United States District Court, D. Maryland
Lipton Hollander United States District Judge
land use case, plaintiff Hunt Valley Baptist Church, Inc.
(“HVBC” or the “Church”) filed suit
against Baltimore County and the Board of Appeals of
Baltimore County (the “Board”), alleging,
inter alia, violations of the Religious Land Use and
Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (“RLUIPA”),
codified at 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc et seq.;
the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment; the Equal
Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and Article 36
of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. ECF 1
pending is defendants' “Motion to Stay Federal Case
Until Resolution of the Plaintiff's Petition for Judicial
Review in State Court” (ECF 25), which is supported by
a memorandum of law. ECF 25-1 (collectively, “Motion to
Stay”). Plaintiff opposes the Motion to Stay (ECF 29),
and defendants have filed a reply. See ECF 30.
Subsequently, defendants filed a “Motion to Stay
Discovery Pending Ruling on Motion to Stay Entire Case”
(ECF 35), with a supporting memorandum of law. See
ECF 35-1 (collectively, “Motion to Stay
Discovery”). Plaintiff opposes the Motion to Stay
Discovery (ECF 36), and defendants have replied. ECF 37.
plaintiff filed a “Motion to Strike Portions of
Defendant's Answer” (ECF 24), which is supported by
a memorandum of law. See ECF 24-1 (collectively,
“Motion to Strike”). Defendants oppose the Motion
to Strike (ECF 31), and plaintiff has replied. See
motions are fully briefed, and no hearing is necessary to
resolve them. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons
stated below, I shall deny the motions to stay. And, I shall
grant in part and deny in part the Motion to Strike.
Factual and Procedural Background
discussed at length in my Amended Memorandum Opinion of
October 24, 2017 (ECF 21), HVBC sought a special exception to
build a church on 16.6 acres of land located at 821 Shawan
Road in Cockeysville, Maryland. See ECF 21 at 4-18.
However, on February 22, 2017, a majority of the Board
rejected the Church's zoning request. Id. at
15-17; see also ECF 8-2 at 131-144
after, on March 23, 2017, plaintiff initiated suit in this
Court. See ECF 1. On November 15, 2017, plaintiff
also filed a petition in the Circuit Court for Baltimore
County, seeking judicial review of the Board's Decision.
ECF 25 at 1, ¶ 1. By Order of October 17, 2017 (ECF 17),
I denied in part and granted in part defendants' motion
to dismiss. See also ECF 21. Thereafter, defendants
answered the Complaint. ECF 22 (“Answer”).
subsequently filed a Motion to Strike (ECF 24) many of the
affirmative defenses asserted by defendants in their Answer
and to deem as admitted large swaths of the Complaint.
See, e.g., ECF 24-1 at 13. Additionally, defendants
have filed two motions to stay. As indicated, the Motion to
Stay (ECF 25) seeks to stay the litigation here until the
Circuit Court for Baltimore County has resolved
plaintiff's petition for judicial review of the
Board's Decision. The Motion to Stay Discovery (ECF 35)
seeks to stay discovery until I rule on the Motion to Stay
unspecified date, various interested parties (not defendants
here) filed a motion in the Circuit Court for Baltimore
County to dismiss the petition for judicial review lodged in
that court. On March 12, 2018, counsel for plaintiff informed
this Court that, on March 7, 2018, the circuit court denied
defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's petition
for judicial review. ECF 38 (correspondence of March 12,
2018); see also ECF 38-1 (circuit court order of
March 7, 2018). However, the circuit court stayed the suit,
pursuant to the Church's request. See ECF 38; see
also ECF 38-2 (circuit court order of March 7, 2018).
The circuit court also requested a status report as to the
federal case, due within 180 days. ECF 38-2.
March 13, 2018, Valley Planning Council, Inc. asked the
circuit court to reconsider its decision to stay the State
case. See ECF 39-1 (motion for reconsideration,
dated March 13, 2018). The circuit court denied that motion.
See ECF 40-1 (circuit court order of March 19,
2018). However, the circuit court said, ECF 40-1: “If
the Federal Action . . . is stayed by the United States
District Court, then [the Circuit] Court may
reconsider” its decision to stay litigation in that
facts are included in the Discussion.
Motions to Stay
Motion to Stay (ECF 25), defendants argue, inter
alia, that because plaintiff “has sought judicial
review of the decision of the Board” in the Circuit
Court for Baltimore County, “this Court should allow
that process to reach finality before it permits
Plaintiff's federal claims to proceed further.”
Id. at 3-4. Plaintiff counters, inter alia,
that granting defendants' Motion to Stay would
unnecessarily delay resolution of this suit. ECF 29 at 11.
Additionally, plaintiff points out that a “ruling
against the Church in the Circuit Court proceeding will not
moot Plaintiff's claims, and even a ruling in its favor
will not address the Church's claim” under RLUIPA.
Id. at 10.
district court has broad discretion to stay proceedings as
part of its inherent power to control its own docket.
Landis v. North American, 299 U.S. 248, 254 (1936).
But, that discretion is not without limits. In re
Sacramento Mun. Utility Dist., 395 F. App'x 684, 687
(Fed. Cir. 2010). A court must “weigh competing
interests and maintain an even balance.”
Landis, 299 U.S. at 255; see also United States
v. Ga. Pac. Corp., 562 F.2d 294, 296 (4th Cir. 1977)
(“The determination by a district judge in granting or
denying a motion to stay proceedings calls for an exercise of
judgment to balance the various factors relevant to the
expeditious and comprehensive disposition of the causes of
action on the court's docket.”).
particular, the court must consider “the length of the
requested stay, the hardship that . . . the movant would face
if the motion were denied, the burden a stay would impose on
the nonmovant, and whether the stay would promote judicial
economy by avoiding duplicative litigation.” In re
Mut. Funds Litigation, JFM-04-1274, 2011 WL 3819608, *1
(D. Md. Aug. 25, 2011). In order to issue a stay, a court
must be satisfied that a “pressing need” exists,
and that “the need for a stay outweighs any possible
harm to the nonmovant.” Elite Const. Team, Inc. v.
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., JKB-14-2358, 2015 WL 925927, at
*3 (D. Md. Mar. 2, 2015).
noted, defendants have moved to stay the suit before me until
litigation in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County is
resolved. ECF 25. But, the litigation has already been stayed
in the circuit court. ECF 40-1. In its order of March 19,
2018 (ECF 40-1), the circuit court offered no explanation for
its decision to stay. But, it appears that, as the first
court to rule on a motion to stay, it opted to allow the
federal case to proceed first. Resolution of the proceedings
on judicial review might result in a ruling in the
Church's favor, and could, perhaps, ...