Circuit Court for Harford County Case No. 12-C-13-000509
Berger, Nazarian, Wells, JJ.
origin of this dispute dates back to 1990, when Maryland
Reclamation Associates, Inc. ("MRA" or
"Maryland Reclamation"), appellee, purchased
sixty-two acres of land for the purpose of constructing and
operating a rubble landfill. After MRA acquired the land,
Harford County (the "County"), appellant, modified
its zoning laws to disallow landowners -- MRA included --
from operating rubble landfills. For nearly three decades,
MRA has fought the County's regulatory efforts in various
administrative and judicial forums. The dispute now reaches
the Maryland appellate courts for the fifth
appeal, the County appeals from a verdict rendered by a jury
in the Circuit Court for Harford County, in which MRA
prevailed on its inverse condemnation claim and was awarded
$45, 420, 076, representing just compensation in the amount
of $30, 845, 553 plus $14, 574, 523 in interest. For the
reasons explained herein, we reverse the judgment entered
below, and remand the case for further proceedings consistent
with this opinion.
the County enacted zoning regulations that prohibited MRA
from operating a rubble landfill, MRA sought several
variances. If approved, the variances would have permitted
MRA to proceed with its project. The Harford County Hearing
Examiner denied MRA's requests, and in 2007, the Harford
County Board of Appeals (the "Board of Appeals" or
the "Board") affirmed the Hearing Examiner's
decision by a unanimous vote. In MRA IV, 414 Md. 1
(2010), the most recent case between the parties, the Court
of Appeals held, among other things, that the County was not
estopped from amending its zoning laws, and that the County
did not err in denying MRA's requests for variances.
February 19, 2013, following MRA IV, MRA filed suit
in the Circuit Court for Harford County, alleging that the
County's actions constituted a regulatory taking in
violation of the Maryland Constitution and the Maryland
Declaration of Rights.Thereafter, the County filed a motion to
dismiss and a motion for summary judgment, arguing that
MRA's inverse condemnation claim was barred by the
statute of limitations. The County averred that MRA's
claim accrued in June 2007, when the Board of Appeals voted
7-0 to deny MRA's requests for variances. The circuit
court disagreed. In a memorandum opinion, Judge William O.
Carr denied the County's motions, ruling that MRA's
claim was timely because the claim accrued in 2010, when the
Court of Appeals issued its opinion in MRA IV.
case was then tried before a jury in April 2018. The jury
ultimately found in favor of MRA on its takings claim and
awarded damages in the amount of $45, 420, 076. This timely
appeal, the County poses six questions, which we set forth
1. Should MRA's takings claim be dismissed based on
MRA's failure to raise this constitutional issue in any
2. Is MRA's takings claim barred by the statute of
limitations when it was filed more than three years after the
final administrative agency decision denying MRA's
3. Is MRA's takings claim barred by the final judgment in
MRA IV under the doctrines of res judicata and
4. Did the Board's denial of MRA's variance requests
to construct and operate a landfill constitute an
unconstitutional taking when MRA has no vested property right
or interest with respect to such a use?
5. Did the Board's denial of variances to prevent public
harm constitute a taking for which compensation is due?
6. Should the jury's award of more than $45 million in
damages be reversed when MRA failed to present any evidence
of the Property's fair market value?
cross-appeal, MRA presents an additional question, which we
set forth verbatim.
Did the Circuit Court err when it granted summary judgment on
MRA's per se takings claim under Lucas v.
South Carolina Coastal Council, 505 U.S. 1003 (1992)?
-- as a matter of law -- that MRA's inverse condemnation
claim accrued in 2007, when the Board of Appeals denied
MRA's requests for variances. As a result, MRA's
claim is time-barred. We, therefore, reverse the judgment
entered by the circuit court and remand the case for the
entry of judgment in favor of the County.
dispute concerns a sixty-two-acre plot of land in Harford
County, Maryland. We draw from the Court of Appeals'
comprehensive opinions in MRA II, supra,
342 Md. 476 (1996), and MRA IV, supra, 414
Md. 1 (2010), to summarize the history of the various
administrative proceedings and earlier appeals.
In August 1989, the plaintiff-appellant, Maryland Reclamation
Associates, Inc., contracted to purchase property located
adjacent to Gravel Hill Road in Harford County, Maryland.
Maryland Reclamation intended to construct and operate a
rubble landfill on this property; thus, it began the process
of obtaining a rubble landfill permit from the Maryland
Department of the Environment pursuant to Maryland Code
(1982, 1996 Repl. Vol), §§ 9-204 through 9-210,
§§ 9-501 through 9-521 of the Environment Article,
and COMAR 26.03 through 26.04.
