United States District Court, D. Maryland
L. Russell, III, United States District Judge
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Clayland Farm
Enterprises, LLC's (“Clayland”) Motion for
Partial Summary Judgment (ECF No. 148) and Defendants Talbot
County (the “County”), Talbot County Planning and
Zoning Commission, Talbot County Department of Public Works
Advisory Board (the “Advisory Board”), Thomas
Hughes, Michael Sullivan, John Wolfe, and Jack Fisher's
Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 156). This local zoning
dispute arises out of three Talbot County Bills-Bill Nos.
1214, 1257, and 1229-two of which functioned as moratoria,
and one of which adopted a tier map aimed at minimizing the
environmental impacts of subdivision and sewer system
expansion. The Motions are ripe for disposition, and no
hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md.
2018). For the reasons outlined below, the Court will deny
Clayland's Motion and grant in part and deny as moot in
part Defendants' Motion.
owns a 106.37-acre, waterfront property in the Village of
Royal Oak in Talbot County, Maryland (the
“Property”). (Compl. ¶ 28, ECF No. 2;
Pl.'s Mot. Partial Summ. J. [“Pl.'s
Mot.”] Ex. 1 [“Map”], ECF No. 148-3). The
Property consists of seven smaller plots and one larger plot.
(Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. [“Defs.' Mot.”] Ex.
19 [“Defs.' Appraisal Report”] at 1, ECF No.
156-21; see also Defs.' Mot. Ex. 18
[“Pl.'s Appraisal Report”] at 39, ECF No.
158-21). The seven smaller plots are 2.019 acres,
2.008 acres, 2.005 acres, 3.243 acres, 3.905 acres, 2.371
acres, and 2.271 acres, respectively. (Defs.' Appraisal
Report at 1). The larger remainder plot is 88.548 acres.
Camper family acquired the Property in 1969. (Pl.'s
Appraisal Report at 4). Since then, the Property has been
used for farming and for leasing residential rental
properties. (Bryan Dep. 25:9-14; 52:4-15; 74:12-20, Feb. 15,
2018, ECF No. 158-7). In 1991, the Camper family received
approval to build a six-lot development called “Darby
Farm.” (See Pl.'s Appraisal Report at 1;
Defs.' Appraisal Report at ii, 22, 31).
January 2002, Mrs. Camper passed away and left the Property
to her children, Jeanne Bryan and John Camper, III
(collectively, “the Campers”). (Pl.'s
Appraisal Report at 4). The same month, the Campers elected
to value the Property under Internal Revenue Service
(“IRS”) Special Use Valuation 2032A for the
purposes of estate tax assessment.(Id.). As a result,
the IRS placed a $500, 000.00 tax lien on the Property in
exchange for the Campers agreeing to continue the
agricultural use of the Property for ten years.
(Id.). The IRS released the tax lien in January
2012. (Id. at 4, 105).
2002, the Campers established Clayland Farm Enterprises, LLC
to oversee the Property. (Id. at 4). Clayland earns
approximately $5, 000.00 to $10, 000.00 per year through
sharecropping. (Bryan Dep. 144:14-146:17). Clayland also
leases three residential properties on the Property, as well
as an eight-acre nursery. (Id. 76:1-2;
149:19-150:2). Between 2006 and 2018, the rental properties
have generated monthly rents of $1, 050.00 to $1, 340.00.
(Id. 150:3-11). Clayland leases the nursery to a
relative for $1.00 per year.(Id. 149:10-13).
to the inception of this suit, the Property was zoned as a
“Village Center” zoning district; the Property
was and still is designated an S-1 sewer service area.
(Compl. ¶¶ 29, 36; Pl.'s Mot. Ex. 2, ECF No.
148-4; Pl.'s Mot. Ex. 7, ECF No. 149-1). Under Talbot
County's 2005 Comprehensive Plan, which was in place at
the start of this litigation, Village Center zoning districts
were defined as areas of “low or moderate intensity
residential communities, ” and were “the
preferred location for single and multi-family residential
development.” (Compl. ¶¶ 30, 33). S-1 sewer
service areas are “‘served or to be served'
by a system of sanitary sewer connected to a treatment
plant.” (Id. ¶ 36 (citing COMAR
26.03.01.01S)). With its Village Center and S-1 zoning, the
Property could be developed for residential housing.
