Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Waterkeeper Alliance, Inc. v. Maryland Department of Agriculture

Court of Appeals of Maryland

July 18, 2014

WATERKEEPER ALLIANCE, INC. ET AL.
v.
MARYLAND DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE ET AL.

Argued: 5 March 2014

Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County Case No. C-08-134331

Barbera, C.J., Harrell, Battaglia, Adkins, Rodowsky, Lawrence F. (Retired, Specially Assigned) Raker, Irma S. (Retired, Specially Assigned) JJ.

OPINION

Harrell, J.

"There's many a slip 'twixt' the cup and the lip."

—Old English proverb

Although the parties have spent considerable time presenting, for our benefit, the substantive law pertaining to the merits of the case, none ensured that the procedural posture of the appeal was proper. For the forthcoming reasons, this Court must dismiss the present appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

I. BACKGROUND

The controversy giving rise to the present appeal began in the summer of 2007, when Waterkeeper Alliance, Inc. ("WKA") submitted to the Maryland Department of Agriculture ("MDA") a pair of requests for certain public records. In those requests, WKA sought to obtain the specific nutrient management plans ("NMPs") of various private farming operations on Maryland's Eastern Shore, along with any supporting documentation related to the NMPs. WKA submitted the requests pursuant to the Maryland Public Information Act ("PIA"), Maryland Code (1984, 2009 Repl. Vol.), State Government Article, §§ 10-601 to 10-628, [1] which allows generally for the inspection and receipt of copies of public records. The MDA denied WKA's requests, on the basis that § 10-615(2)(i)[2] of the PIA exempted disclosure of the NMP inspection records, citing Md. Code (1973, 2007 Repl. Vol.), Agriculture Art., § 8-801.1(b)(2)[3] as the operative excepting statute.

On 4 February 2008, WKA and eight other environmental advocacy groups filed an action ("WKA action") against the MDA and three of its executives in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County ("Anne Arundel Circuit Court") to obtain the records WKA sought.[4] WKA's Complaint alleged four legal grounds, which it labeled "Causes of Action, " upon any of which the court should order the MDA to produce the records:

[1] On its Face, Md. Code Ann., Agric. § 8-801(b)(2) [sic] Constitutes a Violation of the Rights Conferred on Citizens by Article 6 of Maryland's Declaration of Rights . . . .
[2] Md. Code Ann., Agric. § 8-801(b)(2) [sic] is a "Special Law" That Violates Article III, § 33 of the Maryland Constitution . . . .
[3] Md. Code Ann., Agric. § 8-801(b)(2) [sic] Constitutes a Violation of the Rights Conferred on Citizens by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution . . . .
[4] The Denial of Access to Nutrient Management Plans Violates the Maryland Public Information Act.

To remedy the alleged violations, the Complaint pressed six distinct, but at times overlapping, prayers for relief:

The Waterkeepers pray that this [c]ourt:
(1) declare[] Md. Code Ann., Agric. § 8-801(b)(2) [sic] unconstitutional under the Maryland and United States Constitutions;
(2) enjoin[] the defendants from withholding the public records sought by Waterkeeper;
(3) order[] the defendants to produce the public records improperly withheld;
(4) order[ the] defendants to pay actual and punitive damages for the failure to disclose public records;
(5) order[ the] defendants to pay reasonable attorney fees and other litigation costs, including attorney and expert fees; and
(6) grant[] other relief as the Court deems appropriate.

Following WKA's filing of the Complaint, the parties engaged in discussions as to what specific information the MDA might be required to disclose. No apparent settlement was reached, and the case remained "live." After the discussions concluded, WKA filed on 16 May 2008 a third request with the MDA for information, which the MDA approved tentatively.

On 18 July 2008, before the MDA could fulfill WKA's third PIA request, the Maryland Farm Bureau, Inc. ("MFB") and three anonymous farmers filed a related action ("MFB action I") against the MDA in the Circuit Court for Dorchester County ("Dorchester Circuit Court"). MFB alleged in its Complaint that the "[MDA] received a request pursuant to the Maryland [PIA] for the disclosure of certain [NMP] information[, ]. . . [including] all [NMPs], plan summaries, and records of inspection or enforcement against poultry operations located in Dorchester, Queen Anne's Somerset, Talbot, Wicomico, and Worcester Counties." The Complaint asserted two counts—one alleging grounds for a declaratory judgment as to the scope and temporal limitations of Agric. § 8-801.1(b)(2), [5] and the ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.