Racetrac Petroleum, Inc. v. Prince George's County, Civ. A. No. R-83-3073.

Citation601 F. Supp. 892
Decision Date31 January 1985
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. R-83-3073.
PartiesRACETRAC PETROLEUM, INC., Plaintiff, v. PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, et al., Defendants.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)

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Steven Schaars, Thomas J. Hamilton, Kevin Hartley, Washington, D.C., and Joshua Treem, Baltimore, Md., for plaintiff Racetrac Petroleum, Inc.

Associate Co. Attys. Steven M. Gilbert, Thomas P. Smith, and Michael O. Connaughton, Upper Marlboro, Md., for defendants Prince George's County, Md., Co. Council of Prince George's County, Md., sitting as the Dist. Council, Gerard T. McDonough, William B. Amonett, Frank P. Casula, Parris N. Glendening, Sarah Ada Koonce, Ann Landry Lombardi, Sue V. Mills, Floyd E. Wilson, Jr., and Barry S. Cramp.

Peter Gunst, Baltimore, Md., for defendants Victor Rasheed and Greater Washington/Maryland Service Station Ass'n.

Associate Co. Attys., Arthur S. Drea, Jr., Sanford E. Wool and Thurman H. Rhodes, Upper Marlboro, Md., for defendant Maryland-Nat. Capital Park and Planning Com'n.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

RAMSEY, District Judge.

This is an action in which plaintiff, a gasoline retailer and frustrated applicant for a zoning special exception in Prince George's County, seeks damages from the County, various public officials, a state-created planning commission, a local trade association of gasoline retailers, and a former officer of the trade association.1 Plaintiff seeks more than twelve million dollars in compensatory, treble and punitive damages, as well as a declaration that a local zoning ordinance is invalid, for alleged violations of the Sherman Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1871, and state law.

Currently before the Court are the following motions:

1. Motion of defendants Association and Rasheed to strike unauthenticated exhibits and other material filed in support of plaintiff's motion for summary judgment against those defendants ("motion one").
2. Motion of defendants Association and Rasheed to strike unauthenticated exhibits to memorandum of points and authorities of the plaintiff in opposition to motion for summary judgment of defendants Association and Rasheed ("motion two");
3. Plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment against the County, the Council, the Council Members, the Examiner and the Commission ("motion three");
4. Plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment against the Association and Rasheed ("motion four");
5. Motion of defendants Association and Rasheed for summary judgment ("motion five");
6. Motion of defendants County, Council, Council Members and Examiner for summary judgment ("motion six"); and,
7. Motion of defendant Commission for summary judgment ("motion seven").

All motions have been briefed in an unusually thorough fashion. Oral arguments on the motions were heard on November 2, 1984. Post-argument memoranda were submitted by the plaintiff, by the County Defendants, by the Commission, and by the Association Defendants.

I. Introduction
A. The Facts

Racetrac entered a contract to purchase property on U.S. Route 1 in College Park, Prince George's County, Maryland, contingent upon Racetrac's obtaining the necessary approval from the County to operate a retail gasoline outlet on the site. At the time of Racetrac's contingent purchase, the property was zoned "R-55" (one-family, detached residential), a classification which prohibits use of the property for automobile filling stations. County Code § 27-215.

Like most zoning statutes, the Prince George's County ordinance creates various types of zones in which certain uses are permitted or prohibited. Automobile filling stations are permitted to be located, without need for special exception, in I-2 Zones (heavy industrial), I-1 Zones (light industrial), and C-M Zones (commercial miscellaneous), as long as certain conditions are met concerning the construction and use of the facility. Prince George's County Code §§ 27-375(b)(4), 27-403.2(c)(2)(a), 27-510(a)(1) through (10). Filling stations are prohibited in C-O Zones (commercial office) and C-A Zones (ancillary commercial). County Code § 27-375(b)(4). In C-S-C Zones (commercial shopping centers), automobile filling stations are prohibited unless a special exception is obtained. County Code § 27-375(b)(4).

A special exception allowing a filling station in a C-S-C Zone may be issued only if the application meets the requirements for filling stations in C-M Zones and, in addition, the County's District Council2 finds that the proposed use:

(1) Will have no detrimental effects on vehicular and pedestrian traffic;
(2) Is necessary to the public in the surrounding area; and,
(3) Must not restrict the availability, or upset the balance, of land usage in the area for other trades and commercial uses.

