Posted by: Patricia Salkin | August 28, 2015

Fed. Dist. Court of Maryland Denies Motion to Remand Takings Case

Pulte was in the business of residential real estate development. This case involved a civil rights action brought by Pulte Home Corporation and Shiloh Farm Investments, LLC against Montgomery County, Maryland and the Maryland–National Capital Park and Planning Commission (collectively, “Defendants”) for allegedly violating Pulte’s state and federal civil rights by enacting land use legislation that adversely affected Pulte’s ownership interests in approximately 541 acres of land it owns in Clarksburg, Maryland. Before the Court were Pulte’s motion to remand to state court and the Commission’s motion to dismiss.

Pulte contended that the court should abstain and issue a remand order based on the well-established Burford abstention doctrine, or in the alternative decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction. The Burford abstention doctrine justifies the dismissal of a federal action in a narrow range of circumstances when federal adjudication would unduly intrude upon complex state administrative processes because there exists: difficult questions of state law, whose importance transcends the result in the case then at bar; or federal review would disrupt state efforts to establish a coherent policy with respect to a matter of substantial public concern. Pulte contended that Defendants acted arbitrarily and capriciously by drafting and adopting amendments to the 1994 Master Plan and by downzoning the Development Land so as to deprive Pulte of its constitutionally protected property interests. Thus, while requiring reference to Maryland land use law, these claims were constitutional in nature. Accordingly, the court denied the motion to remand.

As to the motion to dismiss, the Commission argued that Pulte’s complaint must be dismissed because the Commission did not have the “legal authority to zone, rezone, upzone, or ‘downzone’ property in Montgomery County” and therefore could not have caused Pulte’s injuries. Here, however, Maryland law specifically authorized the Commission to acquire and manage lands for public parks, draft and adopt master plans, draft zoning and subdivision ordinances, adopt development regulations, act on land development applications, and recommend other land use policies to Montgomery County. Thus, while the Commission may not have the authority to formally approve or enact a master plan or amendments thereto, the Commission’s role in land use regulation is nevertheless essential to continued real estate development in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. At the motion to dismiss stage of the prosecution, the court found that Pulte sufficiently alleged that the flawed opinions and reports created by the Commission or its agents could have been used to justify the Master Plan Amendment and its downzoning of the Development Land.

Pulte Home Corporation v Montgomery County, Maryland, 2015 WL 4430588 (D. MD 7/17/2015)

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