United States District Court, D. Maryland
HUNT VALLEY PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, INC.
BALTIMORE COUNTY and BOARD OF APPEALS OF BALTIMORE COUNTY, MARYLAND
Catherine C. Blake United States District Judge
Valley Presbyterian Church, Inc. ("HVPC") filed
this action against Baltimore County and Board of Appeals of
Baltimore County, Maryland alleging violations of the
Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000
("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2OOOcc et
seq. the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment
pursuant to 42 U.S;C. § 1983; Article 36 of the Maryland
Declaration of Rights; and for judicial review of an
administrative decision. The defendants filed a motion to
stay this action pending the outcome of related proceedings
in state courts. (ECF No. 10.) The issues in this case have
been fully briefed, and no oral argument is necessary.
See Local R. 105.6. For the reasons stated below,
the motion will be denied.
1992, HVPC purchased land at 13105 Beaver Dam Road in
Cockeysville, Maryland on which it would construct a church.
Since 1997, HVPC has rented space in a warehouse 0.2 miles
away as a satellite campus for some of its activities,
including middle and high school ministries and their office
space. HVPC's services were at or over capacity on Easter
in 2017, demonstrating the need for a larger facility to
accommodate the congregation.
HVPC initially acquired the land at 13105 Beaver Dam Road, it
was zoned to permit churches only by special exception. HVPC
obtained a special exception with certain restrictions as to
its use of the property, including limiting the size of the
church it was permitted to build. Construction on this church
was completed in 1998. In 2012, the land was rezoned to
permit churches without special exception. In 2014, HVPC
filed a request to amend its prior approved plan, but
Baltimore County required the Church to file a new
Development Plan instead. Local residents opposed HVPC's
application. On March 15, 2016, an Administrative Law Judge
issued a Combined Development Plan and Zoning Opinion. This
decision was bifurcated by the Board of Appeals on appeal
from the local residents opposing HVPC's expansion plans.
The Development Plan was affirmed on August 25, 2016 by the
Board of Appeals, and again by the Circuit Court of Baltimore
County on July 18, 2017. The decision has been appealed by
the opposing residents to the Maryland Court of Special
Appeals, where it is currently pending.
second half of the bifurcated case is an amendment to the
initial Final Development Plan. On June 27, 2017, the Board
of Appeals approved the amendments to the Final Development
Plan with conditions to be determined at a later date. Those
conditions were identified in an Opinion and Order issued on
December 8, 2017, and include at least 30 days' advance
notice of scheduled events held at the church; 48-hour notice
of special events; certain storm water management
requirements; and certain traffic control requirements
including staggering services as much as 90 minutes apart.
December 13, 2017, HVPC filed this suit seeking judicial
review of the December 8, 2017, opinion and order, arguing
that the imposed conditions burden its free exercise rights
and violate RLUIPA. HVPC seeks declaratory and injunctive
relief from these conditions, compensatory damages, and
attorney's fees in this suit.
January 5, 2018, those opposing HVPC's amendments filed a
petition for review of the December 8, 2017 opinion and order
in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. (Mot. Stay at 4,
ECF No. 10-1.) HVPC filed a cross-petition for judicial
review in that case on January 29, 2018. (Id.) On
March 7, 2018, that case was stayed pending the outcome of
this case. (Mar. 7 2018 Order in Cir. No. 03-C-18-000166, ECF
February 15, 2018, the defendants filed a motion to stay this
case pending the outcomes of the appeal in the Maryland Court
of Special Appeals and the petition and cross-petition for
judicial review in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County.
(ECF No. 10.) On March 1, 2018, HVPC filed its opposition.
(ECF No. 11.) On March 12, 2018, HVPC notified the court that
the petition for judicial review pending in the Circuit Court
for Baltimore County had been stayed pending appeal of this
case. (Letter, ECF No. 12.) On March 14, 2018, the defendants
filed their reply in support of their motion and addressing
the stay issued by the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. On
April 13, 2018, HVPC also submitted as supplemental authority
an opinion issued by Judge Hollander on March 30, 2018, in
another suit in this district involving the same defendants
and a similar issue. (Letter, ECF No. 15.)
court's authority to stay proceedings is incidental to
its inherent power to "control the disposition of the
causes on its docket with economy of time and effort for
itself, for counsel, and for litigants." Landis
v. JV. Am. Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254 (1936). The
factors to consider when deciding a motion to stay are:
"(1) the interests of judicial economy; (2) hardship and
equity to the moving party if the action is not stayed; and
(3) potential prejudice to the nonmoving party."
Davis v. Biomet Orthopedics, LLC, No. JKB-12-3738,
2013 WL 682906, *1 (D. Md. Feb. 22, 2013).
Hollander is currently presiding over another case with
similar issues involving the same defendants but regarding a
different church's property. Hunt Valley Baptist
Church, Inc. v. Baltimore County, Maryland, el al, No.
ELH-17-804. In deciding whether to abstain from ruling in
that case on Burford grounds, she ultimately
retained the RLUIPA and Free Exercise claims in that case,
and dismissed the count requesting judicial review of a Board
opinion without prejudice. Hunt Valley Baptist
Church, 2017 WL 4801542 at *20 (D.Md. Oct. 24, 2017);
Burford v. Sun Oil Co., 319 U.S. 315 (1943). Judge
Hollander also recently denied a motion to stay that case
pending the outcome of a related state case. Memo., 4-5, ECF
No. A\, Hunt Valley Baptist Church, Inc. v. Baltimore
County, Maryland, et al., ELH-17-804 (D. Md. Mar. 29,
defendants argue that the underlying Board decisions at issue
in this case are not sufficiently final for review in this
court due to the pending Circuit Court and Court of Special
Appeals cases. Relatedly, they argue that the factors
identified in Davis v. Biomet Orthopedics weigh in
their favor and that this case could become moot depending on
the outcome of the Circuit Court and Court of Special Appeals
cases. None of these arguments are persuasive.
Davis factors weigh in favor of denying the motion
to stay. As in Hunt Valley Baptist Church, the
Circuit Court has already stayed the proceedings related to
this case pending the outcome in federal court. Judicial
economy would be best served by allowing this case to proceed
so the exclusively federal claims can be addressed.
Similarly, denying the motion to stay ensures that HVPC would
not be prejudiced by stayed proceedings in both federal and
state courts. As Judge Hollander noted in her memorandum,
RLUIPA and First Amendment Free Exercise claims will not be
litigated in the state court cases. See Memo.,
Hunt Valley Baptist Church, Inc. v. Baltimore County,
Maryland, et al, ELH-17-804 (D. Md. Mar. 29, 2018) at 5;
Hunt Valley, 2017 WL 4801542 at *19 ("Moreover,
the Fourth Circuit has declined to abstain from cases
involving a 'valid claim of religious
prejudice...'") (quoting Pomponio, 21 F.3d
at 1328). Accordingly, waiting for a ruling in the ...