Montgomery County v. Maryland-Washington Metropolitan Dist., MARYLAND-WASHINGTON

CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland
Citation202 Md. 293,96 A.2d 353
Docket NumberNo. 104,MARYLAND-WASHINGTON,104
Decision Date22 April 1953

David Macdonald, County Attorney, Rockville, Joe M. Kyle, Asst. County Atty., Rockville, on the brief, for appellant.

J. Bond Smith, Rockville, H. Warren Buckler, Jr., Baltimore, for Mid-Nat. Capital Park & Planning Commissions, part of appellees.

Caesar L. Aiello, Washington, D. C., Geo. E. Hamilton, Jr., Washington, D. C., and James H. Pugh, Rockville, on the brief, for Most Rev. Patrick A. O'Boyle.

Adeline M. Toner and Ogden W. Fields, Silver Spring, on the brief, for Evanswood Citizen Ass'n, Amicus Curiae.


SOBELOFF, Chief Judge.

This controversy is chiefly between two governmental bodies. Montgomery County seeks to recover a piece of land which it conveyed in 1944 to the Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Commission, on the ground that the transfer was unauthorized, ultra vires and void.

The property, known as the 'Armory Lot,' is in Silver Spring. The County Commissioners of Montgomery County purchased it in 1931 for $75,000, with a portion of the proceeds from a bond issue authorized by Chapter 330 of the Acts of the General Assembly of that year. The enabling act provided that the borrowed money 'shall be used exclusively * * * for the purpose of acquiring by purchase or condemnation a new site or additional land upon which to construct a new office buildings to house necessary offices of the County Commissioners, quarters for the Montgomery County Police and other necessary county activities, and * * * for the purpose of building or constructing such building.'

Joined as one of the defendants in the Seconded Amended Bill of Complaint was The Most Reverend Patrick A. O'Boyle, Catholic Archbishop of Washington, whose predecessor in that office, The Most Reverend Michael J. Curley, had bought a small portion of the land from the Planning Commission. The Archbishop answered and moved for summary judgment on the pleadings. The motion was granted. A demurrer to the County's Amended Bill, filed on behalf of the Planning Commission, was sustained. The Bill of Complaint being thereupon dismissed as to all defendants, the County appealed.

In 1944, thirteen years after its acquisition, the Planning Commission by resolution requested the County Commissioners to convey the land to it for the establishment of recreational facilities. The assent of the County Commissioners was given to the proposal in the form of a resolution. Therein the Commissioners provided among other things that if the Planning Commission were of the opinion that any of the land conveyed will not be needed for their plan of recreational use, such portion may be sold by the Planning Commission, provided only that the amount so received shall be applied either to the recreational improvements planned for this tract or to the purchase or development of other recreational parks. A deed unconditional in form was then executed and delivered by the County Commissioners to the Planning Commission and duly recorded on May 11, 1944. It recited a nominal consideration of 'ten dollars and divers other good and valuable considerations.'

It may be an aid to clarity to note briefly the principal statutory materials relied on by the parties in advancing their respective arguments. Then we shall deal with the various points and indicate our views.

1. There is first the loan authorization, Chapter 330 of the Acts of 1931, already mentioned.

2. In 1937, the General Assembly, enacted Chapter 155, now codified as Art. 25, Sec. 10, Annotated Code, 1951 Edition, which reads as follows:

'The County Commissioners of each county and the legislative body of each incorporated city or town in the State shall have full power and authority to establish and/or maintain, directly or by contract, reasonable facilities for the public recreation.'

3. In 1943, the General Assembly, by Chapter 1008, amended the law which created the Planning Commission in 1927; gave the Commission certain powers in respect to portions of the area of Montgomery and Prince George's Counties; provided for the issuance of bonds to be repaid by county taxation, the proceeds to be used by the Commission for specified purposes in these counties; provided also for proceeds of certain taxes levied by these counties to be paid over to the Commission.

4. Art. 25, sec. 3(b), the Annotated Code, 1951, conferring on Montgomery County the power to sell real or leasehold property no longer needed for public use (enacted in 1947).

