Prince George's County v. Ray's

Decision Date04 May 2007
Docket NumberNo. 133, September Term, 2005.,133, September Term, 2005.
PartiesPRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Maryland v. RAY'S USED CARS, et al.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Steven M. Gilbert, Principal Counsel (David S. Whitacre, County Atty., Upper Marlboro, on brief), for petitioner.

Dennis Whitley, III (Russell W. Shipley, Shipley & Horne, P.A., Largo, on brief), for respondents.

Argued before RAKER,* WILNER, CATHELL, HARRELL, BATTAGLIA, GREENE, JOHN C. ELDRIDGE, (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.

ELDRIDGE, J.

This case concerns a challenge to the constitutionality of a zoning ordinance establishing a minimum lot size of 25,000 square feet for used motor "[v]ehicle, mobile home, or camping trailer sales lot[s]."1 The dispositive issue in the case, however, is whether the ordinance's challengers were first required to invoke and exhaust administrative remedies. The petitioner, Prince George's County, argues that a judicial determination of the constitutionality of the zoning ordinance is premature because the respondent used car dealers failed to invoke and exhaust their administrative remedies. The respondents claim that pursuit and exhaustion of administrative remedies were not required in this case and that the zoning ordinance is unconstitutional on the ground that it violates due process and equal protection principles. We shall hold that the respondent used car dealers were required to invoke and exhaust administrative remedies prior to obtaining judicial review.

I.

The Maryland General Assembly, by the Regional District Act, Maryland Code (1957, 2003 Repl.Vol.), Article 28, §§ 7-101 et seq., delegated zoning power for most of Prince George's County to the Prince George's County District Council.2 Pursuant to § 8-101(2) of the Act, the District Council "may by ordinance adopt and amend the text of the zoning ordinance and may by resolution or ordinance adopt and amend the map or maps accompanying the zoning ordinance text to regulate, in the portion of the regional district lying within its county . . . (ii) the size of lots, yards, courts and other open spaces. . . ." The Regional District Act also creates the Prince George's County Board of Zoning Appeals (§ 8-107), provides for the Board of Zoning Appeals to extend or continue "nonconforming uses" (§§ 8-108 and 8-109), and authorizes the Board of Zoning Appeals to grant "special exceptions and variances to the provisions of the zoning regulations." (§§ 8-110 and 8-111). Section 27-229 of the Prince George's County Code, enacted by the District Council, also authorizes the Prince George's County Board of Zoning Appeals to grant variances. Under the Regional District Act, decisions of the Prince George's County Board of Zoning Appeals are final administrative decisions, are subject to judicial review in the Circuit Court, and the Circuit Court's decision is subject to an appeal to the Court of Special Appeals (§ 8-111.1 of the Regional District Act).

On November 14, 2000, the District Council amended the Prince George's County Zoning Ordinance and approved Council Bill 87-2000 ("CB 87"). The new zoning bill imposed a minimum lot size requirement of 25,000 square feet on used vehicle, mobile home, and camping trailer dealerships. CB 87 also contained a three-year amortization period, requiring all such dealerships to comply by August 31, 2003.

On August 29, 2003, Ray's Used Cars, along with seventeen other used car dealers throughout Prince George's County, brought this action in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, challenging the constitutionality of CB 87 and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. All of the plaintiff used car dealers operated used car lots that did not meet the new minimum lot size requirement of 25,000 square feet. The plaintiffs contended that CB 87 violated due process and equal protection principles. They did not, however, assert that CB 87 effected an unconstitutional taking of property in violation of Article III, § 40, of the Maryland Constitution and Article 24 of the Declaration of Rights, or in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged in pertinent part as follows:

"22. That the Plaintiffs maintain that they are entitled to the continued operation of their businesses because CB 87 2000 arbitrarily and unreasonably denies equal protection of the law to Plaintiffs in that new vehicle, mobile home,3 camping trailer sales and service lots, are allowed in commercial zones on lots less than Twenty Five Thousand square feet (25,000 sf) and used vehicles are not.

"23. That Plaintiffs also contend the prohibition of used care [sic] lots smaller than Twenty Five Thousand square feet (25,000 sf) in commercial zones is an abuse of the [governmental] power because it has no relation to the public health, safety, general welfare and morals in the effected area [sic].

