Posted by: Patricia Salkin | November 6, 2019

Fed. Dist. Court of MD Denies Summary Judgment to County and Delegates in Case Arising from Alleged Discrimination Against Muslim Developers

This post was authored by Matthew Loeser, Esq.

In 2004, Old Trails Partnership (“OTP”) acquired title to the property that became Old Trails. OTP partnered with Tousa Homes, Inc., to develop Old Trails into a residential townhome community. OTP then entered into numerous agreements with Harford County, inclusive of a Storm Water Management Maintenance Agreement and a separate Subdivision Agreement. Between 2007 and 2008, Tousa built four townhomes in Old Trails, and sold them to homebuyers. In 2008, Tousa declared bankruptcy, and development of the Old Trails project stopped. Gemcraft was a Maryland corporation and a regional home builder and related entity to OT, LLC. In 2016, Gemcraft’s president, William Luther, entered into an agreement with OTP to purchase Old Trails. In this case, Gemcraft Homes, OT, LLC, Inc., Shades and Springs, Inc., and Ajaz Khan sued defendants – Harford County, certain County officials, and the Delegates – alleging that the Delegates conspired with Harford County officials to prevent the real estate development project because most of the prospective homebuyers were Muslim.

The Delegates argued that summary judgment was appropriate in this case, since they were shielded by the doctrine of qualified immunity. Here, however, the court found there were genuine questions of material fact about the Delegates’ conduct with regard to Old Trails. First, the parties disagreed about the nature of the conversation between County Executive Barry Glassman and McDonough – elected members of the Maryland House of Delegates – in the summer or fall of 2017. Specifically, Plaintiffs alleged that the County’s subsequent conduct — including its decision to withhold permits — was partially a result of this conversation. Additionally, Dr. Younus (President of Shades and Springs, Inc) testified as to an interaction with Richard Impallaria – another elected member of the Maryland House of Delegates – in which Impallaria personally bullied him, and made a reference to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Thus, drawing all reasonable inferences in Plaintiffs’ favor, the court found there were genuine factual questions as to the Delegates’ actions. For this reason, summary judgment was denied as to this claim, and likewise found improper as to Plaintiffs’ Section 1983 and RLUIPA claim.

As to Plaintiffs’ substantive claims pursuant to Sections 1985 and 1986, it was undisputed that the Delegates, after a contentious town hall meeting organized by Impallaria, sent a joint letter explicitly requesting that the County stop issuing permits. Since County officials expressed their intent to stop the project shortly following receipt of this letter, and because the County ultimately did refuse to issue certain permits, the court found there were genuine questions of material fact with regard to the alleged conspiracy between the Delegates and the County. Moreover, as Plaintiffs provided evidence that the Delegates conspired with Harford County officials to derail the Old Trails housing project entirely, the court held summary judgement should not have been awarded in Plainitffs’ Fair Housing Act Claims.

OTP, LLC, v. Harford County, 2019 WL 5538057 (D. MD 10/24/2019)

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