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Snyder/Donaldson, LLC v. Anne Arundel County

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 28, 2017

SNYDER/DONALDSON, LLC, ET AL.
v.
ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY, MD, ET AL.

          MEMORANDUM

          RICHARD D. BENNETT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs Snyder/Donaldson, LLC and Snyder Development Corporation (collectively "Snyder") file suit against defendants Anne Arundel County, Maryland (the "County"), the CalAtlantic Group, Inc. ("CalAtlantic"), and Mandrin Homes, LTD. ("Mandrin"), seeking a declaratory judgment and damages for breach of contract and violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This dispute arises out of an agreement to construct and share use of a temporary sewer pumping station. Now pending is plaintiffs' motion for Burford abstention and remand.[1] The parties have fully briefed the issues, and no oral argument is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, the motion for Burford abstention is granted. Count I will be remanded to the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, while Counts II and III will remain in this court, where they will be stayed pending the resolution of the remanded claim.

         BACKGROUND

         Mandrin is the developer of Evergreen Commons, a residential land subdivision in the County. (ECF No. 12, ¶ 9). The homes in Evergreen Commons will ultimately connect to a County sewage pumping station. (Id. at ¶ 12). At the time of development, however, Evergreen Commons could not connect to this station. (Id.). Therefore, Mandrin agreed to construct an interim station to connect Evergreen Commons to the County's sewage system until the permanent station became available. (Id. at ¶ 13).

         In 2008, developers of other properties near Evergreen Commons, including Snyder, agreed to jointly fund the construction of the interim station, so that sewer service would also be available to their residential subdivisions. (Id. at ¶ 14). The parties entered into a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding ("MOU"), which established that Mandrin would construct the station "for the benefit of all parties" and that the parties would share the costs of the construction "in direct proportion with the number of units" associated with the interim station. (Id. at¶15).

         In October 2010, Mandrin entered into a Sewage Pumping Station Utility Agreement with the County. (See ECF No. 12-2). The agreement, which bound Mandrin to construct and install the station at no cost to the County, was recorded in the County's Land Records. (ECF No. 12, ¶ 16).

         In May 2012, Mandrin entered into a Subsequent User Agreement (the "Agreement") with the County. (See ECF No. 12-3). The Agreement provided that the County would allow Mandrin to recoup "a portion of the project Cost"-that amount over and above those improvements required by the County Code-from the other users of the interim station. (ECF No. 12, ¶ 17). The Agreement set forth a procedure by which the County was to notify the other users of the requirement that they share the cost of the interim station. (Id. at ¶ 21). Specifically, the County was to notify each user within thirty days of determining how much sewer allocation it would grant that user. (Id.). The Agreement did not mention Snyder by name and was not recorded in the County's Land Records. (Id. at ¶¶ 18, 20). As a result, Snyder claims it knew nothing about the Agreement, including that the cost estimate for the interim station had increased by more than $240, 000 since the time of the MOU-a fact set forth in the Agreement-or that Snyder was now responsible for paying a portion of that increase. (Id. at ¶ 20).

         In August 2013, Snyder asked the County for sewer allocation. (Id. at ¶ 22). The County determined what sewer capacity Snyder would be allotted and informed Snyder that it owed $552, 528 for this allotment. (Id. at ¶ 23). The letter relaying this information stated that it was the "only notice regarding [Snyder's] Anne Arundel County public water and sewer allocation and payment procedures." (See ECF No. 12-6).

         The $552, 528 did not include the amount Snyder owed for use of the interim station. (ECF No. 12, ¶¶ 23-24). And although by the terms of the Agreement the County should have told Snyder how much it owed for use of the interim station within thirty days of its decision, the County did not do so. (Id. at ¶ 24). Instead, it waited almost one year before notifying Snyder that it would owe $8, 223.00 for each building which would connect to the interim station. (Id. at ¶25).

         Snyder immediately disputed the legality of this additional fee, believing the $552, 528 paid in 2013 was the full amount owed. (Id. at ¶ 26). Nevertheless, it has since paid the costs associated with three of its buildings under protest. (Id. at ¶ 28). It has also sold one of its Homebuilders Lots. (Id. at ¶ 29). It claims it was forced to do so at a reduced price, in light of the fee the buyers will incur once they connect to the interim station. (Id.). Cumulatively, Snyder believes it has suffered more than $300, 000 in damages as a result of the allegedly improper charges. (Id. at ¶ 30).

         On September 20, 2017, Snyder filed an amended complaint in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County. (See ECF No. 12). It asked for a declaration that it has no obligations under the Agreement, claimed that defendants violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by not affording Snyder a chance to object to the Agreement, and claimed that the County has breached the Agreement. (See ECF No. 12). On October 6, 2017, the County removed the case to this court. (See ECF No. 1). On November 3, 2017, Snyder filed this motion, asking the court to abstain under the Burford doctrine and to remand this case to state court. (See ECF No. 20).

         STANDARD

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1447, a party may file "a motion to remand [a] case on the basis of any defect other than lack of subject matter jurisdiction ... within 30 days after the filing of the notice of removal.. . ." Although "federal courts have the power to dismiss or remand cases based on abstention principles, " they may do so "only where the relief being sought is equitable or otherwise discretionary." Quackenbush v. Allstate Ins. Co., 517 U.S. 706, 731 (1996).

         Abstention principles constitute '"extraordinary and narrow exception[s]' to a federal court's duty to exercise the jurisdiction conferred on it." Martin v. Stewart,499 F.3d 360, 363 (4th Cir. 2007) (quoting Quackenbush, 517 U.S. at 716, 728). One such doctrine, the Burford abstention doctrine, permits a federal court to abstain from exercising its jurisdiction "when the availability of an alternative, federal ...


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