Kent Island Joint Venture v. Smith, Civ. No. H-77-1299.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
Citation452 F. Supp. 455
Decision Date08 June 1978
PartiesKENT ISLAND JOINT VENTURE, Plaintiff, v. Leonard E. SMITH, Commissioner of Queen Anne's County, Individually and in his official capacity, et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberCiv. No. H-77-1299.

452 F. Supp. 455

KENT ISLAND JOINT VENTURE, Plaintiff,
v.
Leonard E. SMITH, Commissioner of Queen Anne's County, Individually and in his official capacity, et al., Defendants.

Civ. No. H-77-1299.

United States District Court, D. Maryland.

June 8, 1978.


452 F. Supp. 456

Stuart D. Halpert, Warren L. Miller, Michael A. Nelson and Stein, Halpert & Miller, Washington, D. C., for plaintiff.

Standish McCleary, III and Randall M. Lutz, Asst. Attys. Gen., Baltimore, Md., for defendant James R. Morris.

Roger D. Redden, Neil J. Dilloff and Piper & Marbury, Baltimore, Md., for all other defendants.

ALEXANDER HARVEY, II, District Judge:

In this case, a land developer asserts that its federal constitutional rights have been violated because certain state and local officials have interfered with its plans for the development of a residential subdivision in Queen Anne's County, Maryland. This then is essentially a land use dispute which this Court has concluded does not belong in federal court at this time. As discussed in detail hereafter, the facts of this case either do not fit within the civil rights statutes and constitutional provisions relied upon by plaintiff or require this Court to abstain because of principles of federalism, which become particularly significant when a federal court is asked to review land use policies or zoning decisions of a local government.

Plaintiff, Kent Island Joint Venture, is a Maryland Partnership formed for the purpose of developing a parcel of land on Kent Island in Queen Anne's County, Maryland, known as Paradise Island Estates. Named as defendants are Queen Anne's County (hereinafter referred to as "the County"), Leonard E. Smith, Julius Grollman and John M. Ashley, Jr. (the elected County Commissioners),1 Robin Wood (the Planning Administrator for the County and an employee of the County Department of Public Works), John Starnes (the Chief of the Water, Sewer and Solid Waste Division of the County Department of Public Works), Lawrence Morris (the Director of the County Department of Public Works) and James R. Morris (a Maryland state employee, who is the Director of Environmental Health for the County).2 The defendants are therefore the County itself, three County Commissioners, three officials employed in municipal departments of the County and one State employee. Each of the individual defendants has been sued in both his individual and in his official capacity.

The complaint alleges in effect that the defendants entered into a conspiracy to prevent the development of the real property owned by the plaintiff in Queen Anne's County. By the lengthy recitation of facts set forth in the complaint, plaintiff essentially contends that it has been singled out for special discriminatory treatment designed

452 F. Supp. 457
to prevent its proposed development to be known as Paradise Island. Count I of the complaint asserts that defendants' acts violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment and also Article 23 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. Count II alleges violations of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments and also Article 23 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. In Count III, plaintiff claims that it is entitled to relief under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985(3). Jurisdiction is asserted under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343. Plaintiff seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction, a declaratory judgment, compensatory and punitive damages, attorneys' fees and costs

Presently before the Court are motions to dismiss filed by all of the eight defendants. The questions raised by the pending motions have been fully briefed, and a hearing on the motions has been held in open court. At the request of the Court, supplemental memoranda were filed by the parties following the hearing.

I

The facts

The complaint and the exhibits attached thereto detail the efforts undertaken by the plaintiff to build a large real estate development on 300 acres of land it owns on Kent Island in Queen Anne's County. Plaintiff asserts that the individual defendants concocted a four-step plan to delay development of the land and eventually make such development impossible.

The first step in the alleged conspiracy was a subdivision moratorium enacted by the County Commissioners on October 30, 1973, which put a fourteen-month halt to the filing of preliminary subdivision plans.3 The filing of such plans is a necessary precondition to the development of subdivisions in Queen Anne's County. See generally Planning Commission v. Silkor Corp., 246 Md. 516, 522, 229 A.2d 135 (1967); Art. 66B, Annot. Code of Maryland, § 5.01 et seq.