Maryland Reclamation first requested that Harford County
include the Gravel Hill Road property in Harford County's
Solid Waste Management Plan as a rubble landfill. Thereafter,
Harford County amended its Solid Waste Management Plan to
include Maryland Reclamation's Gravel Hill Road site as a
rubble landfill. The property's inclusion in the Harford
County Solid Waste Management Plan, however, was made subject
to twenty-seven conditions, including a minimum landscape
buffer of 200 feet. On November 16, 1989, Harford County
advised the Maryland Department of the Environment that
Maryland Reclamation's Gravel Hill Road property had been
included in the County's Solid Waste Management Plan as a
rubble landfill site.
Maryland Reclamation next sought approval at the state
government level from the Department of the Environment. On
November 20, 1989, Maryland Reclamation received Phase I
permit approval from the Department of the Environment.
Maryland Reclamation then filed with the Department the
necessary reports and studies for Phase II and Phase III
[M]aryland Reclamation had entered into a contract to
purchase the property located adjacent to Gravel Hill Road in
August 1989, before its inclusion in Harford County's
Solid Waste Management Plan. Allegedly relying on the
property's inclusion in Harford County's Solid Waste
Management Plan and on the Department of the
Environment's Phase I approval, Maryland Reclamation
consummated the purchase of the Gravel Hill Road property on
February 9, 1990, for $732, 500. The settlement occurred on
the last possible day under the terms of the contract of
Four days after the settlement date, newly appointed Harford
County Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson and Council Member
Joanne Parrott introduced in the County Council Resolution
4-90, which provided for the removal of Maryland
Reclamation's property from the County's Solid Waste
Management Plan. [Footnote omitted.] In the litigation that
ensued over this resolution, the Court of Special Appeals
held that Resolution 4-90 was invalid because it was
preempted by the State's authority over solid waste
management plans and the issuance of rubble landfill permits.
[MRA I], 90 Md.App. 120, 600 A.2d 864, cert.
dismissed sub nom. County Council v. Md.
Reclamation, 328 Md. 229, 614 A.2d 78 (1992). [Footnote
While the litigation over Resolution 4-90 was pending, Bill
91-10 was introduced in the Harford County Council, on
February 12, 1991, as an emergency bill. Bill 91-10 proposed
to amend the requirements for a rubble landfill by increasing
the minimum acreage requirements, buffer requirements, and
height requirements. The bill, inter alia, would establish a
minimum rubble fill size of 100 acres and a buffer zone of
1000 feet. After public hearings, the County Council passed
the bill on March 19, 1991, and the County Executive signed
the bill into law on March 27, 1991. [Footnote omitted.]
On April 2, 1991, Bill 91-16 was introduced in the Harford
County Council. This bill would authorize the County Council
to remove a specific site from the County's Solid Waste
Management Plan if the site does not comply with certain
zoning ordinances, if a permit has not been issued by the
State Department of the Environment within eighteen months of
the site being placed in the County's Solid Waste
Management Plan, or if the owner of the site has not placed
the site in operation within the same eighteen month period.
Bill 91-16 was passed by the County Council, signed into law
by the County Executive on June 10, 1991, and is codified as
§ 109-8.4 of the Harford County Code. [Footnote
The President of the Harford County Council, on April 25,
1991, sent a letter to the State Department of the
Environment, enclosing a copy of enacted Bill 91-10, and
advising the Department that the provisions of the bill could
call into question the status of sites which were in the
process of obtaining rubble landfill permits. On May 2, 1991,
the Department of the Environment advised the County Council
that if a permit were to be issued to Maryland Reclamation,
such issuance would not authorize Maryland Reclamation to
violate any local zoning or land-use requirements.
Also on May 2, 1991, the County's Director of Planning
sent a letter to Maryland Reclamation informing it of Bill
91-10, indicating that Maryland Reclamation's property
would apparently fail to meet the requirements of Bill 91-10,
stating that Maryland Reclamation should submit documentation
showing that the Gravel Hill Road site could meet the
requirements of the zoning ordinances, and stating that, if
the site could not meet such requirements, Maryland
Reclamation would need a variance to operate a rubble
landfill on the property. Maryland Reclamation did not submit
any documents pursuant to the May 2, 1991, letter and did not
file an application for a variance. [Footnote omitted.]
Maryland Reclamation did file on May 21, 1991, an
"appeal" to the Harford County Board of Appeals
from the "administrative decision pursuant to Section
267-7 E in a letter dated 5/2/91," requesting that the
Board "review and reverse the decision of the Zoning
Administrator interpreting that the standards of Council Bill
91-10 apply to the Applicant." The
"application" to the Board of Appeals asserted that
Bill 91-10 was inapplicable to the property and that, if it
was applicable, it was invalid. [Footnote omitted.]
