MD Courts Rein in County Board of Appeals’ Fine Authority

The Maryland Court of Appeals recently ruled on a Talbot County case, including a subject matter determination that civil penalties are beyond the appropriate realm of charter counties’ Boards of Appeals (who govern zoning matters).

Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera (Photo Courtesy: http://www.mdcourts.gov)

The decision in the unreported case is summarized on the first page of the decision document:

Angel Enterprises Limited Partnership, et al. v. Talbot County, Maryland, et al., No. 45,
September Term, 2020, Opinion by J. Booth

IMPOSITION OF CIVIL PENALTIES – ORIGINAL JURISDICTION OVER ADJUDICATION OF PENALTIES IN THE MARYLAND COURTS – JURISDICTION OF BOARD OF APPEALS ESTABLISHED BY CHARTER COUNTY.

Talbot County had no authority to confer subject matter jurisdiction upon its Board of Appeals to consider an administrative appeal of civil penalties assessed by the Talbot County Chief Code Compliance Officer. The Maryland General Assembly has not vested boards of appeal established by charter counties with authority to review or consider civil penalties assessed by a code enforcement officer for violations of a county code. Under the applicable Maryland laws, the authority to adjudicate civil penalties arising from violations of a local code enacted by a charter county is within the original jurisdiction of the courts. Because this case originated in the Talbot County Board of Appeals, which did not have jurisdiction over the matter that was the subject of the administrative appeal, the Court of Appeals vacated the judgment and remanded the case to the Board of Appeals with instructions that its decision be vacated and that the assessments be dismissed.

The case, long pending before the courts, was nominally regarding a zoning matter in the county. However, the Court of Appeals in its ruling issued an unanticipated view on procedure, regarding the ability to levy and adjudicate fines. From page 26 of the opinion document:

For the reasons set forth herein, we hold that the Talbot County Board of Appeals lacks subject matter jurisdiction to consider administrative appeals of civil fines. The
General Assembly has vested original jurisdiction in the Maryland courts for the adjudication of civil fines that are sought to be imposed by a charter county under the
pertinent provisions of State law. Consistent with the applicable provisions of State law that confer original jurisdiction in the Maryland courts to adjudicate civil penalties arising from code violations enacted by a charter county, the General Assembly has not granted jurisdiction to a board of appeals established by a charter county to conduct an administrative review of assessments of civil penalties.

The full decision is available on the Maryland Courts website.

 

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties
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