County Code § 27-510.

Rather than seeking rezoning of the property to a classification permitting operation of a retail gasoline outlet, the plaintiff, through counsel, sought to have the subject property zoned C-S-C, a classification in which filling stations are prohibited unless a special exception is obtained. Thus, in November of 1981, plaintiff filed with the Commission Application No. A-9403, by which plaintiff sought rezoning from the R-55 residential zone to the C-S-C commercial shopping center zone, and Application No. S.E. 3312, by which plaintiff sought a special exception to permit the operation of a retail gasoline outlet in a C-S-C zone. Plaintiff's application for C-S-C zoning was approved at all levels of the zoning process. Only the handling of plaintiff's application for a special exception, Application No. S.E. 3312 (hereinafter "plaintiff's application"), is challenged in the instant suit.

Upon the filing of plaintiff's application, it was reviewed by the Commission's Technical Staff. After a field inspection, a review of land uses in the neighborhood, and a review of a "need analysis" submitted by the plaintiff,3 the staff determined that the statutory requirement that the special-exception use be necessary to the public in the surrounding area was not met in light of the existence of 31 service stations, including 4 gas-only stations, within a two-mile radius of plaintiff's proposed site. The staff concluded that "the abundance of filling stations within the two-mile radius, and particularly to the south on Baltimore Avenue (six additional stations), the already pending application for a filling station, and the declining population, lead the staff to a recommendation for denial."

After the issuance of the Technical Staff Report, the Planning Board of the Commission reviewed plaintiff's special exception application at a public meeting in March of 1982. The Planning Board heard testimony from the plaintiff, the Commission staff, the City of College Park and area residents. The Commission's Planning Board agreed with the staff recommendation and passed a resolution recommending denial of plaintiff's special exception application because the proposed use "is not in harmony with the purpose and intent of Section 27-510 of the Zoning Ordinance" nor "necessary to the public in the surrounding area, based on a comparison of population with the abundance of filling stations within the two-mile radius." The decision was made by a vote of four in favor and none opposed.

Plaintiff's application was also reviewed by the Zoning Hearing Examiner at public hearings held on February 17 and March 5, 1982. Plaintiff offered testimony in favor of its application, including its market analysis purporting to demonstrate the need for the proposed use. The application was opposed at the hearing by the Mayor and City Council of College Park, an adjacent music store, the Association Defendants, a local service station operator, the Commission's Planning Board, and a local citizens' association. In a seven-page decision issued April 12, 1982, the Hearing Examiner recommended denial of plaintiff's application.

Plaintiff filed exceptions to the Examiner's decision and requested oral argument before the District Council, which is the County Council sitting for purposes of zoning decisions. The Council considered the record below and also held a public hearing on June 14, 1982. Presentations were made on behalf of the plaintiff, various opposition groups, the People's Zoning Council and the County Office of Law. By vote of nine in favor, one opposed, and one absent, the District Council passed an Order denying plaintiff's application in accordance with the earlier decision of the Examiner.

Plaintiff filed an appeal from the District Council's denial in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County. On August 5, 1982, plaintiff dismissed its appeal without explanation. Approximately one year later, plaintiff filed the instant suit against the Commission and its Planning Board, which had recommended denial of plaintiff's application; against the Hearing Examiner, who likewise recommended denial; against the Association Defendants, who opposed plaintiff's application; against those members of the County Council who voted to deny plaintiff's application; and against the County itself.

The Association Defendants opposed Racetrac's application both before the Hearing Examiner and before the District Council. Representing a group of gasoline retailers in the Washington-Maryland area, these defendants frequently opposed special exception applications seeking to establish new automobile filling stations. The Association Defendants were motivated at least in part by a desire to protect the competitive positions in the trade held by members of the Association. The Association was a vehicle for organized opposition to zoning amendments allowing new retail gasoline uses, and it boasted in its newsletter of various successes in zoning controversies.

There is no indication in the record of any ex parte contacts between any of the Association Defendants and any of the Governmental Defendants with regard to plaintiff's...

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