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Floyd v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore

Court of Appeals of Maryland

April 1, 2019

JOAN FLOYD, ET AL.
v.
MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL OF BALTIMORE

          Argued: November 30, 2018

          Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case No. 24-C-17-003021

          Barbera, C.J. Greene McDonald Watts Hotten Getty Adkins, Sally D. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

          OPINION

          WATTS, J.

         This case concerns taxpayer standing, and, specifically, whether certain individuals satisfied the requirements of taxpayer standing to maintain a challenge against comprehensive rezoning ordinances and a new zoning map enacted in Baltimore City. Recently, in Anne Arundel Cty. v. Bell, 442 Md. 539, 576-77, 113 A.3d 639, 661-62 (2015), we explained that taxpayer standing is a "common law standing doctrine [that] permits taxpayers to seek the aid of courts, exercising equity powers, to enjoin illegal and ultra vires[1] acts of public officials where those acts are reasonably likely to result in pecuniary loss to the taxpayer" or an increase in taxes. (Cleaned up). Under the taxpayer standing doctrine, among other things, a "complainant must have a special interest in the subject[ ]matter of the suit distinct from that of the general public." Id. at 576, 113 A.3d at 661 (cleaned up). The "special interest" requirement is satisfied where a complainant alleges "both 1) an action by a municipal corporation or public official that is illegal or ultra vires, and 2) that the action may injuriously affect the taxpayer's property, meaning that it reasonably may result in a pecuniary loss to the taxpayer or an increase in taxes." Id. at 577, 113 A.3d at 662 (cleaned up). Importantly, "there must be a 'nexus' between the showing of potential pecuniary damage and the challenged act." Id. at 579, 113 A.3d at 663 (citation omitted). Indeed, "[t]here must be [] a connection between the alleged[ly] illegal or ultra vires act, the harm caused to the taxpayer, and the potential for the remedy to alleviate the harm incurred." Id. at 579, 113 A.3d at 663 (citation omitted). And, "th[e] nexus must be true not only for the complainant, but also [for] all similarly situated taxpayers." Id. at 579, 113 A.3d at 663 (citation omitted).

         Here, Joan Floyd, Paul Robinson, and Deborah Tempera (together, "Petitioners"), Baltimore City taxpayers, filed in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City a complaint for declaratory judgment against the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore ("Respondent"), challenging a new comprehensive rezoning and a new zoning map, as enacted through two ordinances. Respondent filed a motion to dismiss and/or for summary judgment, alleging that Petitioners lacked the requisite taxpayer standing to maintain their case. Following a hearing, the circuit court granted the motion to dismiss, ruling that Petitioners failed to allege a specific harm unique to them or their property and that Petitioners lacked taxpayer standing. Petitioners filed a notice of appeal, and while this case was pending in the Court of Special Appeals, they filed in this Court a petition for a writ of certiorari. Before the Court of Special Appeals heard oral argument or issued an opinion, we granted the petition. See Floyd v. Mayor & City Council of Balt., 460 Md. 494, 190 A.3d 1037 (2018).

         Against this backdrop, we decide whether the circuit court properly determined that Petitioners failed to establish the requisite taxpayer standing to proceed with this case, and, in turn, whether the circuit court erred in granting the motion to dismiss. We hold that the circuit court correctly granted the motion to dismiss because Petitioners failed to allege facts sufficient to establish taxpayer standing to maintain a challenge to the comprehensive rezoning and zoning map. We conclude that Petitioners failed to show a special interest in the subject matter of this case distinct from that of the general public by failing to sufficiently allege illegal or ultra vires acts by Respondent that may result in a pecuniary loss or an increase in taxes. Moreover, we determine that Petitioners failed to demonstrate a nexus between any alleged potential pecuniary harm and the challenged act, i.e., a connection between the allegedly illegal or ultra vires act and the harm caused to the taxpayer. Petitioners also failed to seek a remedy that, if granted, would alleviate any alleged tax burden or pecuniary loss. Accordingly, we affirm the circuit court's judgment.

