Department of Transp., Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Armacost

Decision Date01 May 1984
Docket NumberNo. 153,153
Citation474 A.2d 191,299 Md. 392
Parties, 20 ERC 2113, 15 Envtl. L. Rep. 20,179 DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, MOTOR VEHICLE ADMINISTRATION and Department of Health & Mental Hygiene v. John L. ARMACOST et al. Sept. Term 1983.
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

Diana G. Motz, Asst. Atty. Gen., Baltimore (Stephen H. Sachs, Atty. Gen., Ann Marie DeBiase and Janis Ashman, Asst. Attys. Gen., Baltimore, on brief), for appellants.

Charles W. Thompson, Jr., County Atty., Westminster, for appellees.

Stephen R. Beard, County Sol., Essom V. Ricks, Jr., and Patricia A. Logan, Asst. County Solicitors, Annapolis, on brief, for amicus curiae Anne Arundel County.


This case concerns the propriety of granting an interlocutory injunction delaying the implementation in Carroll County of Maryland's Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program (VEIP).


The VEIP is one part of Maryland's overall effort to reduce air pollution within its borders. It is a segment of the national air pollution control scheme provided for by the federal Clean Air Act, codified as 42 U.S.C. §§ 7401-7642. Under the authority conferred by that legislation, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established uniform national ambient air quality standards for six pollutants. 1 These standards set limits on the amount of each pollutant in the air at levels which "allowing an adequate margin of safety, are requisite to protect the public health." 42 U.S.C. § 7409(b)(1). Under the federal statute, ambient air quality standards must be attained in each "air quality control region." 42 U.S.C. § 7407. These regions are designated by the EPA and may include portions of two or more states. Id. There are six control regions in Maryland, two of which are involved in this case: the Maryland portion of the National Capital Interstate Air Quality Control Region (compromised of Montgomery and Prince George's Counties, the District of Columbia, and its Northern Virginia Suburbs), 40 C.F.R. § 81.12 (1983), and the Metropolitan Baltimore Intrastate Air Quality Control Region (consisting of Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard Counties), 40 C.F.R. § 81.28 (1983). 2

Each state is made responsible for ensuring that the ambient standards are met by the deadlines prescribed in the Clean Air Act in each air quality control region within its borders. Each state must prepare a State Implementation Plan (SIP) for achieving these standards. 42 U.S.C. § 7410. Any region failing to meet the standards by the end of 1975 is classified as a "non-attainment area." The 1977 amendments to the Clean Air Act required states with nonattainment areas to submit SIPs by January 1, 1979 and mandated that all ambient air quality standards be achieved by the beginning of 1983. 42 U.S.C. § 7502(a)(1). However, states may obtain a five-year extension of the deadline for attainment of the ozone and carbon monoxide standards. 42 U.S.C. § 7502(b)(11). The principal source for both pollutants is vehicle exhaust. 1 F. Grad, Treatise on Environmental Law § 2.01 at 2-6--2-7 (1983). Therefore, as a condition for receiving an extension, the state's SIP must establish a specific schedule for implementation of a vehicle emission control inspection and maintenance program. 42 U.S.C. § 7502(b)(11)(B). Through annual inspection and maintenance of federally mandated pollution control equipment, it is possible to limit vehicle emissions to the levels required of all new vehicles sold in the United States. 3

Both the State and the EPA have identified the Baltimore and National Capital Air Quality Control Regions as nonattainment areas for ozone and carbon monoxide. 40 C.F.R. § 81.321. Therefore, Maryland was required to submit a SIP in January, 1979 calculated to achieve the ambient standards by the 1988 deadline and to implement a vehicle emissions inspection program, as required by 42 U.S.C. § 7502(b). Failure to comply with the SIP requirements could lead to severe federal sanctions. Specifically, continued nonattainment could precipitate the loss of sewage treatment plant construction grants, 42 U.S.C. § 7616 and federal highway construction funds, 42 U.S.C. § 7506(a). The annual loss to the State has been conservatively estimated to be as much as $123 million.

