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Rounds v. Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

September 9, 2013

WILLIAM ROUNDS, ET AL.
v.
MARYLAND NATIONAL CAPITAL PARK AND PLANNING COMMISSION, ET AL.

Wright, Matricciani, [*] Watts, JJ.

OPINION

Watts, J.

On October 17, 2011, William Rounds, Marvin Gaither, Clifton Lee, James Bell, Bernice Martin, and Robert and Michelle Awkard (together, "appellants") filed in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County an Amended Complaint, in which appellants alleged that: (1) the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission ("the Commission"), Macris, Hendricks, and Glascock, P.A. ("MHG"), Douglas H. Riggs, III, Warren Brown, Paul and Sara Arey, Charles and Marilyn Mess, Audrey Hill, and Milton Johnson (together, "appellees") have "taken steps to prevent access to and use of [appellants'] properties" adjacent to "Farm Road" in Sandy Spring, Montgomery County, Maryland; and (2) the Commission "has refused to issue [appellants] addresses, and in some cases rescinded addresses, " for appellants' properties.

The circuit court granted motions to dismiss all counts. Appellants appealed, raising four issues, which we reorder and rephrase:

I. Did the circuit court err in dismissing Count One through Count Four for lack of proper notice?
II. Did the circuit court err in dismissing Count Five through Count Eleven for failure to join necessary parties?
III. Did the circuit court err in dismissing Count Twelve and Count Thirteen as time-barred?
IV. Did the circuit court err in dismissing Count Twelve and Count Thirteen because MHG and Riggs did not owe a duty to appellants?

For the reasons below, we answer questions I, II, and III "no, " and we do not reach question

IV. Thus, we affirm.

BACKGROUND

On August 11, 2011, appellants filed a Complaint in the circuit court. On October 17, 2011, appellants filed an Amended Complaint in the circuit court. As to the Commission, the Amended Complaint includes: Count One (substantive due process); Count Two (procedural due process); Count Three (regulatory taking); and Count Four (declaratory judgment that the Commission exceeded its authority). As to all appellees, including the Commission, the Amended Complaint includes Count Five through Count Eleven (declaratory judgment that appellants have an easement to use Farm Road and a ten-foot right-of-way).[1] As to the Commission, MHG, Riggs, Brown, and the Areys, the Amended Complaint includes Count Twelve (wrongful interference) and Count Thirteen (slander of title).

In the Amended Complaint, [2] appellants allege as follows:[3]

Appellants' properties are adjacent to "Farm Road, which has provided the only means of ingress and egress" to appellants' properties. A ten-foot right-of-way accompanies Farm Road.
"In or around 1994, [] Brown, a real estate developer, began developing the area around Farm Road[.] . . . Brown began developing the 'Dellabrooke' subdivision in the area to the east of Farm Road[.] . . . Brown also began developing the 'Dellabrooke Forest' subdivision to the west of Farm Road." "As part of his development efforts, Brown eliminated the northern access to Farm Road from Goldmine Road. In addition, Brown created a fictional 'conservation easement' . . . and included it in subdivision plans submitted to the Commission."
"To facilitate development of 'Dellabrooke' and 'Dellabrooke Forest, ' Brown engaged [MHG] to prepare certain documents for submission to the Commission. [] Riggs was the [MHG] employee primarily responsible for the preparation of the documents." "Brown directed Riggs to create 'survey' documents for submission to the Commission that falsely depicted 'Dellabrooke' and 'Dellabrooke Forest' as being unencumbered by either Farm Road or the [ten-f]oot [r]ight-of-[w]ay, that misrepresented the title history of the land[, ] and that resulted in the Commission deleting Farm Road from the State's property map." "[T]he Commission approved Brown's, [MHG]'s and Riggs'[s] submissions." On August 3, 2000, the Commission approved Plat 21707 "for the Dellabrooke subdivision."
"In or around 2003, the Areys purchased 69 acres of the fictional 'conservation easement' . . . from Brown for purposes of developing the property." "[T]he Areys, even before their purchase of the 69 acres, worked behind the scenes with Brown to develop 'Dellabrooke' and 'Dellabrooke Forest, ' to cut off the northern access to Farm Road, and to eliminate Farm Road entirely[.]"
"The Commission's own documentation shows that it once issued . . . addresses to . . . the properties that certain [appellants] now own. Inexplicably, however, the Commission struck the addresses from its records." "When they learned that their addresses no longer existed, [appellants] attempted to obtain addresses from the Commission." On November 7, 2007, Rounds "visited the Commission[, ]" which "refused to issue [appellants] addresses for their properties on the grounds that there were 'errors' on the 1966 Tax Map involving mislabeling of certain parcels." The Commission "urged [] Rounds and Gaither to contact the Maryland Department of Planning ('MDP') to have the 1966 Tax Map corrected if they wanted addresses[.]" "Rounds arranged a meeting with the MDP[.]" In "a letter to the Commission dated November 14, 2007, [the MDP] inform[ed] the Commission that . . . [it] had 'corrected the [MDP]'s Property Map . . . to reflect the 'Farm Road' and parcel locations[.]" On November 20, 2007, Rounds and Gaither returned to the Commission, which "again rejected [] Rounds'[s] request for an address." "[T]he Commission has now taken different positions as to why it is refusing to issue [appellants] addresses. It now claims that it cannot issue [appellants] addresses because they have not presented documentation proving their right to access their propert[ies]." "The most recently announced reason for denying [appellants] addresses is because the neighbors cannot agree where Farm Road might or might not exist." (Emphasis in original).
In a letter to the Commission[4] dated February 28, 2008, the Montgomery County Executive stated: "Over the past several months, I have received extensive correspondence and inquires about the Farm Road . . . . I hope that you are able to recognize the Farm Road as the private right-of-way that it seems to be and provide the property owners with their rightful recognition." The Commission still did not issue addresses to appellants.