(Id. ¶¶ 30, 33, 36). Clayland has not,
however, taken any steps to begin developing the Property,
including the approved development, Darby Farm.
Talbot County Planning & Zoning
March 22, 2011, Talbot County adopted Resolution 180, which
became effective on May 24, 2011. (Pl.'s Mot. Ex. 16
[“Resolution 180”] at 7, ECF No. 149-10; see
also Defs.' Resp. Opp'n Pl.'s Partial Mot.
Summ. J. [“Defs.' Opp'n”] Ex. 11, ECF No.
180 implemented a nine-month moratorium on “processing,
consideration, review, or approval of any application”
for a new subdivision received after March 22, 2011, in six
Villages in Talbot County, including Royal Oak, the Village
where the Property is located. (Resolution 180 at 2). The
County enacted Resolution 180 to, among other things, allow
sufficient time to “make the comprehensive sewer plan
consistent with the comprehensive land-use plan.”
(Id. at 6). On January 10, 2012, the County extended
Resolution 180 for an additional seventy days. (Pl.'s
Mot. Ex. 20 [“Resolution 191”], ECF No. 149-14).
Bill No. 1229
2012, the Maryland General Assembly passed the Sustainable
Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act (the “Septics
Law”), which aimed to minimize the environmental impact
of large subdivisions and the concomitant expansion of septic
systems. (Compl. ¶ 8); Md. Code Ann., Land Use
[“LU”] § 1-508 (West 2019). The Septics Law
established a “four tier map designation system,
” (Compl. ¶ 9), and required local jurisdictions
to adopt corollary growth tier maps, (id. ¶
13). Pursuant to this mandate, Talbot County adopted Bill No.
1229 on December 11, 2012. (Id. ¶ 95; Pl.'s
Mot. Ex. 24 [“Bill 1229”], ECF No. 150-3). Bill
No. 1229 “classif[ied] land in the [C]ounty into one of
seven tier classifications that establish[ed] the type of
subdivision and the kind of wastewater treatment system
planned for each subdivision type.” (Compl. ¶ 83;
Bill 1229 at 3-5). As a result, six acres of the Property
were designated Tier III.B, and the remaining acres were
designated Tier IV. (Compl. ¶ 84).
Comprehensive Plan Review
2013, the Maryland General Assembly amended laws regarding
the timing of local planning commissions' review, and
revision or amendment of, county comprehensive plans. 2013
Md. Laws ch. 520, 1; see also LU § 1-416. Prior
to this amendment, local jurisdictions were required to
review their comprehensive plans at least once every six
years. 2012 Md. Laws ch. 426, 1. After this amendment, local
jurisdictions were required to review their comprehensive
plans at least once every ten years. See LU §
1-416. Talbot County initially anticipated revising its 2005
Comprehensive Plan in 2011. (Defs.' Suppl. Answer
Interrogs. 4, ECF No. 158-5). As a result of the change in
state law, however, Talbot County changed its target date for
enacting a revised comprehensive plan to 2015.
Bill Nos. 1214 & 1257
February 28, 2012, prior to the change in state law regarding
the frequency of comprehensive plan review, Talbot County
adopted Bill No. 1214. (Compl. ¶ 70; Pl.'s Mot. Ex.
22 [“Bill 1214”], ECF No. 150-1). Bill No. 1214
applied to all Village Center zoning districts within the
County's twenty-two Villages. (Bill 1214 at 2). It
reduced the permissible density of properties in Village
Center zoning districts from four dwellings per acre to one
dwelling per two acres, increased the minimum lot size from
10, 000 square feet to one acre, and prohibited subdividing
any existing parcel into more than one additional lot. (Bill
1214 at 2; Compl. ¶ 62). Bill No. 1214 was originally
drafted to expire in three years but was subsequently amended
to expire two years after its enactment. (Bill 1214 at 4;
Compl. ¶¶ 63, 68).
February 25, 2014, Talbot County approved Bill No. 1257.
