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A Guy Named Moe, LLC v. Chipotle Mexican Grill of Colorado, LLC

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

May 29, 2015

A GUY NAMED MOE, LLC, T/A MOE'S SOUTHWEST GRILL
v.
CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL OF COLORADO, LLC ET AL.

Krauser, C.J., Zarnoch, Davis, Arrie W. (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.

OPINION

Krauser, C.J.

The parties to this appeal are two "foreign limited liability companies":[1] A Guy Named Moe, LLC ("Moe's"), appellant, and Chipotle Mexican Grill of Colorado, LLC ("Chipotle"), appellee.[2] Both companies operate a chain of restaurants, which are respectively known as "Moe's Southwest Grill" and "Chipotle Mexican Grill." The dispute between the parties, which underlies this appeal, began in 2012, when Chipotle[3] applied for a "special exception" for 36 Market Space in Annapolis, Maryland, where it intended to open one of its restaurants. That location is just a little more than 400 feet from the Moe's Southwest Grill at 122 Dock Street, a restaurant which affords a similar fare, at similar prices.

The City of Annapolis's Department of Planning and Zoning subsequently recommended that the Board of Appeals of the City of Annapolis approve Chipotle's application. At the proceedings before the Board that ensued, Moe's opposed that recommendation but to no avail. The Board unanimously approved Chipotle's request. When Moe's thereafter filed a petition requesting that the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County review the Board's decision, that court responded by dismissing Moe's petition, reasoning that, because Moe's, as a lessee of the Dock Street property, did not pay any taxes on that property, it lacked standing to challenge the Board's decision. From that ruling, Moe's noted this appeal, contending that, while it was not a "taxpayer, " under Maryland Code (2012), § 4-401(a) of the Land Use Article ("L.U."), it still had standing to file such an action as "a person aggrieved" by the Board's decision under the very same statutory provision.

Because we hold that Moe's did not have standing to file such a petition, though for an entirely different reason from the one relied upon by the court below in rendering its ruling, we shall affirm.

I.

Moe's, a Virginia LLC, leases 122 Dock Street in Annapolis and has operated a restaurant at that location since 2006. On August 27, 2012, Chipotle, a competitor of Moe's, filed an application for a special exception with the City's Department of Planning and Zoning, so that it could open a "standard restaurant"[4] at 36 Market Space in downtown Annapolis, a location just four to five hundred feet[5] from one of Moe's restaurants.

Chipotle's application sought permission to modify the use of the Market Space property, which had been previously occupied by a coffeehouse with a bookstore. Among other things, it requested the right to increase the interior seating for customers, to "remove the bookstore component from the current restaurant license, " and to maintain its daily hours of operation from 11 a.m. to midnight.

On September 25, 2012, the City's zoning department issued a staff report recommending approval of Chipotle's application. After that report was transmitted to the Board of Appeals of the City of Annapolis, a public hearing was subsequently held by the Board on Chipotle's application. Following that hearing, the Board voted to approve Chipotle's application for a special exception and later issued a written opinion confirming and explaining its decision.

Contesting that decision, Moe's filed a petition for judicial review in the Anne Arundel County circuit court. Although the filing fell within the 30-day period for filing such a petition under Rule 7-203(a), [6] it notably occurred several years after Moe's right to do business in Maryland had been forfeited, a right that was not restored until September 24, 2013, over four months after the 30-day filing period for such petitions had lapsed. That is to say, Moe's had lost its right to do business in Maryland when it filed its otherwise timely petition for judicial review. What is more, notwithstanding the forfeiture of its right to do business in this State, Moe's continued to do business in Maryland without pause or interruption and, in fact, was conducting business in Maryland on the very day that it invoked the assistance of the Maryland judiciary by filing the petition at issue.

Chipotle responded to that petition by filing a motion to dismiss in the circuit court, contending that, because Moe's had been stripped of its right to do business in Maryland and nonetheless continued to do business in this State, it lacked standing to seek judicial review. Nor could it file such a petition, Chipotle added, as either a "person[7] aggrieved by the decision or action" of the Board, under L.U. § 4-401(a)(1), or as a "taxpayer, " under L.U. § 4-401(a)(2), as it was neither.

On December 4, 2013, the circuit court granted Chipotle's motion to dismiss "with prejudice, " stating that Moe's "does not have standing" because it "is not a taxpayer within the meaning of the statute and therefore on that basis alone the Court must grant the motion." The court went on to state that, because it was granting Chipotle's motion to dismiss on Moe's lack of taxpayer status, it did not "have to get into" other issues, though it appeared to do precisely that when it expressed the belief, in ruling on that motion, that Moe's opposition to Chipotle's request for a special exception was "a matter of competition, " which, if true, would have denied Moe's "aggrieved" party status.

II.

The parties agree, and correctly so, that Moe's was not "a taxpayer" under L.U. § 4-401(a)(2). To achieve that status, a petitioner must be a "person" or "entity" that "pays real property taxes to the local jurisdiction whose zoning action is being challenged on appeal, " Superior Outdoor Signs, Inc. v. Eller Media Co., 150 Md.App. 479, 507 (2003), [8]which Moe's does not. Moe's contends, however, that not only did the circuit court err in dismissing its petition on those grounds, but it also erred in failing to consider whether it, Moe's, qualified to file the petition in question, on alternative statutory grounds, namely, as a "person aggrieved" by the Board's decision under L.U. § 4-401(a). That provision provides that, in addition to a "taxpayer, " a "person, " under L.U. § 1-101(k), "may file a request for judicial review of a decision of a ...


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