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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…

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…

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…

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…

Rucho v. Common Cause – Allowing the Constitution to Sow the Seeds of Democracy’s Demise?

By Alan B. Sternstein

April 24, 2018 and March 14, 2019 posts in this blog argued that achieving and guarding political equality at the ballot box should, under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, be no less justiciable than achieving and guarding racial equality there.  Measuring and predicting the effects of legislative districting implementing classifications based on political beliefs and affiliations are endeavors not materially different from measuring the predicting the effects of conduct implementing classifications based on race.  Except where a classification both protects and diminishes protected interests,[1] as with partisan gerrymandering, classifications burdening the expression or effectuation of political beliefs, equally as classifications based on race, have been carefully scrutinized and eschewed in Supreme Court equal protection decisions under the Fourteenth Amendment.[2]  The prior posts, however, also argued that the partisan “retaliation” standard in actions brought under the First Amendment did not provide a justiciable standard for separating constitutional partisan gerrymandering from unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering. Read More…

Kisor v. Wilkie and the Next Chapter in Administrative Deference

By John Grimm & Guest Contributor Mark Davis

The Supreme Court recently decided Kisor v. Wilkie,[1] a case that addresses when courts are required to defer to agencies’ interpretations of their own rules.  The general rule that courts defer to an agency’s reasonable interpretation of its own regulations when they are ambiguous was articulated in the case Auer v. Robbins[2] and is referred to as Auer deference.  Auer deference has been subject to criticisms that it allows agencies to issue what amount to new regulations without going through the rulemaking process and that it is an abdication of the judicial role of interpreting the law.

Read More…

Help from the Justice Reinvestment Act may be limited

By Karen Federman Henry

When the Maryland Legislature enacted the Justice Reinvestment Act (JRA) in 2016, it did so with an eye toward an overhaul of the criminal justice system.  The overarching goal of the JRA was to reduce Maryland’s prison population and use the related monetary savings to provide treatment to offenders before, during, and after their incarceration.  The JRA would accomplish this by reducing maximum penalties for drug distribution convictions, by repealing mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes, and by limiting the duration of incarceration imposed for a technical violation of probation.  While the concept focuses on rehabilitation rather than punishment, achieving the goals may be easier said than done.  A recent example appeared before the Court of Appeals, which concluded that the JRA did not expand the ability of an individual to seek appellate review of a revocation of probation to allow a direct appeal, but instead, the individual must seek leave to appeal a decision.  See Conaway v. State, No. 69, Sept. Term, 2018 and Johnson v. State, No. 76, Sept. Term, 2018 (combined).

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Supreme Court Potentially Guns Down Thousands of Firearms Convictions

By Stuart Berman
Guest contributor

The number of firearms available in the United States has nearly tripled over the past two decades, to the point where firearms outnumber people. Yet the Second Amendment is not limitless. The federal criminal code makes it unlawful for “prohibited persons” to possess a firearm: convicted felons (specifically, persons convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year); fugitives; drug addicts; persons adjudicated as mental defectives or committed to mental institutions; unlawful aliens; persons dishonorably discharged from the military; persons who renounced U.S. citizenship; persons subject to certain restraining orders; and persons convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence. A person who “knowingly violates” these prohibitions faces up to 10 years in prison in most cases, and up to life under certain circumstances.

Does “knowingly” mean the government must prove only that the defendant fell into an enumerated category and knowingly possessed a firearm? Or must the government also prove that the defendant knew he was a prohibited person? Read More…