Posted by: Patricia Salkin | December 7, 2010

Maryland Court of Appeals Explains Differences Between Legislative and Adjudicative Functions of County Council Reaching Different Conclusions on Two Difference Applications

Property owners Miles Point and Shore Lands submitted applications to the Talbot County Council seeking to reclassify properties under the Talbot County Comprehensive Water and Sewer Plan.  Miles Point attempted to reclassify their 72 acres of undeveloped land from S-2, which is contemplated for improvements, extensions, or construction of shared sanitary facilities within 3-5 years following the date of the Plan’s adoption, to S-1 which would give the property “immediate priority status” for extending shared sanitary facilities to service development of the property.  The Council rejected the application and Miles Point appealed to the Board of Appeals, which issued a unanimous written decision dismissing the appeal for lack of jurisdiction, holding that hits power to hear appeals from Council decisions was circumscribed by authority granted under the Limiting Clause of Express Powers Act, that it had not been specifically granted review authority over the Plan, and that it did not have review authority under the Talbot County Charter, which conferred jurisdiction over appeals from executive, administrative or adjudicatory orders. 

The Circuit Court reversed the Board’s decision holding that Section 502 of the Charter did in fact confer authority to hear an appeal, and the County appealed to the Court of Special Appeals arguing the Board lacked jurisdiction to hear an administrative appeal relating to decisions not to amend the properties’ designations in the plan.

Shore Lands attempted to reclassify their 79 acres of undeveloped land from W-2/S-2, which designates the same priority schedule to water and sewer service, to W-1/S-1.  The Town of Easton opposed, concerned that the classification would allow for immediate development of the land at less than the States minimum habitation density requirements.  The Council denied the re-designation, and the Circuit Court, pursuant to the Miles Point judgment, dismissed Shore Land’s Complaint for Writ of Administrative Mandamus on the ground that it had failed to exhaust its administrative remedies and that the ruling should have been appealed to the County Board of Appeals.  The County appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, arguing that invoking the original jurisdiction of the Circuit Court was in fact the proper procedure. 

The Court of Special Appeals, in consolidating both cases, addressed the issue of whether the Council’s decisions were subject to review by the Board by determining whether the Council acted in a legislative or adjudicative fashion.

Miles Point Property

Recognizing from previous holdings that a single decision-making process can require both legislative and adjudicative roles for the hearing body, the Court found that the Council relied primarily upon legislative fact-finding in making its decision on the Miles Point property, and even though it specifically affected the property, it was based on general grounds and not specifically rooted in the unique characteristics of that property.  Since it was not an adjudicatory action under the Limiting Clause of the Express Powers Act, the County could not confer appellate jurisdiction to the Board of Appeals over the Council’s decision not to reclassify the property for Plan purposes.  The judgment of the Circuit Court remanding Miles Point’s appeal to the Board was reversed.

Shore Lands Property

Here the Court considered both administrative mandamus and common law mandamus as potential remedies to Shore Land’s case, and found the proper vehicle for review of the Council’s action was to invoke the original jurisdiction of the Circuit Court.  The Council’s findings noted that the reclassification of the Shore Lands property would be inconsistent with the State Smart Growth Law, and it would not provide for the orderly expansion and extension of water and sewer service consistent with both County and Town comprehensive land use plans.  Administrative mandamus would not lie because these findings of fact did not focus on unique characteristics of the property and were consonant with legislative, and not adjudicatory action.  Common law mandamus would not lie either because the Council, in voting on resolutions at issue, was exercising its discretion acting in a legislative capacity, and not a ministerial one.  However, the Council’s actions are still subject to review under the “legal boundaries standard.” 

Therefore, the judgment of the Circuit Court was affirmed with respect to the dismissal of Shore Land’s complaint and reversed insofar as it required Shore Lands to seek an administrative appeal before the Board. 

Talbot County v. Miles Point Property, 2010 WL 2889492 (MD Ct. of App. 7/26/10) 

The decision can accessed at:

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