Pressman v. Barnes

Citation121 A.2d 816,209 Md. 544
Decision Date10 April 1956
Docket NumberNo. 140,140
PartiesHyman A. PRESSMAN et al., v. Henry A. BARNES, Director of Traffic, and City of Baltimore.
CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland

Hyman A. Pressman, Baltimore, for appellants.

Hugo A. Ricciuti and Francis X. Gallagher, Asst. City Sols. (Thomas N. Biddison, City Sol., Edwin Harlan, Deputy Sol., C. Ferdinand Sybert, Atty. Gen., Norman P. Ramsey, Deputy Atty. Gen., and Stedman Prescott, Jr., Asst. Atty. Gen., on the brief), for appellees.



This suit was instituted in the Circuit Court of Baltimore City by Hyman A. Pressman, a citizen and taxpayer of Baltimore, against Henry A. Barnes, Director of Traffic, and the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore to invalidate (1) portions of Ordinance 786, approved July 14, 1953, creating the office of Director of Traffic, and (2) an administrative regulation promulgated by the Director of Traffic prescribing speed limits.

Under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act, Code 1951, art. 31A, § 2, any person whose rights, status or other relations are affected by a statute or municipal ordinance may have determined any question of construction or validity arising under the statute or ordinance and obtain a declaration of rights, status or other legal relations thereunder. Pressman v. State Tax Commission, 204 Md. 78, 102 A.2d 821; Kirkwood v. Provident Savings Bank, 205 Md. 48, 106 A.2d 103. The law is also established that a taxpayer may invoke the aid of a court of equity to restrain the action of a public official or an administrative agency when such action is illegal or ultra vires and may injuriously affect the taxpayer's rights and property. Masson v. Reindollar, 193 Md. 683, 69 A.2d 482; Reed v. McKeldin, 207 Md. 553, 558, 115 A.2d 281.

The ordinance in question provides that the Director of Traffic shall be appointed by the Mayor of Baltimore, and that he may adopt such rules and regulations as he may deem necessary for the proper transaction of his business.

Section 2 of the ordinance enumerates the Director's powers, including the power to designate through highways, to install traffic signs, pylons, and channels, and to approve or disapprove the location of bus stops.

Section 2(I) empowers the Director to 'have and exercise all control over traffic that the Police Commissioner for the City of Baltimore had prior to the time this ordinance becomes effective, including the power to establish 'No Parking' spaces; * * *.'

Complainant contended that this provision conflicts with the provision of the Baltimore City Charger that no ordinance or act of any municipal officer shall conflict or interfere with the powers of the Police Commissioner.

Section 2(K) empowers the Director to 'adopt and promulgate rules, regulations, orders and directives relating to, or in connection with, the movement of vehicular and pedestrian traffic in the City of Baltimore. * * *.'

Complainant attacked this provision on two grounds: (1) that it unlawfully delegates legislative functions to an administrative official, and (2) that it does not provide proper standards for the guidance of the Director in adopting his rules, regulations, orders and directives.

The administrative regulation in question was promulgated by Henry A. Barnes, Director of Traffic, to become effective on August 9, 1955. Complainant's chief objections to the regulation were: (1) that the legislative function of setting speed limits cannot be lawfully delegated by the Mayor and City Council, and (2) that the regulation sets the speed limits on all of the streets of the City, including those which have been designated as a part of the State or Federal highway system or an extension thereof.

Complainant also objected to one of the penalty provisions on the ground that it conflicted with the Maryland Motor Vehicle Law. Code 1951, art. 66 1/2, § 176(g). He further complained that the regulation was self-contradictory in that in some parts it refers to the speed limits as being prima facie, while in another part it refers to them as conclusive.

Complainant alleged that the Director of Traffic, unless restrained by the Court, would illegally expend many thousands of dollars of the City's revenues for the erection of signs and other devices; that the erection of these signs would inform motorists of speed limits which are not legally correct and would tend to cause accidents and subject the Mayor and City Council to damage suits, thereby causing complainant and other taxpayers to suffer irreparable loss and damage.