The second step in the alleged plan occurred after the expiration of the moratorium and while plaintiff was preparing a preliminary subdivision plan. It consisted of the imposition by defendant James Morris of strict soil percolation standards for plaintiff's property, which plaintiff claims exceeded the requirements of state law. The standards imposed caused a reduction in the number of lots that were approved for construction. Of the 212 lots which plaintiff contends met the standards, defendant Morris approved only 91 and found that 24 lots would require retesting the following year.

The third step was a series of alleged misrepresentations by defendants Woods, Starnes and James Morris. According to the complaint, defendant Woods lied about the practices of the County Planning Commission and defendants Starnes and James Morris lied as to the effect on plaintiff of certain proposed amendments to the County Master Water and Sewerage Plan (hereinafter referred to as the "Amended Plan").4 Plaintiff asserts that these misrepresentations were intended to and did in fact delay plaintiff's filing of a preliminary subdivision plan until after the enactment of the Amended Plan.

The final step was the enactment of the Amended Plan by the County Commissioners on March 22, 1977. The Amended Plan significantly changed the water and sewerage requirements for development of plaintiff's

452 F. Supp. 458
property. Under the old plan, it was permissible to use individual wells and septic tanks to meet the water and sewerage needs of any homes built on Paradise Island. Under the Amended Plan, plaintiff's property was reclassified to prohibit the use of wells and septic tanks and to require community and multi-use water and sewerage facilities.5 According to the complaint, defendants Starnes and Lawrence Morris were responsible for including these changes in the proposed amendments to the County Master Plan which were later adopted by the County Commissioners

Plaintiff contends that these acts, by themselves and taken together, were arbitrary, capricious, discriminatory and devoid of any rational basis or reasonable relationship to the protection of the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the County. Additionally, plaintiff contends that these actions together amount to a taking of its property without just compensation.

II

The claims against the County Commissioners

Inter alia, the plaintiff is here challenging two clearly legislative acts of the County Commissioners; first, the enactment of the subdivision moratorium, and second, the enactment of the Amended Plan. Plaintiff contends that both of these acts were arbitrary, capricious, discriminatory and devoid of any rational basis or reasonable relationship to the protection of the health, safety or welfare of the citizens of the County.

In Ligon v. State of Maryland, 448 F.Supp. 935 (D.Md.1977), Judge Blair of this Court carefully examined the scope of immunity enjoyed by local legislators in suits brought against them under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 challenging their legislative acts. Relying principally on Tenney v. Brandhove, 341 U.S. 367, 71 S.Ct. 783, 95 L.Ed. 1019 (1951) and Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974), Judge Blair held that members of the County Council of Montgomery County, Maryland were absolutely immune from damage suits under § 1983 challenging the enactment of zoning regulations.6 The Court reasoned as follows (at 947):

because municipal legislators are closer to their constituents than either their state or federal counterparts, they are, perhaps, the most vulnerable to and least able to defend lawsuits caused by the passage of legislation. Particularly in the area of land use, where decisions may have an immediate, quantifiable impact on both the value and development of property, local legislators should be free to act solely for the public good without the specter of personal liability with the passage of each zoning ordinance.
* * * * * *
Collateral litigation of the Council's motives, such as the plaintiff's attempt here, would subordinate the role of the legislative branch in contravention of our scheme of government.

This Court would agree completely with the decision in Ligon and with those other cases which have held that county and municipal legislators are absolutely immune from federal scrutiny into their legislative motivations and from personal liability predicated upon their legislative acts. See Gillibeau v. City of Richmond, 417 F.2d 426, 430 (9th Cir. 1969); Athanson v. Grasso, 411 F.Supp. 1153, 1160 (D.Conn.1976); Shellburne, Inc. v. New Castle County, 293 F.Supp. 237 (D.Del.1968). Legislators are

452 F. Supp. 459
immune from suits challenging their legislative acts "not for their private indulgence but for the public good." Tenney v. Brandhove, 341 U.S. at 377, 71 S.Ct. at 788. Absolute immunity for legislators has been recognized because "the prospect of an unsuccessful but burdensome lawsuit might affect a legislator's performance of his or her legislative duties, thus distorting the democratic process." Davis v. Passman, 544 F.2d 865, 879 (5th Cir. 1977). Because local legislators are more vulnerable to law suits than are state or national legislators, the democratic processes of local government are more susceptible of...