Accordingly, the Maryland legislature authorized the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) of the Department of Transportation to adopt rules and regulations establishing an emissions inspection program. Maryland Code (1984 Repl.Vol.) §§ 23-201--23-208 of the Transportation Article. Pursuant to § 23-207(b) of the Transportation Article, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene adopted the exhaust emission standards necessary to help bring the State's nonattainment areas into compliance with the national ambient air quality standards set by the EPA. COMAR § 4 Limits were set for carbon monoxide, as well as for hydrocarbons, because the latter, when combined with other chemicals in the air and subjected to sunlight, produce the pollutant ozone. Ozone, together with other photochemical oxidants, create smog. 1 F. Grad, Treatise on Environmental Law, supra, at § 2.01. The regulations of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene also govern the procedures for inspecting vehicle exhaust emissions, provide specifications for the inspection testing equipment and prescribe methods for calibrating the devices. COMAR §§

Regulations setting forth the administration of the VEIP are found at COMAR §§ With the exception of the classes of vehicles exempted by §, all motor vehicles registered to residents of counties in the Baltimore and National Capital Air Quality Control Regions must be inspected annually. Each vehicle is assigned a month in 1984 when it must be submitted for inspection. Upon receiving notification from the MVA, the owner must take the vehicle to one of ten official inspection stations located in the area. COMAR § These stations are operated by a private firm under contract with the MVA and are subject to the MVA's direct supervision. The initial inspection costs nine dollars. Transportation Article § 23-205(a)(1). If the vehicle passes, it receives a Certificate of Compliance. Vehicles that fail receive a Certificate of Noncompliance and the owner is given thirty days to make necessary repairs. COMAR § The vehicle must be reinspected within that period; there is no charge for the second inspection. 5 COMAR §§ and .15A(3). If the vehicle fails upon retesting, the owner must either bring its emissions within the prescribed limits or obtain a waiver. COMAR § To obtain a Waiver Certificate, the owner must present proof that up to $50 was spent on a "low emissions tune-up" as defined in COMAR § The cost of a low emissions tune-up allegedly ranges from $26 to $35. Failure to comply with VEIP can result in suspension of the registration of the noncomplying vehicle. COMAR §

The inspection program was scheduled to begin on January 1, 1983, but its commencement was delayed by the legislature for one year. See ch. 492 of the Acts of 1982; ch. 312 of the Acts of 1983. In response, the EPA threatened to withhold federal funds. 48 Fed.Reg. 5049 (Feb. 3, 1983). Though no final action was taken on the EPA proposal, federal pressure has continued. See 48 Fed.Reg. 35318 (Aug. 3, 1983). Delays involved in constructing the inspection stations required postponement of the program until February 1, 1984.


On January 11, 1984, the County Commissioners of Carroll County, in their individual and official capacities, the Town of Mt. Airy, its mayor, and a resident of Carroll County (the appellees) filed a petition for a declaratory judgment and an interlocutory injunction in the Circuit Court for Carroll County; they sought to have the VEIP declared unconstitutional, as applied to Carroll County, and to enjoin its implementation. Named as defendants were the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Department of Transportation and the MVA (the State). A hearing was held on January 23, 1984 before Judge Donald J. Gilmore at which evidence was introduced by both sides. On January 31, 1984, the court, following an oral opinion, granted an interlocutory injunction enjoining enforcement of the VEIP in Carroll County. The State noted its appeal on the same day and sought a stay of the injunction. We granted certiorari prior to consideration of the appeal by the Court of Special Appeals. After a hearing, we stayed the interlocutory injunction pending resolution of the appeal.


The scope of our review in this case is limited since we do not now finally determine the merits of appellees' arguments. Instead, we merely review whether the lower court's decision granting the interlocutory injunction should be vacated.

As a general rule, the appropriateness of granting an interlocutory injunction is determined by examining four factors: (1) the likelihood that the plaintiff will succeed on the merits; (2) the "balance of convenience" determined by whether greater injury would be done to the defendant by granting the injunction than would result from its refusal; 6 (3) whether the plaintiff will suffer irreparable injury unless the injunction is granted; and (4) the public interest. State Dep't v. Baltimore County, 281 Md. 548, 554-57, 383 A.2d 51 (1977).

"[I]f the facts as stated in the bill of complaint or, when appropriate, as shown by the evidence, are not 'full and sufficiently definite and clear, in support of the right asserted, and that such right has been violated,' the court will not order preliminary relief."

Id. at 554, 383 A.2d 51 quoting from Baltimore v. Warren Manuf. Co., 59 Md. 96, 105 (1882). It is well accepted that an...

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