         BACKGROUND

         On October 22, 2012, City Council Bill 12-0152, also known as "TransForm Baltimore," was introduced, and assigned to the Council's Land Use and Transportation Committee ("the Committee"). Bill 12-0152 involved comprehensive rezoning in Baltimore City.[2] Over the next several years, the Committee held a public hearing on Bill 12-0152 that was recessed and reconvened numerous times. On October 20, 2016, the Committee voted on a Committee Report, in which the Committee recommended that the Council consider Bill 12-0152 favorably with amendments. On October 24, 2016, the Council held a meeting and voted favorably on Bill 12-0152 with amendments. On December 5, 2016, the Council voted to pass Bill 12-0152, the Mayor signed it, and it was enacted as Ordinance 16-581. The Mayor and the Council President also signed the accompanying Zoning Map, which was dated October 24, 2016. Ordinance 16-581 was to take effect on June 5, 2017. As of the date it was enacted, Ordinance 16-581 stated, in relevant part, that it was "ORDAINED[ t]hat the Zoning Map dated October 22, 2012[, ] and accompanying this Ordinance is enacted as a part of new City Code Article 32-Zoning."

         After Ordinance 16-581 was enacted, typographical errors in the Ordinance were noticed, and, on February 27, 2017, City Council Bill 17-0021 was introduced. Bill 17-0021 was entitled "Baltimore City Zoning Code - Legalization - Corrections[, ]" and included the following purpose paragraph:

FOR the purpose of legalizing new City Code Article 32 . . . as enacted by Ordinance 16-581 . . . and edited, codified, and published by the Baltimore City Department of Legislative Reference; further amending new Article 32 to correct various technical errors, omissions, and inconsistencies and to correct, clarify, and conform various references and language; providing for a special effective date; and generally relating to the zoning and development laws of the City of Baltimore.

         On April 5, 2017, the Committee held a public hearing on Bill 17-0021, and voted favorably on the bill with amendments. On April 24, 2017, the Council held a meeting, and approved amendments to Bill 17-0021. One of the amendments that was adopted was the inclusion of the following language (with additions shown by capitalization, and deletions shown by brackets):

That the Zoning Map dated [October 22, 2012] OCTOBER 24, 2016, and accompanying this Ordinance, AS THAT MAP WAS SIGNED AND APPROVED BY THE MAYOR AND CO-SIGNED BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE CITY COUNCIL, BOTH UNDER DATE OF DECEMBER 5, 2016, is enacted as part of new City Code Article 32 - Zoning.

         In other words, from the amended language, it appeared that reference to the October 22, 2012 Zoning Map, as opposed to the October 24, 2016 Zoning Map, was a typographical error or inadvertent discrepancy. On May 8, 2017, the Council voted to pass Bill 17-0021. On May 16, 2017, the Mayor signed Bill 17-0021, which was enacted as Ordinance 17-015. Ordinance 17-015's effective date was the same as Ordinance 16-581's, i.e., June 5, 2017.

         Ten days later, on May 26, 2017, Petitioners filed in the circuit court a complaint for declaratory judgment against Respondent, challenging the comprehensive rezoning, adopted and enacted through Bill 12-0152/Ordinance 16-581 and Bill 17-0021/Ordinance 17-015, as ultra vires or illegal. In the complaint, Petitioners alleged that they were Baltimore City taxpayers who were bringing the "action on behalf of all Baltimore City taxpayers pursuant to the principle of taxpayer standing as set forth in" Bell, 442 Md. 539, 113 A.3d 639. And, according to Petitioners, the comprehensive rezoning would "injuriously affect the property of Baltimore City taxpayers, who [would] suffer pecuniary losses or increased taxes as a result." In the complaint, among other things, Petitioners alleged that various required notices were not mailed or published.