(Compl. ¶ 78; Pl.'s Mot. Ex. 28 [“Bill
1257”], ECF No. 150-7). Bill No. 1257 extended Bill No.
1214's restrictions until the “adoption of
comprehensive rezoning and land use regulations regarding
density in the [Village Center], VC1, and VC2 zoning
districts pursuant to the County's comprehensive
plan.” (Bill 1257 at 3; Compl. ¶ 76).
2016 Comprehensive Plan & 2018 Comprehensive
7, 2016, Talbot County enacted its 2016 Comprehensive Plan.
(Pl.'s Mot. Ex. 30 [“2016 Comprehensive Plan
Excerpt”], ECF No. 150-9; Defs.' Opp'n Ex. 16
[“Bill No. 1329”], ECF No. 158-18). The 2016
Comprehensive Plan incorporated the tier map established in
Bill No. 1229. (2016 Comprehensive Plan Excerpt at 3-4). On
July 10, 2018, the County adopted Bill Nos. 1401 and 1402
(the “2018 Comprehensive Rezoning”), which were
enacted sixty days later on September 11, 2018. Bill No. 1401
at 2 (repealing and replacing Chapter 190 of the Talbot
County Code); Bill No. 1401 Ex. A (Chapter 190 of the
Talbot County Code); Bill No. 1402 (Zoning Map
Amendment). These Bills implemented the comprehensive
rezoning contemplated in the 2016 Comprehensive Plan, which
became effective November 10, 2018. (Bill No. 1401 Ex. A at
1). Bill No. 1402 rezoned the Property from a Village Center
zoning district to a Resource Conservation (“RC”)
zoning district. (See Bill No. 1402 at Map 40;
see also Pl.'s Mot. at 6 n.3, 19).
September 16, 2014, Clayland sued Defendants in the Circuit
Court for Talbot County, Maryland (the “Original
Complaint”). (ECF No. 2). On October 30, 2014,
Defendants removed the case to this Court. (Not. of Removal
¶ 2, ECF No. 1). On April 30, 2015, this Court dismissed
the Original Complaint on ripeness grounds. (Apr. 30, 2015
Order, ECF No. 22). The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth
Circuit reversed, holding that Clayland's claims were
ripe. Clayland Farm Enters., LLC v. Talbot Cty., 672
Fed.Appx. 240, 244-45 (4th Cir. 2016). While the appeal to
the Fourth Circuit was pending, Clayland filed a new lawsuit
against the County and the Maryland Department of Planning
(the “Second Complaint”) in the Circuit Court for
Talbot County, Clayland Farm Enterprises, LLC v. Talbot
County, Maryland (Clayland II), No.
JFM-15-2410, (D.Md. removed Aug. 13, 2015), which was removed
to this Court, (Clayland II, ECF No. 1). On May 5,
2017, the Court consolidated the two cases. (See May
5, 2017 Order, ECF No. 62).
Original Complaint alleges: Bill Nos. 1214 and 1257
constitute an unconstitutional taking of property in
violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution (Count I); Bill Nos. 1214 and 1257 constitute a
deprivation of procedural due process in violation of the
Fourteenth Amendment (Count II); Bill Nos. 1214, 1257, and
1229 constitute a deprivation of substantive due process in
violation of the Fourteenth Amendment (Count III); and a
civil conspiracy to violate the constitutional rights secured
by the Fourteenth Amendment (Count IV). (Compl. ¶¶
123-59). The Original Complaint also seeks: a declaratory
judgment that Bill No. 1229 is invalid under state law (Count
V); a declaratory judgment that Bill Nos. 1214 and 1257 are
invalid under state law (Count VI); and injunctive relief
enjoining Bill Nos. 1214, 1229, and 1257 (Count VII).
(Id. ¶¶ 160-80). Clayland brings its
federal claims-Counts I, II, III, and IV-under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. (Id. ¶¶ 123-59).
Second Complaint seeks: a declaratory judgment that Bill Nos.