In a letter to the Montgomery County Executive and the Commission dated June 10, 2008, appellants stated that they intended to file suit. In June 2008, appellants sued appellees in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland ("the federal court"). On July 15, 2011, the federal court dismissed the case for failure to exhaust state remedies.

On May 15, 2012, the circuit court granted motions to dismiss with prejudice all counts in the Amended Complaint as to MHG, Riggs, and Brown. Specifically, the circuit court dismissed with prejudice: (1) Count Five through Count Eleven as to MHG, Riggs, and Brown, who do not own property adjacent to Farm Road and thus are not interested parties; (2) Count Twelve and Count Thirteen as time-barred as to MHG, Riggs, and Brown; and (3) Count Twelve and Count Thirteen as to MHG and Riggs because they did not owe a duty to appellants.

On June 7, 2012, the circuit court granted motions to dismiss all counts as to the Commission, the Areys, the Messes, Hill, and Johnson. Specifically, the circuit court dismissed: (1) Count One through Count Four, with prejudice, as to the Commission for lack of proper notice; (2) Count Five through Count Eleven, without prejudice, as to the Commission, the Areys, the Messes, Hill, and Johnson, for failure to join necessary parties; and (3) Count Twelve and Count Thirteen, with prejudice, as to the Commission, the Areys, the Messes, Hill, and Johnson, as time-barred.[5]

STANDARD OF REVIEW

An appellate court reviews de novo a trial court's grant of a motion to dismiss. Gomez v. Jackson Hewitt, Inc., 427 Md. 128, 142 (2012). The appellate court reviews only "the four corners of the complaint and its incorporated supporting exhibits, if any." Forster v. Office of Pub. Defender, 426 Md. 565, 604 (2012) (citation omitted). The appellate court assumes the truth of–and views in the light most favorable to the plaintiff–"all well-pleaded facts and allegations contained in the complaint, as well as all inferences that may reasonably be drawn from them[.]" Gomez, 427 Md. at 142 (citation omitted). Because the plaintiff must plead the complaint's factual allegations "with sufficient specificity[, ]" Forster, 426 Md. at 604 (citation omitted), however, the appellate court does not consider "bald assertions [or] conclusory statements[, ]" id. (citation omitted), and construes against the plaintiff "[a]ny ambiguity or uncertainty in the [factual] allegations[.]" Shenker v. Laureate Educ., Inc., 411 Md. 317, 335 (2009) (citation omitted). The appellate court affirms the grant of the motion "only if the [factual] allegations and permissible inferences, if true, would not afford relief to the plaintiff, i.e., the [factual] allegations do not state a cause of action for which relief may be granted." Gomez, 427 Md. at 142 (citation omitted). The appellate court may affirm the grant of the motion "on any ground adequately shown by the record, whether or not relied upon by the trial court." Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

DISCUSSION

I. Count One Through Count Four (Proper Notice)

(A) Contentions

Appellants contend that the circuit court erred in dismissing Count One through Count Four for lack of proper notice. Specifically, appellants argue that the notice requirement of the Local Government Tort Claims Act ("LGTCA"), Maryland Code Ann., Courts & Judicial Proceedings Article ("C.J.P.") § 5-301 et seq., does not apply to state constitutional torts. Alternatively, although appellants concede that they did not comply with the LGTCA notice requirement, appellants assert that they showed good cause not to comply with the LGTCA notice requirement because they "solicited the assistance of [the] County Executive[, ]" and "relied upon the Commission's ...


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