On May 14, 1991, Resolution 15-91 was introduced in the
Harford County Council. This resolution purported to
interpret Harford County law and determine that the Gravel
Hill Road site was not in compliance with county law; the
resolution went on to remove the site from the County's
Solid Waste Management Plan. The County Council passed
Resolution 15-91 on June 11, 1991. The resolution was
apparently not submitted to the County Executive for his
Maryland Reclamation on June 20, 1991, filed a complaint in
the Circuit Court for Harford County, seeking a Declaratory
Judgment and Injunctive Relief against Harford County and the
Harford "County Council." Maryland Reclamation
requested, inter alia, the following: (1) a declaration that
Bills 91-10 and 91-16, as well as Resolution 15-91, are
"null and void as to the Gravel Hill Site;" (2) an
injunction preventing the County from enforcing Bills 91-10
and 91-16 and Resolution 15-91 against Maryland Reclamation;
and (3) an injunction staying all further action on Maryland
Reclamation's "appeal" to the Board of Appeals.
Maryland Reclamation advanced numerous legal theories to
support its complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief.
The circuit court on June 28, 1991, issued an interlocutory
injunction preventing enforcement of Bills 91-10, 91-16, and
Resolution 15-91 against Maryland Reclamation. The order
expressly allowed the Department of the Environment to
continue its processing of Maryland Reclamation's pending
permit application. The order also stayed the processing of
Maryland Reclamation's administrative "appeal"
from the Director of Planning's "decision"
contained in the Director's May 2, 1991, letter. Finally,
the interlocutory order prohibited Maryland Reclamation from
starting any construction without court approval.
On February 28, 1992, the State Department of the Environment
issued to Maryland Reclamation a permit to operate a rubble
landfill on its property. The Department expressly
conditioned the permit upon Maryland Reclamation's
compliance with all local land-use requirements. [Footnote
Upon cross-motions for summary judgment, the circuit court on
May 19, 1994, filed an opinion and judgment, declaring that
Harford County was entitled to enact new zoning laws that may
prevent Maryland Reclamation from operating a rubble
landfill, and that Bills 91-10 and 91-16 were not invalid on
the grounds asserted by the plaintiff. The court, however,
declared that Resolution 15-91 was invalid on its face.
According to the circuit court, the Harford County Council
was acting as a legislative body when it passed the
resolution, and the passage of the resolution constituted an
illegal attempt to interpret and apply the laws which the
Council had previously enacted.
Maryland Reclamation appealed to the Court of Special Appeals
with respect to the circuit court's declaration that
Bills 91-10 and 91-16 were not invalid. The County did not
cross-appeal from the circuit court's declaration that
Resolution 15-91 was invalid. Before any further proceedings
in the intermediate appellate court, this Court issued a writ
MRA II, supra, 342 Md. at 480-86.
Ultimately, the Court of Appeals held in MRA II that
"MRA had not exhausted its administrative remedies,
including appealing the Zoning Administrator's ruling to
the Board of Appeals, and applying to the Zoning
Administrator for variances." MRA IV,
supra, 414 Md. at 12 (citing MRA II,
supra, 342 Md. at 496-97).
Thereafter MRA filed requests for interpretation with the
Zoning Administrator, presenting nine issues. After receiving
unfavorable rulings, MRA appealed to the Board of Appeals.
The Board, through its Zoning Hearing Examiner, conducted a
hearing and issued a decision dated April 2, 2002 that the
application of Bill 91-10 to the proposed rubble landfill did
not violate federal, state, or local laws. As summarized by
Judge Harrell in MRA III, the Hearing Examiner's
findings and conclusions underlying this decision were as
1. Bill 91-10 applies to MRA's property on Gravel Hill
2. The requirements of Bill 91-10 can be validly applied to
MRA's property on Gravel Hill road under the
circumstances of this case and in light of the Environmental
Article of the Maryland Code as well as other principles of
3. MRA's operation of a rubble landfill on its property
at Gravel Hill Road pursuant to its state permit will violate
applicable Harford County Zoning law, particularly Harford
County Code §§ 267-40.1, 267-28C, 267-28D(4) and
267-41. Moreover, the Hearing Examiner questions whether the
permit issued to MRA by MDE is validly issued as it was based
on misinformation provided to the State by MRA regarding the
conformance of the property and use with Harford County
4. MRA cannot obtain a grading permit unless it can meet the
requirements of Harford County Zoning law. To the extent MRA
does not meet specific standards it must seek a variance and
obtain a variance from provisions with which it cannot
comply. MRA's reliance on site plan approvals that
pre-date the enactment of Bill 91-10 is without merit.
5. MRA's operation of a rubble landfill on its property
at Gravel Hill Road pursuant to its State-issued Refuse
Disposal Permit No. 91-12-35-10-D and as renewed by Refuse
Disposal Permit 1996-WRF-0517 will violate applicable Harford
County zoning law.
6. Harford County is not prohibited by the principles of
estoppel from applying the provisions of Harford County Bill
91-10 (section 267-40.1 of the Harford County Code) to
MRA's property and specifically, to ...