Complainant prayed for a decree (1) declaring the assailed portions of the ordinance and the Traffic Director's regulation invalid, and (2) enjoining defendants from expending public funds for the erection of signs or other devices in pursuance of the ordinance and regulation.

On August 23, 1955, the Circuit Court passed an order permitting 44 other citizens and taxpayers to be made parties plaintiff to the proceeding.

At the trial of the case Ernest W. Bunting, Associate Engineer of the Traffic Division of the State Roads Commission, testified that he did not know of any Federal highway that reached the boundary line of Baltimore, and that he did not know whether there were any extensions of the State highway system within the City, although he admitted that 'State and Federal numbered highways came up to the boundaries of the City and took up at the other side of the City.'

Mr. Barnes testified that the City, in an agreement with the State Roads Commission on June 2, 1955, agreed to mark the streets in the City with the State and Federal numerals. He surmised that there was no extension of the State highway system into the City for the reason that he had obtained permission to change the location of any of these signs.

On September 30, 1955, the Court entered a decree declaring that the ordinance and the Traffic Director's regulation are valid, with the exception of the provisions in the regulation as to minimum fines and presumptions as to guilt, which are invalid. Appeal was entered by complainants from that decree.


The first contention of appellants is that the power to set speed limits is a legislative power, and the Mayor and City Council cannot lawfully delegate it to an administrative official.

It is a fundamental principle that, except when authorized by the Constitution, the Legislature cannot delegate the power to make laws to any other authority. As the lawmaking function, under the doctrine of separation of powers, is assigned exclusively to the Legislature, any attempt to abdicate it in any particular field is unconstitutional. This principle is not violated, however, where a municipal corporation is vested with powers of legislation as to matters of local concern.

This Court has recognized that the same restrictions which rest upon the Legislature as to the delegation of legislative powers conferred upon it by the Constitution rest upon a municipal corporation as to powers granted to it by the Legislature. City of Baltimore v. Wollman, 123 Md. 310, 315, 91 A. 339. But it is now accepted that a municipal corporation may delegate to subordinate officials the power to carry ordinances into effect, even though such delegation requires the exercise of a certain amount of discretion which may be regarded as part of the police power, if such discretion is guided and restrained by standards sufficient to protect the citizen against arbitrary or unreasonable exercise thereof. Tighe v. Osborne, 149 Md. 349, 360, 131 A. 801, 43 A.L.R. 819.

In recent years the increasing multiplicity and complexity of administrative affairs has made it increasingly necessary for municipal councils to entrust important functions to administrative boards and officials. Zoning cases are an illustration of the trend toward broader delegation of powers to administrative officials. In Tighe v. Osborne, 150 Md. 452, 457, 133 A. 465, 467, 46 A.L.R. 80, the Court of Appeals sustained the right of the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore to delegate to the Zoning Commissioner the power to determine whether 'buildings or the proposed use of them would menace the public security, health, or morals.' Less than a year ago this Court, in an opinion by Judge Henderson in Givner v. Com'r of Health of Baltimore City, 207 Md. 184, 113 A.2d 899, observed that even more flexible standards must be permitted in the domain of public health than in zoning, redevelopment, and public education.

On account of the tremendous growth of traffic and the need for constant supervision of traffic control, it has also become increasingly imperative for city councils in metropolitan centers to delegate to traffic experts a reasonable amount of discretion in their administrative duties. New traffic problems are constantly arising, and therefore to require the enactment of an ordinance to cover each specific problem would be likely to result in widespread delays and even serious hazards. It is obvious that there is a practical necessity for expert and prompt judgment in the application of the concept of public safety to concrete situations, and that the standards for administrative officials in the domain of public safety should be at least as flexible as in the domain of public health. Of course, the question whether a particular regulation of an administrative official is arbitrary or unreasonable, or not fairly within the scope of the delegated power, is subject to judicial review; but if the matter is fairly debatable, the court should not substitute its judgment for the judgment of the administrative official who is charged with the duty of promulgating the regulation.

In Taylor v. Roberts, 84 Fla. 654, 94 So. 874, the Supreme Court of Florida held that the grant of authority to the Chief of Police of Jacksonville to regulate traffic at any congested part of...

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