United States District Court, D. Maryland
SNYDER/DONALDSON, LLC, ET AL.
ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY, MD, ET AL.
RICHARD D. BENNETT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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. 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.
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).
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.
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).
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 ¶
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).
$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).
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).
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).
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).
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 ...