"24. The Plaintiffs assert that the `amortization period' is also invalid because the overall reasonableness bears not [sic] rationale [sic] relationship to the factual circumstances and public gain is far outweighed by the private loss of the Plaintiffs.

"25. That there exists an actual controversy of justiciable issue between the parties within the jurisdiction of this Court involving the constitutionality and/or validity of CB-87-2000.

"26. That the Plaintiffs' rights are affected by CB-87-2000 in that they are owners and/or operators of used car lots which might be closed if said statute is not declared unconstitutional.

"27. That Defendant's action[s] in approving CB-87-2000 were arbitrary and capricious and unconstitutional. There exist the strong likelihood that the Plaintiffs will succeed on the merits of their claim.

"28. That unless the Defendant is restrained by this Court from enforcing CB-87-2000 which is arbitrary and capricious and unconstitutional, Plaintiffs will suffer immediate, substantial and irreparable injury."

The plaintiffs did not institute any administrative proceedings seeking variances or other administrative remedies. The Circuit Court held a three-day nonjury trial at which the plaintiffs' case focused on the negative impact CB 87 would have on their particular businesses. In his opening statement, the attorney for the plaintiffs explained: "Some [of the plaintiffs] have been in business at their locations for more than thirty years. Some own their businesses. All of the businesses obviously are on lots that are less than 25,000 square feet, and some lease their businesses. This ordinance affects them all in different ways, all of them bad." Five of the plaintiffs testified at trial. Typical testimony offered by the plaintiff used car dealers concerned the size of their car sales lots (all under 25,000 square feet), the profitability of their businesses, the hardship of relocating, and the statements that they were compliant with county regulations other than the minimum lot size requirement in CB 87. In his closing argument, the plaintiffs' attorney delineated the issues that he was raising (emphasis added):

"And the first issue is whether or not CB-87-2000 is constitutional, does it violate the provisions of Article 24 of the Maryland Constitution. Following the case law does it bear, number one, a substantial relationship to its intended purpose, and is it constitutional when you weigh the good it was intended to accomplish against the damage it causes the public and these plaintiffs in particular.

"The second issue of the case, Your Honor, is whether or not CB 87 is constitutional as to these particular plaintiffs, and the third issue in this case is whether or not CB 87 is constitutional with reference to the amortization schedule which is — was essentially three years ending on August 31st, 2003."

The Circuit Court filed a declaratory judgment concluding that CB 87 violated "substantive due process" and equal protection principles. The court also enjoined its enforcement. Relying upon language in Levinson v. Montgomery County, 95 Md.App. 307, 319-321, 620 A.2d 961, 967-968, cert. denied, 331 Md. 197, 627 A.2d 539 (1993), and older cases from an era when courts frequently struck down economic and land use regulatory legislation on so-called "substantive due process" grounds (see, e.g., Goldman v. Crowther, 147 Md. 282, 307-308, 128 A. 50 (1925)), the Circuit Court took the position that "state courts have shown a greater willingness than their federal counterparts to find that, as a matter of due process, a zoning restriction is arbitrary and unreasonable" and that "`Maryland courts [under Article 24 of the Declaration of Rights] employ a heightened level of scrutiny — something over and above the "minimum rationality" test under the federal constitution.'"4 Later in the declaratory judgment, the Circuit Court reiterated "that Maryland has adopted a heightened level of scrutiny for the review of a zoning ordinance." Applying this "heightened scrutiny analysis," the Circuit Court declared that CB 87 denied the plaintiffs due process and equal protection of the laws because it did not bear a "substantial relation to the public health, morals, safety, comfort, or welfare." In addition, the court declared that, "as it applies, CB-87 is arbitrary, unduly oppressive, fundamentally unfair, and unreasonable, and its enforcement will work greater hardship upon the public than that which it endures under existing conditions." Addressing the three-year amortization period set forth in CB 87, the court declared that it was not reasonable because the plaintiffs' loss would far outweigh the public gain.

Prince George's County appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, contending that the plaintiffs' failure to invoke and exhaust their administrative remedies precluded this action for a declaratory judgment and injunction. Prince George's County alternatively argued that the Circuit Court erred in holding CB 87 unconstitutional. The Court of Special Appeals...

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