1214 and 1257 are invalid under state law and under the
Fourteenth Amendment (Count I); a declaratory judgment that
Bill No. 1229 is invalid under state law (Count II); and an
injunction against the enforcement of Bill Nos. 1214, 1229,
1257 (Count IV). (Compl., Clayland II, [“2d
Compl.”] ¶¶ 121-36, 145-50, ECF No. 2). The
Second Complaint also alleges an inverse condemnation claim,
asserting that Bill Nos. 1214 and 1257 constituted an
impermissible taking of property under the Fifth Amendment,
Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, and §
40 of the Maryland Constitution (Count III). (Id.
seeks equitable relief and monetary damages. (Compl.
¶¶ 133, 138, 149, 159, 165, 174, 180; 2d Compl.
¶¶ 130, 136, 144, 150).
October 26, 2018, Clayland filed its Motion for Partial
Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 148). On October 30, 2018,
Defendants filed their Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No.
156). Defendants filed an Opposition to Clayland's Motion
on November 8, 2018. (ECF No. 158). Clayland filed a combined
Reply and Opposition to Defendants' Motion on November
13, 2018. (ECF No. 161). On December 14, 2018, Defendants
filed a Reply. (ECF No. 167).
4, 2019, the Court ordered the parties to submit supplemental
briefing on: (1) whether Counts V, VI, and VII are moot
because the County's 2016 Comprehensive Plan and 2018
Comprehensive Rezoning appear to have superseded them; (2) if
Bill Nos. 1214 and 1257 are characterized as legislative
actions, what procedural due process rights apply to them;
and (3) information on the plots of the Property that Bill
Nos. 1214 and 1257 directly affected. (June 4, 2019 Order,
ECF No. 169). On June 14, 2019, Clayland and Defendants filed
their supplemental briefs. (ECF No. 170; ECF No. 171).
federal court may raise the issue of mootness sua
sponte at any stage in the proceedings because it is a
jurisdictional question. United States v. Springer,
715 F.3d 535, 540 (4th Cir. 2013) (citing North Carolina
v. Rice, 404 U.S. 244, 246 (1971)). The mootness
doctrine arises out of Article III of the U.S. Constitution
and limits federal courts to deciding ongoing cases or
controversies. U.S. Const. art III, § 2; see Porter
v. Clarke, 852 F.3d 358, 363 (4th Cir. 2017). “A
case is moot when it has ‘lost its character as a
present, live controversy of the kind that must exist if we
are to avoid advisory opinions on abstract propositions of
law.'” Md. Highways Contractors Ass'n, Inc.
v. Maryland, 933 F.2d 1246, 1249 (4th Cir. 1991) (citing
Diffenderfer v. Cent. Baptist Church of Miami, Inc.,
404 U.S. 412, 414 (1972)). A controversy must remain live
throughout the duration of the litigation. Porter,
852 F.3d at 363 (quoting Arizonans for Official English
v. Arizona, 520 U.S. 43, 68 n.22 (1997)). “When a
law no longer remains in effect, cases challenging that law
and requesting only prospective equitable relief ordinarily
become moot.” Cox v. Phillips, No. 97-2207,
1998 WL 231229, at *2 (4th Cir. May 5, 1998) (first citing
Burke v. Barnes, 479 U.S. 361, 363 (1987); and then
citing Diffenderfer, 404 U.S. at 414); see
Jordahl v. Democratic Party of Virginia, 122 F.3d 192,
198 (4th Cir. 1997); Md. Highways, 933 F.2d at
Counts V, VI, and VII of the Original Complaint seek only
prospective equitable relief. Count V seeks a declaratory
judgment that Bill No. 1229 is void under Maryland law. Count
VI seeks a declaratory judgment that Bill Nos. 1214 and 1257
are void under Maryland law. Count VII seeks injunctive
relief, in part, against the enforcement of Bill Nos. 1214,
1257, and 1229. Talbot County's 2016 Comprehensive Plan
and 2018 Comprehensive Rezoning superseded all three of these
Bills. The declaratory judgments that Clayland seeks would,
therefore, be impermissible advisory opinions. Md.
Highways, 933 F.2d at 1249. Further, there would be no
utility in enjoining statutes that are no longer in effect.
See Kremens v. Bartley, 431 U.S. 119, 129 (1977)
(concluding the enactment of a new statute “clearly
moots the claims”); Tahoe-Sierra Pres. ...