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Uthus v. Valley Mill Camp, Inc.

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

December 18, 2019

BRUCE UTHUS
v.
VALLEY MILL CAMP, INC.

          Circuit Court for Montgomery County Case No. 434503-V

          Berger, Nazarian, Reed, JJ.

          OPINION

          BERGER, J.

         This appeal arises from an order of the Circuit Court for Montgomery County granting a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment filed by Valley Mill Camp, Inc. ("Valley Mill"), appellee. The Complaint that initiated the lawsuit giving rise to this appeal alleged, inter alia, that Bruce Uthus ("Uthus"), appellant, had trespassed on Valley Mill's property. After discovery, Valley Mill moved for partial summary judgment. Following a hearing, the circuit court entered summary judgment in Valley Mill's favor on the trespass claim and ordered Uthus to vacate the property. Uthus filed a Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment, asserting that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to address the trespass claim. The circuit court denied Uthus's motion, and Uthus appealed.

         On appeal, Uthus presents two issues for our review, which we have rephrased as follows:

I. Whether the circuit court erred when it determined that it had jurisdiction to consider the trespass claim.
II. Whether the circuit court erred by granting Valley Mill's motion for summary judgment on the trespass claim.

         Perceiving no error, we shall affirm.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Valley Mill operates a summer camp for children on approximately sixty acres in Germantown, Maryland. The camp has been operated by Uthus's family since 1956. The sole shareholder of Valley Mill is Evelyn McEwan, Uthus's mother. Ms. McEwan is also Valley Mill's President. Valley Mill leases the property (the "Property") upon which the camp operates from Seneca Joint Venture, a Maryland general partnership composed of Ms. McEwan, the Robert McEwan Trust, Valley Mill, Uthus, and Seneca Venture, LLC.

         Uthus is a former employee and former member of the Board of Directors of Valley Mill. In May of 2017, Valley Mill terminated Uthus's employment.[1] Prior to Uthus's termination, Uthus had resided in an apartment unit on the Property. Uthus had resided in the apartment for approximately nineteen years while employed by Valley Mill. After the termination of Uthus's employment, Valley Mill asked Uthus to vacate the apartment, but he refused to do so.

         On July 17, 2017, Valley Mill filed a complaint against Uthus in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County alleging that Uthus was trespassing on the Property.[2] Following discovery, Valley Mill moved for summary judgment on the trespass count. At the conclusion of a hearing on the motion on July 25, 2018, the circuit court issued its oral ruling as follows:

So at this point there doesn't appear to be any factual dispute about certain facts, and that is that Valley Mill Camp has a lease on this property, and that at some point Mr. Uthus was employed there at the camp, to help run the camp, and that employment ended in May of 2017. And he was asked to vacate the premises, and apparently he has not.
So under the claim that's been brought for trespass, Valley Mill has the exclusive right to possess the property, and they've given notice to Mr. Uthus to vacate the property, which he hasn't, which clearly shows that his presence on the property is without the consent of [Valley Mill]. So I'll grant the motion for summary judgment as to the claim of trespass, which is Count 4.

         Uthus filed a Motion to Alter or Amend the circuit court's order on August 10, 2018.[3] In his motion, Uthus alleged that: (1) the circuit court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over the trespass claim, and (2) the circuit court erred by granting summary judgment on the trespass claim because Uthus physically possessed the apartment. The circuit court denied Uthus's motion. This timely appeal followed.

         Additional facts shall be set forth as necessitated by our discussion of the issues on appeal.

         STANDARD ...


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