Court of Special Appeals Vacates Takings Judgment Against Harford County

A Harford County press release (2019-08-01) announced that the Maryland Court of Special Appeals has ruled for Harford County in a longstanding dispute with Maryland Reclamation Associates, Inc. (MRA) that could have set a new precedent on property takings through inverse condemnation.

MRA sought to establish a rubble landfill outside of Havre de Grace in the early 1990s. However, the County denied multiple applications from MRA for zoning variances and MRA initiated litigation. In 2010, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that the County was lawfully exercising its zoning authority in denying the variances. In response, MRA sued the County again arguing that the County’s actions had devalued its property and sought damages.

From the press release:

MRA filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court in 2013 claiming that the county’s denials of zoning variances and the enactment of county council legislation had devalued the property.  Last year a jury ruled that the county must pay $45.4 million in damages to MRA, despite the fact that the county filed a number of motions to have the lawsuit dismissed.  One of those motions was based on the fact that the statute of limitations had run out from the time of a previous ruling to the 2013 filing of MRA’s lawsuit.  The Court’s opinion today agreed with that motion, and it has instructed the Circuit Court to vacate last year’s judgement.

Commenting on the opinion, County Executive Glassman stated:

“I am happy that the Court of Special Appeals agreed with us that MRA’s 2013 lawsuit came well past the deadline for making such a filing. I hope that this puts an end to this long-running matter once and for all, and I am pleased not just for the residents of Gravel Hill, but for all Harford County taxpayers.”

Further coverage from a Baltimore Sun article (2019-08-01):

Richard Schafer, Maryland Reclamation Associates’ founder and president, said he is disappointed that the Court of Special Appeals reversed the decision of six citizens of Harford County who heard all of the evidence and awarded MRA more than $45 million. …
“It is unfair that any governmental entity can delay a final decision on a zoning issue for decades, and then after a taking occurred, argue that the landowner waited too long to sue,” Schafer said in a statement. “The decision from the Court of Special Appeals impacts not just MRA, but any citizen who has a takings claim whose property has been taken by regulation.”
The Sun article indicated that MRA would appeal the Court of Special Appeals ruling to the Court of Appeals and, if necessary, to the United States Supreme Court.
Given the importance of the decision to both takings claims and local zoning authority, MACo, Montgomery County, and a number of other local governments supported Harford County’s motion through an amicus brief.
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