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37 practice notes
  • Nasser v. City of Homewood, No. 80-7805
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit
    • March 22, 1982
    ...Alabama Constitution. 6 In determining to abstain on Burford grounds, the district court followed Kent Island Joint Venture v. Smith, 452 F.Supp. 455, 461 (D.Md.1978), which characterized Burford abstention as "appropriate to avoid needless state-federal friction caused by federal interfere......
  • Bloomsburg Landlords Ass'n v. Town Of Bloomsburg, No. 4: CV-94-0148.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Pennsylvania
    • December 29, 1995
    ...of all uses of property because ordinance still permits construction of single family homes) and Kent Island Joint Venture v. Smith, 452 F.Supp. 455, 460 (D.Md.1978) ("Before a court can conclude that there has been an unconstitutional taking of property, the government regulations must dep......
  • Weiss v. Willow Tree Civic Ass'n, No. 78 Civ. 3471.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • February 8, 1979
    ...the civil rights statutes. See Gillibeau v. City of Richmond, 417 F.2d 426, 430 (9th Cir. 1968); Kent Island Joint Venture v. Smith, 452 F.Supp. 455, 458 (D.Md.1978); Athanson v. Grasso, 411 F.Supp. 1153, 1160 (D.Conn.1976). If so, they would be dismissed from the suit and state action nega......
  • Highfield Water Co. v. Public Service Com'n, Civ. No. Y-79-1827.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • May 20, 1980
    ...limitation applies to suits against public officials as well as suits against private parties. See Kent Island Joint Venture v. Smith, 452 F.Supp. 455, 459 (D.Md.1978); Blake v. Town of Delaware City, 441 F.Supp. 1189, 1198-1199 (D.Del.1977); Kedra v. City of Philadelphia, 454 F.Supp. 652, ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
37 cases
  • Nasser v. City of Homewood, No. 80-7805
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit
    • March 22, 1982
    ...Alabama Constitution. 6 In determining to abstain on Burford grounds, the district court followed Kent Island Joint Venture v. Smith, 452 F.Supp. 455, 461 (D.Md.1978), which characterized Burford abstention as "appropriate to avoid needless state-federal friction caused by federal interfere......
  • Bloomsburg Landlords Ass'n v. Town Of Bloomsburg, No. 4: CV-94-0148.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Pennsylvania
    • December 29, 1995
    ...of all uses of property because ordinance still permits construction of single family homes) and Kent Island Joint Venture v. Smith, 452 F.Supp. 455, 460 (D.Md.1978) ("Before a court can conclude that there has been an unconstitutional taking of property, the government regulations must dep......
  • Weiss v. Willow Tree Civic Ass'n, No. 78 Civ. 3471.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • February 8, 1979
    ...the civil rights statutes. See Gillibeau v. City of Richmond, 417 F.2d 426, 430 (9th Cir. 1968); Kent Island Joint Venture v. Smith, 452 F.Supp. 455, 458 (D.Md.1978); Athanson v. Grasso, 411 F.Supp. 1153, 1160 (D.Conn.1976). If so, they would be dismissed from the suit and state action nega......
  • Highfield Water Co. v. Public Service Com'n, Civ. No. Y-79-1827.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • May 20, 1980
    ...limitation applies to suits against public officials as well as suits against private parties. See Kent Island Joint Venture v. Smith, 452 F.Supp. 455, 459 (D.Md.1978); Blake v. Town of Delaware City, 441 F.Supp. 1189, 1198-1199 (D.Del.1977); Kedra v. City of Philadelphia, 454 F.Supp. 652, ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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