5. Art. 25A, Annotated Code of Md., 1951 Edition, pertaining to the general powers of counties which avail themselves of the provisions of Art. 11A of the Constitution of Maryland, by adopting a Charter. This includes a grant of power to dispose of any real or personal property no longer needed for public use. Montgomery County adopted a charter in 1948.

I. A preliminary point raised by the Planning Commission is that the County's remedy is at law in ejectment and that equity is without jurisdiction. We think it plain enough that when the County invokes the equity court's jurisdiction to enjoin conveyance of the land by the Planning Commission to a department store purchaser--a conveyance which the County alleges is imminent, a down payment of $10,000 having been made thereon--the equity court assuming jurisdiction for this purpose may retain it to adjudicate the entire matter. Moreover, the Archbishop's claims were also involved.

It has recently been declared that the requirement for resort to an action at law is not inflexible but that other factors, such as the need for mandatory injunction to afford complete relief, and to prevent a multiplicity of suits, may be taken into account. Potomac Edison Co. v. Routzahn, 192 Md. 449, 456, 65 A.2d 580; Southern Maryland Agriculture Ass'n v. Meyer, 196 Md. 31, 34, 75 A.2d 89.

II. The briefs of counsel and their arguments in this Court centered chiefly upon the question of effectiveness of Chapter 1008 of the Acts of 1943 to sustain the challenged conveyance by the County to the Commission.

The Commission sought to sustain the conveyance of the 'Armory Lot' under the authority of this statute, while the County argued that the statute authorized grants of money only and in annual amounts considerably less than $500,000 which the Bill of Complaint alleged the land was worth in 1944. The conclusion we have reached is that the case turns upon other points, and most of the interesting contentions based upon Chapter 1008 need not be answered. It is sufficient here merely to indicate the provisions of this statute, and to note the arguments of the parties in respect to it.

For the purpose of establishing and maintaining recreational facilities in that portion of the County where the Commission operates, Chapter 1008 authorized the Commission to issue bonds and the County to levy and collect certain taxes to be transmitted to the Commission and also to pay to the Commission one-half of the County's share of the State's income tax and one-half of the profits from the County Dispensary.

We turn to Subsection VII, Section 2, to consider the contention of the County that Chapter 1008 does not sanction a conveyance of land, but only grants of money. The language of the statutory provision supports the contention. It reads, 'that the Boards of County Commissioners of both counties be and they are hereby authorized from time to time to grant moneys to the Commission * * * not to exceed annually * * *.' This follows immediately after the provision for special tax levies. We can no more disregard the clear limitation on the form of the grant than the limitation on its amount. Thus, if we look to Chapter 1008 for the needed authority for the County to convey the land to the Commission, we find that the authorization is clearly restricted, both as to the amount of the grant and as to its form.

It is our conclusion that the conveyance of the property in 1944 cannot, on the demurrer to the Second Amended Bill, be upheld as an exercise of the authority contained in Section 2, VII of Chapter 1008.

III. The Planning Commission advanced the further argument that by Chapter 155 of the Laws of 1937, Montgomery County along with other political subdivisions of the State, was given authority by the Legislature to provide recreational facilities 'directly or by contract', Art. 25, Sec. 10, Annotated Code of Maryland, 1951 Ed. If Article 25 was operative, it would seem to clothe Montgomery County with full authority to make provision by contract for recreational facilities without any limitation in amount or form. The County argued, however, that the Metropolitan District Act, Chapter 1008 of the Acts of 1943, which is a local law and is later than the general law, Art. 25, terminated the County Commissioners' authority to provide recreational facilities in the Metropolitan District. From this the County argues that in 1944 it was without authority to make a contract with the Commission for recreational facilities and the transfer of land in that year was unauthorized.

We do not accept the County's contention that the Act of 1943 ousted it of all authority to provide recreational facilities in the Metropolitan District. It is not unknown for more than one governmental body to exercise simultaneous jurisdiction in a particular territory, even in respect to the same subject matter, Chicago Park District v. Lattipee, 364 Ill. 182, 4 N.E.2d 86. There is certainly no constitutional prohibition against the State designating more than one agency to operate in the same field. The wisdom of such an arrangement in a particular case may be debatable, as indeed it was debated by counsel in this case, but it is clear that if such an arrangement is made by the Legislature it cannot be set aside by the courts. The...

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