Posted by: Patricia Salkin | April 17, 2017

4th Circuit Court of Appeals Reverses District Court’s Dismissal of Plaintiff’s Claims for Lack of Ripeness Surrounding Moratorium

Clayland Farm was a 106 acre property located in Talbot County, and zoned as a “Village Center.” A Village Center was generally the “preferred location” in rural areas for “single and multi-family residential development.” The owners of Clayland Farm claimed that they could not pursue their land use goals, because of three Talbot County ordinances: two moratoriums on development, and one that limiting sewer availability. Bill Nos. 1214 and 1257, enacted in 2012 and 2014, indefinitely prohibited certain types of development in areas zoned as Village Centers, including Clayland Farm. The moratoriums prohibit owners from seeking or obtaining approval to subdivide their property, and imposed more restrictive zoning density rules by prohibiting subdivision of properties zoned as “Village Centers” into more than two lots. The affected property owners, including Clayland Farm, had no ability to seek a variance from, or a waiver to, the moratoriums and were otherwise unable to challenge them outside of court. The third challenged ordinance established a classification method that determined the availability, if any, and type of sewer system for a property. Clayland Farm filed suit in state court against Talbot County, various county officials, and the Maryland Department of Planning, but these claims were dismissed as unripe. In this case, Clayland Farm Enterprises, LLC appealed the district court’s order dismissing its claims against Talbot County, Maryland, and other defendants for lack of ripeness.

At the outset, the court found that Count I, a facial challenge to the moratoriums, was ripe because Talbot County had been deprived and continued to deprive Clayland Farms of its Fourteenth Amendment rights by enacting and perpetuating the Village Growth Moratorium: an illegal, illegitimate and inequitable regulatory taking. The court determined that Clayland Farm suffered a concrete and certain injury as soon as the moratoriums were enacted; the ordinances prohibited Clayland Farm from subdividing more than one additional lot from its property and from developing more than one dwelling unit on the lot, which had previously been allowed. Additionally, the possibility that Talbot County could enact future zoning or planning ordinances that would affect Clayland Farm’s ability to develop its property did not call into question the finality of the three ordinances that currently restricted Clayland Farm.

Clayland Farm next asserted a procedural due process claim, averring that the enactment of an indefinite moratorium without any post-deprivation remedies facially violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Because Clayland Farm claimed a concrete injury and had been provided no means to address that injury, the court likewise found this claim was ripe. Count III asserted that the moratorium and the designation of the Clayland Farm property as Tier IV property were so arbitrary that they facially violated the Constitutional guarantee of substantive due process. Count IV, which alleged a conspiracy to commit the constitutional violations in Counts I–III, was ripe for the same reason the events supporting those counts were ripe. Here, the court determined that the claim was ripe when the object of the conspiracy – the enactment of the ordinances – had been accomplished. Lastly, Counts V, VI, and VII were all found ripe because they alleged state law violations or sought injunctive relief based on the enactment of the three ordinances. Even though the district court found the claims were not ripe because Talbot County had not yet reached any final decision, the court found on appeal that Clayland Farm suffered concrete injury when the three ordinances were enacted, even if the ordinances could later be modified. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court’s dismissal of Clayland Farm’s claims for lack of ripeness and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Clayland Farm Enterprises, LLC v. Talbot County, Maryland, 2016 WL 7030627 (12/2/2016)


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