Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Hunt Valley Baptist Church, Inc. v. Baltimore County

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 17, 2019

HUNT VALLEY BAPTIST CHURCH, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
BALTIMORE COUNTY, MARYLAND et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          ELLEN L. HOLLANDER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In this land use and First Amendment 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 (“Complaint”).[1]

         Now pending is defendants' “Motion for Leave to File an Amended Answer to the Complaint, ” which is supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 98-1) (collectively, the “Motion”) and three exhibits. The proposed amended answer is docketed at ECF 98-3.[2] The Church filed an Opposition (ECF 99), accompanied by eight exhibits. ECF 99-1 to ECF 99-8. Defendants replied (ECF 100, “Reply”), supported by four additional exhibits. See ECF 100-1 to ECF 100-4.[3]

         Defendants' Motion is fully briefed, and no hearing is necessary to resolve it. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I shall deny the Motion.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background[4]

         As 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 131-44 (“Board's Decision”).[5]

         Soon after, on March 23, 2017, plaintiff initiated suit in this Court. See ECF 1. By Order of October 17, 2017, I denied in part and granted in part defendants' motion to dismiss. ECF 17; see also ECF 21. Defendants answered the Complaint on November 3, 2017. ECF 22 (“Answer”). The Answer raised 41 defenses, including assumption of risk, contributory negligence, and laches. Id. at 19-23.

         On November 27, 2019, plaintiff filed a Motion to Strike the Answer. ECF 24; ECF 24-1 (collectively, the “Motion to Strike”). Defendants opposed the Motion to Strike. ECF 31. Plaintiff replied. ECF 34. By Memorandum (ECF 41) and Order (ECF 42) of March 29, 2018, the Court granted the Motion to Strike as to the affirmative defenses of assumption of risk, contributory negligence, and laches, “subject to the right of defendants to renew these defenses, based on a factual predicate.” ECF 42. The Motion to Strike was denied in all other respects. Id.

         Meanwhile, on December 7, 2017, the Court issued a Scheduling Order. ECF 27. The Scheduling Order set a deadline of January 8, 2018, to move “for joinder of additional parties and amendment of pleadings.” Id. at 1. By consent, the Church requested a modification of the Scheduling Order, seeking a sixty-day extension of the discovery deadline, to August 22, 2018. ECF 43. The Court approved that motion. ECF 44. Then, on June 7, 2018, the Court issued an Amended Scheduling Order, which extended the discovery deadline to August 31, 2018. ECF 53. On June 28, 2018, the Court granted defendants' request to extend the deadline for the expert disclosure and written report of a defense expert. ECF 58. By a Second Amended Scheduling Order of July 6, 2018 (ECF 60), the Court moved the discovery deadline to October 31, 2018. ECF 61. Then, on September 17, 2018, the Court extended the discovery deadline to November 30, 2018. ECF 66. Finally, on November 26, 2018, the Court extended the discovery deadline to December 7, 2018, to allow the parties to complete depositions. ECF 88.

         On January 29, 2019, over a year beyond the deadline for amending the pleadings, defendants moved for leave to amend the answer. ECF 98. They allege that, “[d]uring the course of discovery, undersigned counsel uncovered additional facts” that “have resulted in a change to a number of the Defendants' answers” to specific allegations in the suit. ECF 98-1 at 3. The Motion also adds 14 additional defenses, ECF 98-3 at 26-28:

41. RLUIPA violates the principal [sic] of federalism, the establishment clause of the First Amendment, Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Commerce Clause.[6]
42. Plaintiff purchased 821 Shawan Road knowing that a perpetual Conservancy Area Easement covered 70% of the property, including the entire area where the Plaintiff proposed to build its Church and attendant parking.
43. Plaintiff failed to put into its Purchase and Sale Agreement for the property a contingency for extinguishment of the Conservancy Area Easement and for its obtaining a special exception.
44. Plaintiff failed to request a variance from the R.C.4 10% impermeability limitation.
45. Plaintiff failed to seek a special exception with respect to its proposed gymnasium/fellowship hall, neither of which uses appeared on the Plan that accompanied the Zoning Petition.
46. The Conservancy Area Easement was not depicted on the Plaintiff's Plan to Accompany Zoning Petition, even though the Baltimore County Zoning Checklist and the ethical requirements governing the seal of a Property Line Surveyor require that any such plan show all existing easements.
47. This case is a garden variety zoning matter which was decided by the Baltimore County Board of Appeals based upon the Plaintiff's request for zoning relief. The Defendants had no dog in this fight. The Board of Appeals was requested to essentially be the umpire of this matter, a dispute between the Plaintiff as Petitioner and the Protestants. The Board of Appeals conducted 7 days of hearings, a public deliberation, and rendered a very thorough and rational opinion in support of its denial of the Plaintiff's Request for Special Exception.
48. The Church chose to purchase the property at its present location, so any alleged deficiencies with that property were self-imposed.
49. There were many other properties in proximity to 821 Shawan or in other zoning districts that did not require a special exception and were not burdened with a conservancy area easement.
50. The Church deliberately and deceptively submitted a Petition and a Plan to accompany that Petition which did not depict or reference the existing Deed of Conservancy Area Easement which covered 70% of the property, including the entire area where the Plaintiff proposed to build its Church and attendant parking.
51. The Plaintiff has unclean hands.
52. The Board's decision speaks for ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.