162 Md. 419-22, 426, 159 A. 922 (1932) (That “taxpayers [would] be put to wrongful expense for the publication of an allegedly invalid referendum and the printing of ballots” constituted “the waste of funds derived from taxation which would” support standing.); Harlan v. Employers’ Ass’n, 162 Md. 124, 159 A. 267 (1932) (inadequately supported scale of public wages would likely result in increased taxes or waste for municipals taxpayers); Graf v. Hiser, 144 Md. 418, 423, 125 A. 151, 153 (1924) (“The right of taxpayers to protect their interests by a suit in equity, for an injunction against taxation under an invalid or ineffective law, is not open to question.” (Emphasis added.)).

[8] “[P]roperty owner standing is reserved for challenges to land use decisions reached through quasi-judicial or administrative/executive processes, and taxpayer standing is the appropriate doctrine applied to available modalities of judicial challenges to land use actions reached via a purely legislative process, such as comprehensive zoning actions.”  Bell, 442 Md. at 556, 113 A.3d at 649.

[9] See cases cited, supra, note 7.

[10] See discussion, supra, note 1.

[11] As the Court of Appeals explained under the facts in State Center:

In the present case, Appellees do not rely on the provisions of the Procurement Code to confer standing.  Rather, they assert standing as taxpayers . . . and they seek relief granted traditionally to taxpayers:  declaratory relief that the governmental action is illegal and ultra vires and that the action thus taken should be voided [because it] will cause pecuniary harm to their taxes.  Because taxpayer suits in this State do not require also a separate private right of action, such an inquiry is irrelevant in our analysis.

438 Md. at 546, 92 A.3d at 456.

[12] The City strenuously argued before the Circuit Court that “granting the relief that Plaintiffs seek would throw the City, its residents, businesses and taxpayers into an unworkable and chaotic world of uncertainty as per Plaintiffs’ requested relief, the City would be governed under a new Zoning Code designed specifically for a Zoning Map that would no longer exist.  Such a scenario would cause development within the City to come to a screeching halt.” Memorandum of Law in Support of Defendant Mayor and Council’s Motion to Dismiss and/or for Summary Judgment, and Opposition to Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment, at 2, Floyd v. Mayor and City Council, No. 24-C-17-003021 (Cir. Ct. Balt. City filed Jun. 29, 2017).  The city also emphasized that a regular part of its business is the maintenance of resources for legal matters and defending lawsuits.  Id. at 9.

[13] As the Court of Appeals explained in State Center:

An important distinction exists, however, between a taxpayer’s challenge of a contract or statute as ultra vires, as discussed above, and that of a contract or statute as not being administered correctly. . . .

The rationale is partially that, at a certain point, the requirement that the ultra vires act result reasonably in a potential pecuniary loss is much more difficult to prove if there is merely an officer or unit administering a program.  The reason this situation is more difficult is because “where the action of a municipal corporation or administrative agency is within the scope of its authority, and does not affect the vested rights of liberty or property, the court will not review its exercise of discretion, unless such exercise is fraudulent or corrupt or such abuse of discretion as to amount to breach of trust.  The courts assume the fitness of administrative officials who are familiar with the matter in dispute and informed by training and experience to pass upon the questions of fact presented to them.  Therefore, the courts feel that they should not substitute their own judgments for the findings of administrative officials in the absence of unusual circumstances.”

438 Md. at 568, 92 A.3d at 469-70, quoting Coddington v. Helbig, 195 Md. 330, 337, 73 A.2d 454, 456–57 (1950) (emphasis in original).  See also  Hanna v. Bd. of Educ., 200 Md. 49, 50, 87 A.2d 846, 847 (1952) (“On a suit by a taxpayer, a court of equity will not review the exercise of discretion of an administrative agency, if it acts within the scope of its authority, unless its power is fraudulently or corruptly exercised; but the court will restrain an agency from entering into or performing a void or ultra vires contract or from acting fraudulently or so arbitrarily as to constitute a breach of trust. . . .”).

[14] See cases discussed, supra, note 13.

[15] See cases discussed, supra, note 7.  To be sure, all citizens, including taxpayers, have an interest in avoiding waste from illegal use of public funds, but this interest, undifferentiated as it is among citizens qua citizens, is not sufficient for standing in Maryland, under existing doctrine.  Citizens qua taxpayers also have, however, an interest in avoiding undue tax burdens (either from increased taxes or lost opportunities to decrease taxes) resulting from plainly illegal use of public funds, which is sufficient for standing.  In the latter case, it is the substantial nexus between this taxpayer interest and the relief sought in cases of embezzlement, graft and the violation of laws that directly aim to protect taxpayers (for example, procurement laws), that differentiates taxpayers from all citizens, who challenge public administration on wide ranging actions alleging waste (George), inefficiency (George) or incorrect (but not facially unreasonable) judgments about the validity or construction of laws governing public administration (Floyd).

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