         In the complaint, Petitioners also alleged the following in paragraphs thirty-six through fifty:

36. The approval and enactment of the "October 22, 2012" Zoning Map as part of Bill 12-0152/Ordinance 16-581 was ultra vires and illegal.
37. The "October 24, 2016" Zoning Map signed by the Mayor and City Council President on December 5, 2016 had not been adopted by the [] Council.
38. The notice, hearing, and other due process requirements of the Land Use Article and Baltimore City Zoning Ordinance were violated, both in letter and in spirit, in the processing, approval[, ] and enactment of new Baltimore City Zoning Maps as part of Bill 12-0152/Ordinance 16-581 and Bill 17-0021/Ordinance 17-015.
39. The ultra vires or illegal imposition of a new Zoning Map on Baltimore City will cause Baltimore City taxpayers to suffer pecuniary losses or tax increases.
40. A Zoning Map adopted by ultra vires or illegal means lacks the presumption of validity afforded in Maryland to lawful comprehensive rezonings.
41. With no statute of limitations for claiming error in a comprehensive rezoning, an unlawfully adopted Zoning Map will bring prolonged instability to Baltimore City.
42. The presumption of validity will effectively be replaced by the presumption of error, and rezoning applications based on allegations of mistake in the comprehensive rezoning will be the norm rather than the exception.
43. A Zoning Map adopted by ultra vires or illegal means will be challengeable whenever a permit or zoning authorization is applied for or issued.
44. A Zoning Map adopted by ultra vires or illegal means may overburden the taxpayer-funded resources of City agencies, boards[, ] and commissions that review and issue permits and zoning authorizations.
45. A Zoning Map adopted by ultra vires or illegal means will place extra burdens on the taxpayer-funded resources of the City Law Department, which routinely defends decisions made by City agencies, boards[, ] and commissions.
46. The efforts by private entities and [Respondent] to respond to or correct errors and allegations of mistake will be costly to Baltimore City taxpayers.
47. Baltimore City real property will be plagued by uncertainty over regulations as to the potential construction and use of buildings and properties.
48. A Zoning Map adopted by ultra vires or illegal means may cause the assessed value or market value of real property to erroneously increase or decrease.
49. Property tax credits for the improvement of property may be erroneously granted or denied.
50. Bonds may be issued to support the development of unlawfully rezoned property.

         In the complaint, Petitioners sought declaratory judgment that Respondent had failed to mail and publish certain notices; that Bill 17-0021/Ordinance 17-015 was "null and void as to its adoption and enactment of a Baltimore City Zoning Map"; that the adoption and enactment of the "Zoning Maps was ultra vires or illegal, and [thus] null and void"; and that the Zoning Maps were "of no effect."

         On May 26, 2017, the same day that the complaint was filed, Petitioners filed a motion for summary judgment and accompanying memorandum in support, [3] in which they argued:

The procedures by which [Respondent] adopted and enacted new Baltimore City Zoning Maps, first in December of 2016 and later in May of 2017, are not found in the Land Use Article and Baltimore City Zoning Ordinance. There were multiple[] egregious failures: failure to provide Baltimore City property owners with notice of changes proposed to the zoning or their properties; failure to conduct all required hearings; failure to provide required hearing notice, both mailed and advertised; and[, ] in the case of the most recent action, failure to hold Bill 17-0021 over for one regular City Council meeting before giving final approval to the new Zoning Map. That Zoning Map, scheduled to become effective on June 5, 2017, was adopted and enacted by ultra vires and illegal means and must not become the new Baltimore City Zoning Map.

         A few days later, on May 31, 2017, Petitioners filed a motion for a temporary restraining order, seeking to block the Zoning Map from going into effect on June 5, 2017. On June 2, 2017, Respondent filed an opposition to the motion. On the same date, the circuit court conducted a hearing on the motion for a temporary restraining order. During the hearing, Petitioners' counsel argued that Petitioners were bringing this case "as a taxpayer suit, . . . [b]ased on the fact that the taxpayers of the City of Baltimore will be taxed to the limit for challenges that will occur" to the Zoning Map. Petitioners' counsel contended that "irreparable harm" would occur to all Baltimore City taxpayers, in "that permits will be issued under the new illegal zoning map . . . [t]hat will then cause challenges[.]" When asked to clarify what the irreparable harm would be, Petitioners' counsel asserted: "Irreparable harm is the City will be forced to defend [] multiple violations of issuing a permit based on an illegal map." Petitioners' counsel contended that the harm ...


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